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Convocation, Investiture of Mrs. Evins kick off SY23-24

Convocation, Investiture of Mrs. Evins kick off SY23-24

Panthers new and old, parents/guardians, friends, and faculty and staff commemorated the beginning of the 2023-24 school year on Tuesday, September 5, with the time-honored tradition of convocation. 

Held in the amphitheater for the first time since 2019, this beloved ceremony also included the Investiture of Penny B. Evins as Holton’s eighth Head of School. Cathy Johnson Butz ’87, P’18, P’21, Chair of the Board, and John Klick P’21, P’23, President of the Board, presided over the Investiture portion of the morning’s events, welcoming Mrs. Evins to the headship appointment.

Mrs. Evins drew on founder Jesse Moon Holton’s words as inspiration for her tenure and the year ahead:

“My high hope is that they who enter through the Open Door of Holton-Arms remember that they felt, in the friendliness of a home, the urge to learn and the joy of overcoming obstacles as the way to happiness and the fullest life.” 

Mrs. Holton's desk and equipment on display.

Mrs. Holton's desk

“Holton aspires to be a haven wherein abundant evidence that you are valued and capable exists,” said Mrs. Evins. “Perfection is not the goal as we seek to improve and learn from our mistakes and experiences. … Mrs. Holton’s words are timeless and important and from her vision became a reality and it is our big work to caretake and advance Holton’s mission.”

As we honor our past and our founders, Mrs. Holton’s desk is now on display in the upstairs hallway, just outside of the school’s bookstore. Other great displays and school-wide activities are to come this year.

Mrs. Evins acknowledged the spirited enthusiasm of the Class of 2024 celebrating their final, and for some 10th, convocation and first day of school. Upper School student speaker Sophia B. ’24 embodied that enthusiasm as she shared memories over her 10 years at Holton, encouraging the crowd to embrace new opportunities and people.

Memories were made Tuesday for our youngest Panthers and the senior class through the new Buddy Program, in which each third grader will have several senior buddies. Connecting students across grades and divisions in this way will further cultivate community and harvest our collective best. The Class of 2033 processed into the amphitheater through an enthusiastic tunnel of senior arms, welcoming them to this new tradition.

A third-grader runs through a tunnel of senior students.

A third grader entering Convocation

Student speaker Gloria L-N. ’30 shared how she has learned and grown throughout her time in Lower School, coming to engage with her community and see how colorful and diverse Holton is. Middle School student speaker Priya H. ’28 imparted wisdom from the motto she learned from her mom: “Keep Trying, Never Give Up, WIN!” It was those words that inspired her to challenge herself to find her community when she joined Holton at the beginning of her seventh-grade year. 

Faculty speaker Middle School Director Ryann Williams Berry shared similar reflections on being new last school year, her first year at Holton. She urged the community to impart small moments or gestures to familiar –and unfamiliar – faces as the year goes on, helping others to be their best selves while giving them space to grow.

Mrs. Evins concluded the event, which also included a spirited rendition of “Brand New” by Ben Rector sung by a community of students, faculty and staff, and parents, with a reading from Corduroy: “Never forget who you are – and never forget who loves you.”

Watch the full convocation and Investiture ceremony and read Mrs. Evins’ Investiture remarks below.

It is an honor to be here, with you, in this role, on this day. With great humility, I thank you and offer my gratitude.

I thank the Board of Trustees for their indefatigable commitment and wholeheartedly and enthusiastically say yes to their charge!

Thank you to the seven Heads of School who came before me; their moral fortitude, courage, and clarity of conviction continue to advance Holton-Arms. Described as a place encouraging young women to approach the world with unflinching curiosity and a sense of responsibility to use what they learn for the greatest good, Holton’s position description for the eighth Head of School pertains to our past, present, and future. Led collectively by previous heads and Trustees who were ancestral in their approach, Holton was left better by and for each generation. Together, we shall carry on this wonderful legacy.

