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When I came to Brearley after a career in boarding schools, I recall being surprised by the oversimplification of differences among NYC independent schools. With a relatively short application process and density of schools in the city, the public has developed a shorthand for identifying which students should go to certain schools. Brearley is the place for intellectual students with strong voices and who don’t shy away from competition. Sound familiar? 

It’s not that this reputation isn’t accurate, it’s just that it's incomplete. While our mission statement leads with adventurous intellect, internally we frequently use splendid nerdiness to describe our students. To visit a Brearley classroom is to see a love of learning in full expression. Whether it’s seniors discussing Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost of his father or a Class VI Language class debating the use of the Oxford comma, the intellectual curiosity in the room is palpable. Brearley students, introverts and extroverts alike, know how to use their voices to get their points across and will wade into conversations with gusto. But there is more to this story. Students also generously acknowledge the ideas of others, which they collectively use to scaffold thoughtful classroom discussions. And this isn’t just in Upper School. Students learn these skills in younger grades, and while true that some embrace them earlier than others, they all learn how to be a full participant in class. This means not only speaking one’s mind, but taking a critical look at one’s opinions, grappling with those of others, and even questioning a concept or belief that one thought one knew for sure

Their energy and interest are not confined to the classroom. At Homecoming last weekend the Field House was at capacity, where students were again using their voices. This time, however, they were urging on their peers on the court, and with such verve that I wondered how some of them would be able to speak the next day. (Spoiler alert: They couldn’t.) They also led their younger peers in the infectious Brearley Beaver cheer—"Beaver One, Beaver All!"—with such earnest goofiness that no adult there could refrain from smiling. Perhaps we’ll be treated to a reprise at Mountain Day tomorrow, when seniors, in wacky-themed costumes, lead US and MS students in games and hikes at Bear Mountain State Park. This annual tradition is important to them because they set the program and tone for the day. They want to have fun and leave their mark. This is but one example of our multifaceted students and school culture. 

There is nothing simple about Brearley. We don’t fit in a single bucket, and relegating us to one sends a perhaps unintended but still potent message about what young women are expected to be. The truth is that our students surprise us all the time with the power of their intellect and their inclination to uplift each other. Because they embrace competition doesn’t mean that they don’t also act with empathy and strive for inclusion. They are young people who can feel vulnerable about the trajectory of their lives, scared when they make mistakes and frightened by the state of the world, and act with hope, courage and integrity. They are ambitious about their future and contributing to the greater good. 

We do our best when we allow our students to be their full selves, which cannot be contained to any one bucket.

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