By Luke Stone ’20
There isn’t much about Woodberry that surprises me anymore. While people new to our community might be shocked when they see kids playing baseball with Tide Pods on Upper Turner, people who do know our community know that behavior like that is common. However, I was surprised a few weeks ago–and not in a good way–by our school’s behavior during the Fitzpatrick Lecture.
Prep school is supposed to be an experience that teaches us to be presentable. Unlike other kids our age who schlep around in gym shorts, tee shirts, slides, and hoodies to class, we wear tucked in collared shirts and khakis. When someone important is on campus, or when we have chapel, we throw on coat and tie. Unfortunately, our behavior last week, and our behavior this year in general, has not lived up to the formality of our attire.
I had gone into the lecture with the expectation that sitting on stage would enable me to see much more than I could sitting in the audience. But I didn’t know how much more I would see. It’s not that I didn’t expect to see people sleeping. I’ve seen students and faculty alike doze off during Thursday morning assemblies or chapel almost every week. But I didn’t expect to see so many people so obviously catching a nap. Sleeping during an assembly is rude enough to Mac Holman ’20 and the Thursday assembly committee. But sleeping during an endowed lecture given by a renowned foreign affairs columnist speaking about the issues that will impact our future is not only disrespectful to the speaker, but also to the school and to the people paying the speaking fee on the school’s behalf.
But as frustrating as it was to see heads in laps, or propped up on hands, nothing incensed me more than seeing people constantly whispering during the speech. I have whispered side comments to my friends in chapel or during an assembly. But most of those have been quiet and brief. During the Fitzpatrick Lecture, I could hear murmuring for almost the whole forty-five minutes. At least when someone is sleeping, the impact is localized. When someone is talking during a speech, though, it not only disrespects the above groups, it also disrespects the people around you who are listening to what the speaker has to say because they recognize its importance.
I’ve heard loads of excuses since Mr. Guldin had conversations with groups of students about their conduct during the assembly, including complaints about boring content and poor delivery. And I’m not going to pretend like every person in our student body is invested in foreign affairs and global security. In fact, I don’t think that any more than twenty percent of the student body either knows or cares about what is happening around the world. And that’s normal of boys our age. But it doesn’t mean that his speech lacked pertinent information for all of us. He led by talking about the character of good leaders and good nations. As to the point about the Lecturer’s delivery, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve addressed rooms of people before. So have a lot of students. And it is a well-known fact that speakers tend to be significantly more engaging, enthusiastic, and exciting when they’re speaking to an engaged and enthusiastic audience. When they’re looking out at a room of whispering or sleeping teenage boys, speakers aren’t going to bring the energy because their subconscious is telling them that no one is listening to them anyway.
And part of this falls on the school’s shoulders, as well. We’re somewhat desensitized to being in sacred spaces because we use Bowman Gray Auditorium and St. Andrew’s Chapel every week. But the fact that we can’t keep it together for forty-five minutes when one of the most influential foreign affairs columnists in America speaks to us is disappointing.