My parents, grandparents, and caregivers gave me the privilege of a preeminent education and their tireless efforts to foster my growth and development. For them, I am most appreciative.

Members of my educational communities and professional network and friends nurtured my growth in mind, soul, and spirit and provided both formal and informal mentoring. Helping me to form my own moral compass they are sources of strength and I thank them.

For my sisters, from whom I still learn the power of unconditional love and truth-telling, I am honored to share roots and wings with you.

And certainly, for my husband and children, with whom I am able to be my best and worst self. You inspire me to maintain a marathon mentality, enjoy the journey, and the essential rest stops, and laugh. Reminding me what it means to be a Team with and for each other at every turn, I am forever grateful for you and of course, our four-legged friends. 

Gratitude to all who helped bring us to this day and created this celebration – how about a round of applause for our facilities team and staff from various offices, our volunteers, and all who make the magic of such a day possible?

Now that my verbal thank you notes (I am big on thank you notes) are delivered, I give a hearty and welcome good morning to you, Holton-Arms! It is marvelous to be with you here, on this beautiful campus. 

Gathering is one of my favorite parts of school life; I vowed, post-pandemic, never to let a year pass without naming and harnessing the privilege of being in each other's physical company.

With a shared commitment to our historical purpose that began 122 years ago, we represent the Holton-Arms of today. Our past informs our future and as such, I’ve been studying Holton’s history. In 1901 our founders, Jessie Moon Holton and Carolyn Hough Arms, actualized their dream and created a learning community designed to meet the unique needs of young women. 

From that dream grew a purpose, a mission-driven learning community. Who knows what a mission statement is? Is there a brave Panther who wants to take a guess? Yes, a mission is why, why we exist. Our School’s mission is worth knowing and repeating: Holton Arms cultivates the unique potential of young women through the “education not only of the mind, but of the soul and spirit.” Our mission guides our decision-making.

Perhaps you’ve already decided a few things today: juice or water with breakfast; leaving the house with wet or dry hair? Choosing whether or not to ask for help finding your way to your classroom, or homeroom?

As Head of School, it is my job to make, with others, simple and complex decisions for our School. And when deciding, I shall always consider the students in my care and feel fortunate that we can all find our way by using our mission statement as a filter and compass.

Holton is not new to making big decisions. For example, 60 years ago, Holton’s leaders decided to move from Washington, D.C.’s S Street to this location, at the time in the rural countryside. A bold decision, the open door of Holton led us to a more spacious setting to optimize the mission delivery of our School.

Much has changed for Holton and the people in our community. Our 669 students are certainly experiencing a different world than Holton's first 15 students in 1901. The four teachers of Holton in our founding year were trained to facilitate learning with different tools than our 204 faculty and staff currently employed. Parents and caregivers of Holton most certainly navigated different traffic patterns and parenting choices than today’s.

Nonetheless, many of our preoccupations are the same.

I imagine the experiences of a first day of school at Holton always elicited nerves, excitement, promise, and uncertainty. Adventure and optimism at the start of school are timeless notions. No matter the year, we as the Holton community, are forged by a purpose greater than the “here and now”. As educators, we see potential, good, and humanity to be unleashed in each individual and are thus called to practice our craft. You should know that I see all who work in a School as educators. Modeling habits of mind and heart for our students, we are carpenters of human potential, creating conditions for our students to thrive and flourish. No matter one’s job title, we are all educators and we shall remind ourselves that you, our students, are watching and learning.

Holton strives to be an educational community where individuals take healthy learning risks, are curious about multiple perspectives, seek help, crave growth-minded feedback, and respectfully express a range of emotions, especially joy. Let’s hear it for joy!

Holton aspires to be a haven wherein abundant evidence that you are valued and capable exists. Perfection is not the goal as we seek to improve and learn from our mistakes and experiences. 

Collectively, Panthers strive to learn well, lead well, and live well, known best as LW3. Our identity, born 122 years ago by founders, funders, volunteers, professionals, and families who found and made a way. They ensured something novel, unmatched, and needed would exist. 

