WEEKLY MESSAGE FROM HEAD OF SCHOOL 2021/02/01-2021/​02/​07

Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

Last week I wrote about some aspects of our school’s varied and innovative curricula that make me feel positive and optimistic.  I say ‘curricula’ in the plural as it is so important to understand what we offer our students at Keystone taking place both in and outside the classroom.   As we move into the Year of the Ox, here are a few more thoughts on this theme of positivity, this time linking our school to the world through service.  I’ll start with the two paragraphs below, that come from my graduation address to the Class of 2020.  I was asking them to consider my opinion that the use of the word ‘unprecedented’ is all too frequent in the context of COVID:

Here are two reasons why it is unhelpful to think of this pandemic as unprecedented.  First, it makes us feel powerless.  Yet, we have scientific, medical, economic, and other resources that are more powerful than ever before to deal with such events.  Let’s make more of these, collectively, within and across nations.  Help build a world that does that in your future.

Second, it reinforces our blindness to, or disregard for, the fact that significant numbers of our fellow humans habitually lead their lives surrounded and infected by deadly diseases, and without schooling.  Viral death and suspended schooling are completely precedented for many millions: it is a dismal part of their daily lives.  This pandemic has revealed that starkly.  We should not trivialize and must not forget that.  Let’s make more for and of the lives of the disadvantaged.  Help build a world that does that in your future.

What I was suggesting to them, our hugely talented and highly educated young women and men, is that their futures are rosy despite the rage of the pandemic.  They live in an enterprising world where vaccines can now be produced with amazing speed.  They also live in a world where more and more of the privileged are being forced to realize that there are many who are not so privileged.  This recognition is positive.  Such realizations are necessary if we are to have progress for all.  The viral catastrophe has helped many of us to think again about issues of equity around the world.  Some of us are now more aware of the plight of others.  This recognition is a cause for optimism.  And some of us realize, because of ‘vaccine nationalism’, that our world will no longer be the safe haven we wish it to be unless all are vaccinated.  China, with a few other nations, is a leader in this regard. 

For me, there are clear connections from here to our world of Keystone, specifically between those who are in need and those who can take the lead. These links find expression and action in our community service curriculum.  One really important aspect of a Keystone education is an emphasis on service: serving our school community; serving our surrounding community; serving our country; and serving our world.  I was not sure how you, our families and students, would take to this emphasis on service when we opened.  In some other schools that I know, it has not been fully understood.  I am delighted to write now, as we move through our seventh year as a still new school, that the spirit of service is already well-rooted in our Keystone culture.

This is our service mission:

Keystone celebrates all forms of service. The service we engage in builds character and deepens compassion. Mutuality is at the heart of our acts of service. We strive to learn from and for our communities and the world.

 We have a Director of Service Learning, Zadok Huang, and program coordinators for community service in both the MYP and the DP.  Over 20 students in the secondary division serve on our Service Council and younger children in the primary division are active, with their teachers and leaders, in serving.  The PTA Committee has recently been researching and visiting, with Keystone faculty members, 10 local organizations that will offer meaningful service opportunities to our students and teachers.  These agencies are in addition to those where we have already forged powerful links in preceding years.  We have been working for some time now, as many of you know, on a long-term service project in an area of rural need in Sishui County, Shandong.  Next school year, we hope to take all our Grade 8 students there for a week of service work and community education.  During this time of the pandemic, some of our students have initiated extraordinary projects in the past year to assist those who are suffering, first in Wuhan, then in different parts of China and also other countries.  And, because we are more restricted to our campus than usual, we have been developing more and more internal service possibilities.  How wonderful that, even in times of difficulty, our teachers and students should engage in useful work on our campus that benefits our own community.

The spirit of service is the spirit of optimism.  Those who serve deliberately go out of their way to assist others, usually those who are less fortunate in material terms.  There is in this relationship an innate recognition that individuals matter, and that even small assists count.  Those who give make a difference.  Those who receive are relieved.  Yet the recipients give back too, in ways sometimes hard to predict.  Givers gain understanding and empathy, in ways that align beautifully with our Keystone values.  Those who offer genuine service know how rich the returns of their stewardship can be.

The Year of the Ox is almost here.  Oxen are sometimes characterized as hard workers who stay in the background, avoiding the spotlight.  They are intelligent and reliable, strong, fair, calm, and patient.  Sometimes they can be a little opinionated, even stubborn, but they are never demanding of praise.  These all seem to me to be excellent qualities for effective community servants.  They are also excellent qualities for coping with crises.

And so, as we celebrate the start of the Year of the Ox, may there be much joy for many, and may those who experience joy have the empathy to feel for those, and we know there are always some, who will experience sadness, or loss, or worse.  If we have much, let’s offer much.  Let us be oxen in strength and let us serve with humbleness, without seeking attention for ourselves.

I wish you all a blessed year ahead.


With warm regards, 

Malcolm McKenzie

Head of School