Dr. Thomas López is ready to let go of summer
photos: Summer at Gordon kept the campus busy with six weeks of action-packed camps, staffed by a team that included dozens of young alumni
Dear Gordon Families, Faculty and Staff:
As I enter my fifth year as Head of Gordon School, I feel comfortable confessing to you that returning to school from summer vacation is always really hard for me. I find myself quickly scrolling past the first-day-of-school posts from my southern friends whose children started back to school (gasp!) last week. I change the channel when the Target and Old Navy commercials with the cute kiddos come on—you know the ones where they’re dancing into school with their new backpacks and perfect outfits. I am a fifty-year-old woman who has been in education for almost thirty years, and I’m still in denial every August that I have to go back to school.
This year, however, I am surprised to find myself in a very different place.
My summer has not gone as I had hoped or expected. In early July, I tore the meniscus in my left knee and had to cancel most of the plans I had that were not related to Gordon. I'd already had another surgery scheduled for August, so my summer has been bookended by recuperation and staying close to home. I could play up the self-pity, and yet I am surprised to find myself saying that this has been one of the best summer breaks I have had in a long time.
This summer of surgeries has been a blessing in disguise as it has allowed me time to be present for myself, my family, my friends and for Gordon. Canceled travel meant more time at home with Rodney, and with RJ and Roman, who worked at our summer camps in July. Working from home didn’t mean moving to Zoom meetings; instead, Rodney helped me open up an outdoor office in our backyard where I could meet with colleagues while enjoying sunshine and the summer breeze. And even when I was able to finally get away at the beginning of August for a week in Mexico with dear friends, the need to be a little more present, a little more still, remained with me.
In those moments of stillness, I thought about Gordon a lot. I thought about you all a lot. And I happily started counting the days until we would all be together again. It was a feeling very similar to the summer of 2018, when I first started at Gordon and was awaiting the full community’s return. Whether or not you have been at Gordon over these past four years, we have been through a lot, and this upcoming school year feels very much to me like starting over. It's another year one – a year to listen, to connect, to dream, to build. Together.
The August mailing is a preview of many exciting things on the horizon, but it is by design a collection of the “must knows” before the first day of school. When our talented faculty and staff return later this month, and students and families arrive for the first day of school in September, this is when we really begin engaging and creating.
Upon reflection, I know why it’s been hard, all my life, to let go of summer. Summer is the time when I feel I have the most say over how my life goes. And what has been especially hard about these past three years is that it has felt as though we have had very little control over what is happening in our lives and in our world.
But these years have also taught us about what we can control. We can determine how the important things go: how we care for one another, how we protect our peace, how we stand up for what is right. Gordon is one place where we get to say how things go, where we attend to what matters. And I cannot wait to engage in this joyful and essential work with all of you.
One of the best ways to determine our summer destinies is by allowing time for restoration and for fun. When we are all back together, I’m looking forward to hearing about delightful discoveries you have made this summer. Perhaps you found something unexpected in a new restaurant, or book, or maybe you just discovered something new about yourself. As a preview, I thought I’d share a few of mine. What’s hilarious about my summer discoveries is that all of these books, songs and stories existed, I believe, well before summer began (maybe even more than a year ago!). I will gladly accept all accusations of being late to the game and declare that the universe brought these gifts to me at just the right time:
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
I loved Towles’s last novel The Gentleman of Moscow so much that I held off on reading his follow-up The Lincoln Highway because I was worried that I would be disappointed. I was not. I literally hugged this book when I finished the final page. It’s the story of Emmett Watson, an eighteen-year-old recently released from juvenile detention and reunited with his eight-year-old brother Billy after the death of their father. They plan to leave their Nebraska home and head to California (via the Lincoln Highway) to make a new life. Almost immediately these plans are interrupted by two of Emmett’s bunkmates from the work farm, and a fantastic, unexpected odyssey begins. In addition to beautifully demonstrating how intricately our lives as human beings are connected (or can be if we are open to it), the story reveals an inspiring interplay between fate and self-determination. The universe may have a plan, but we also have the ability to forge our own destiny, no matter what stories our pasts have told us about what is and isn’t possible.
Ms. Marvel and Reservation Dogs
At Gordon, we talk a lot about the importance of windows and mirrors to affirm our diverse identities and cultivate a community of authentic belonging. Grown-ups and children need to see themselves reflected in all aspects of school life, and we need to have windows into experiences different from our own to build knowledge, understanding and empathy. I was thrilled to discover Ms. Marvel on Disney Plus and Reservation Dogs on Hulu this summer, two very different shows from a content perspective, but very similar in their ability to demonstrate the magic that happens when historically marginalized communities have the opportunity to tell their own stories.
Ms. Marvel is the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which viewers are introduced to Muslim teenager Kamala Khan as she discovers her superpowers and determines how she wants to exist in her family and community inside of her new identity. Reservation Dogs is very much grounded in reality, as long as that reality includes magical realism. Set on a reservation in Oklahoma, the show follows the story of four Indigenous teens navigating life following the death of a beloved friend. I don’t know if I’ve seen more original storytelling on TV.
While both shows provided me with windows to histories and cultures about which I lacked depth of understanding, I think the beauty of these shows is their ability to acknowledge the trauma these communities have endured while also depicting the joy. Growing up, rarely was I able to see the complexity of my experience on the big or small screen, and I am grateful that our young people will be able to see the fullness of their lives in shows like these (but not too young! Reservation Dogs is for mature audiences only!).
Viola Davis on social media
I am old, so I follow Central Falls’s own, actor Viola Davis, on Facebook. Whatever platform you are on, I recommend stopping by her feed. Her accounts are filled with inspirational, empowering, often hilarious, feel-good posts, reposts, memes and reels. And it seems to be a miraculously troll-free space. There is so much negativity to be found on social media; it’s nice to find at least one place where positivity still reigns.
“Be Alive” by Beyoncé
I know Renaissance is supposed to be the album of the summer, but this song from the King Richard soundtrack has been on heavy rotation in my house over the last two months. If you watched this year’s Oscars you may have seen Beyoncé’s powerful performance. I did. And the song and its message have sustained me this summer: acknowledgment of the path my ancestors laid before me, pride in the skin I am in, and gratitude for the family, friends and community that has held me along the way.
I feel confident that I am not alone in my difficulties with saying goodbye to summer, but my hope is that we will all bring some of the peace, beauty, freedom, discovery and awe that we have experienced back with us as we begin this new school year at Gordon. Together.
I look forward to seeing you very soon.
With hope and love,