Mrs. Holton’s words are timeless and important and from her vision became a reality and it is our big work to caretake and advance Holton’s mission. Mrs. Holton’s words: 

“My high hope is that they who enter through the Open Door of Holton-Arms remember that they felt, in the friendliness of a home, the urge to learn and the joy of overcoming obstacles as the way to happiness and the fullest life.” 

Her vision is now shared across generations and we strive to nurture it to reality, each and every day.

A brilliant futurist, she cultivated the desire for hard work from the young women of Holton, offering spaces to learn through challenges. As we honor our past and our founders, Mrs. Holton’s desk is now on display in the upstairs hallway, just outside of the school’s bookstore. I am excited for you to participate in the wonders and understandings about Holton’s past as we learn from our original wayfinders. Some great displays and school-wide activities are sure to come. Metaphorically, our origin can be traced to her desk. No easy buttons, or fast pass lines, wayfinding through an open door where love and positivity fertilized the soil necessary for growth. Learning for the sake of improving the world, not for repetition, but for the greater good was her vision. Our world needs more of this vision in action. I stand with admiration and a readiness to partner with each of you who identifies with and supports the mission of Holton-Arms. I dedicate my efforts to help you feel joyfully welcomed as you walk in and out of an open door. Feeling both able and driven to lead a life of purpose we are on a journey to become our best selves-not a perfect you, but the beautiful version of your efforts and learning through mistakes. The start of school invites us to accept this opportunity and give ourselves grace to be less than perfect as we grow.

In my own life, I’ve learned that friendly environments invite doing difficult things. New to Holton and this area by choice, I confess being new and moving are hard for me. A nester who prefers routines, I stand before you having gained courage from the little girl I was at eight years old. Very homesick and afraid, I was a first-time camper at a sleep-away camp, for two months-nearly 1,650 miles from home. To say I didn’t like it is an understatement. According to my letters home I was disparate – I meant to write desperate. 

From New Orleans, Louisiana, I found myself amongst duffle bags, a puddle of tears in Poland, Maine. Moments of discomfort added up to days too uncomfortable to bear. I said “y’all” and they said “you guys.” I’d never seen a lacrosse or field hockey stick and was supposed to enthusiastically sign up for both.The lake, at the base of a steep hill, was frigid and had a mud bottom. After water sports, we were to cheer loudly skipping up the “hill”, which to me was a mountain, to enjoy milk and cookie break. Now I grew up in a city built below sea level, and walked uphill to see the river, not to get milk and cookies. This might seem like privileged whining. Nonetheless, it remains my identifiable point of growth into a gritty girl with a can-do/will/do attitude and southern drawl, y’all. 

No cell phones or emails, we had two phone calls per summer and one extra if you had a birthday. Lucky me, two weeks into camp was my ninth birthday. Standing in the phone booth during lunch hour, I couldn’t wait for the sounds of home. Clenching the black receiver with one hand and the cold metal cord of the pay phone with my other, I strained to hear my mother’s voice. I sobbed and hyperventilated as I imagined she was going to tell me she’d pick me up and rescue me. Instead, her birthday gift to me was clear communication and direct feedback. “Penny, I love you. You are staying at camp and can’t come home. You’ve got to figure this out with the help of your counselors and you can do this.” 

The greatest opportunities are oftentimes uncomfortable and challenging experiences. I still feel the blow of this invaluable hard lesson. A gift which has given me courage and knowledge of myself in ways I never imagined would sustain, comfort, and prepare me for this day and many decades of choosing to learn from climbing the tough hills of a full life.

Growth comes from doing hard things and feeling the loving support and high standards of those in our communities. Those who love us enough to help us actualize our unique potential, the purpose to which Mrs. Holton dedicated her life, are in abundance today, ensuring you are members of this community and given the priceless gift of a Holton education.

Years later, I learned that the camp director told my mother, a former camper there, that if she wanted to partner and help me self-actualize, she had to summon the courage to say you can’t come home, you can do it – it will be hard, but you are more than enough – to her youngest daughter of three. It worked. I had to make this new place my home away from New Orleans, my real home. 

“The joy of overcoming obstacles as the way to happiness and the fullest life.”

Although Mrs. Holton’s visionary words weren’t meant for me, when reading our School’s history and founding documents, her philosophy resonated with me on a personal level.

Eight years old, in the woods of Maine, I had to come up with a plan, and running away was not feasible. It would have taken 23 days without stopping, according to Google Maps, to my cozy bed in New Orleans. I felt adrift and supported. Those who knew that I had what it took let me learn from trying. Someone I loved and trusted chose to let go of me and propelled me to release my full potential. I sure didn’t like it, but my Mom’s message was generative love and actually harder for her to say than for me to accept. You can do this, Penny… you can find a way, you can make a way. The friendliness of a home away from home pushed her and therein me to overcome challenges.

Outlook and mindset – I chose to change mine, pretended that it was a two-month dream, and gained a sense of control – a mindset switch. We all have the choice to own and change our mindsets. Perhaps at eight years old, I began finding my way/making my way to Holton.

Bitten by the bug of hard work, determination, and the joy of successful growth, I remain dedicated to a purpose-driven life. 

I strive to see the humanity in each individual, seek partnerships towards continuous improvement and this is balanced by a fierce advocacy for the art of being, not always doing. I practice this with intention and will never master, but remain a student of well-being.

Living well means we celebrate the small moments, the everyday gifts of Holton – like this gathering as a community of well-intentioned people. From each other and our beautiful world, we gain energy and experience humanity-which gives us sustenance to engage with the hard stuff. Hard stuff like being a new camper on an uphill battle toward the cookie line. For anyone wondering, I mastered running up that hill, still slower than most, and learned that peanut butter chocolate chip were my favorites. I discovered the front of the line meant gooey cookies and chilled milk. The fruits of grit, determination, and a can-do attitude resulted in great life lessons and delicious snacks. Two rocky months turned into eight life-altering summers. I love remembering camp, the fun, and the hardships. In fact, during a Hang Up sale in July, I shared my camp stories with some of your parents, who were missing you. 

Growth can be uncomfortable and yet very rewarding. Mrs. Holton knew this and created a pathway for what is now over 7,500 alumnae and graduates, who have grown into better versions of themselves. 

From Holton, they walked in and out of a doorway to the greater world with a love of learning and a calling to give back.

I first learned of Holton-Arms during my summers at my sleepaway camp, Tripp Lake, from Panthers who loved their School – the joyful and purposeful community you now claim. Holton Girls were some of my camp sisters. Decades later, I accept the charge to be gatekeeper and visionary for your precious alma mater and I am not alone in this decision.

My husband, Sam, who I hope many of you will come to know as Coach or Mr. Evins, together with our cat Gumbo, and dog, GiGi chose to move here, to Holton-Arms. Although none of us enjoy moving, we are so happy to walk – well GiGi sometimes runs through – this open door and open our door to you. Our children are now in college and as such, we create our nest here, just across the softball field. Along with Holton’s committed Board of Trustees, our talented faculty and staff, your dedicated parents and caregivers, our proud and passionate alumnae and graduates, and friends of Holton-Arms, we are here for and because of YOU, our third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders.

No matter where your Holton journey began, Brown House, third grade, or as a new Panther today, the students of Holton are my inspiration. You will fuel me to carry on the precious mission delivery of Holton-Arms with my colleagues. Although there are new hills to climb, cookies to sample, and challenges to face, the collective power of Holton’s community, our mission in action, motivates and sustains me. As Holton’s eighth Head of School, I thank you for the privilege of leading through service as an educator. Mrs. Holton would certainly recognize your warm and friendly welcome as the Holton-Arms she envisioned more than a century ago and as such, I imagine she would be so very proud of you as am I. Thank you.

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