This is the text from a video message from Head of School Lee Burns '87 to alumni to update them on the work of the school's "Moving Forward Together as Brothers" Initiative.
Greetings to McCallie alumni from the Ridge.
There are many things I admire and love about McCallie, and chief among them would be the brotherhood that boys enjoy during their years here and even carry with them throughout their lives. As alumni, we are brothers. We are family. We are McCallie.
Yet brothers and families, and McCallie, face challenging times — moments that test our bonds and brotherhood, that cause us, rightly so, to reflect upon our mission and values and how we can best express them, how we can get even better and give every boy our very best so he can be his very best.
One of the things I have realized is that, despite the strength of McCallie and the powerful and palpable brotherhood here, some of our students, past and present, haven’t experienced the fullness—and thus the best—of McCallie.
We are a school anchored today, and throughout our history, by our Christian foundation and principles which find expression in our motto — man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever — and our ideals of honor, truth and duty. We recognize that every boy is a child created by God in His image, with inherent dignity and worth. We therefore seek to love every boy, to treat each one with dignity and respect and equality.
We can and have, though, fallen short sometimes in living out and up to our ideals, regardless of our good intentions and many strengths.
Last month, Board Chairman Jim Ruffin emailed you about our work on diversity and inclusion, particularly as it relates to race and sexual identity. You may have read my emails about aspects of this over the summer or read about this on our website. These are important but complicated and even polarizing topics in our country today.
I want to take several moments to update you on McCallie’s approach to this work.
First, we are clear on who McCallie is — what our mission and values are — and discussions and decisions are and will be firmly rooted in them. Our work flows from our core. We need not, and would not, reinvent McCallie. We can more fully and consistently express who we are. And we are a Christian boys’ boarding and day school that is lovingly concerned with the character formation of every boy entrusted to us, respecting his own identity and beliefs and where he is on his own journey. We are also a school concerned not only for our students’ preparation for college and work, but also for their chief end as well. We believe each boy is made in God’s image and has a calling that will shape him throughout his entire life. That means we must treat him with dignity and love, speak into his life in ways that build him up, and watch in wonder to see who he will become and what he will do.
Some of our current and former students, especially those of color and those who are gay, have not experienced the fullness of the McCallie community. Sometimes, they have experienced pain and shame, been hurt and inclined to hide. It deeply grieves me, not just as Head of School but as a man and person of faith, to read and hear the powerful stories and experiences of McCallie students who felt less than, unloved or unworthy, unseen or unsupported. And while we cannot undo or right past wrongs and hurts, we can learn and do better and assure our students of color, our gay students, our students no matter what their ethnicity or religion or culture or country of origin or socio-economic or any background or identity, that we see you, we value you, we love you. We are all equally and fully a part of the McCallie family.
Among you our 16,000 alumni, you certainly hold a multitude of beliefs, ideas and worldviews, and you surely hold them in good conscience on a number of topics, including on ones of diversity and inclusion.
I hope and think that, despite the range of beliefs represented by you, our alumni, we would all agree that every boy at McCallie has inherent, God-given worth and should be seen, valued and heard and be treated with love, respect, dignity and equality. Every McCallie boy, every human being, deserves that.
Our work on diversity and inclusion will reflect those principles, which are consistent with our Christian identity, and be guided by the question of what is best for the boys of McCallie.
While many in our society see issues through a political lens or cultural framework and vigorously debate and advocate for certain social positions and causes, we are simply and solely an advocate for boys: for their best interest, for their wellness, for their holistic development, for their character formation, for their growth into men who will make a positive difference in the world.
And while we are a Christian school with a Judeo-Christian heritage that welcomes boys of all backgrounds, we are not a school that takes positions on specific doctrinal matters that Christians and others can in good conscience disagree about. We are and will remain firmly rooted in our non-denominational Christian foundation, and we are and will remain firmly rooted in our commitment to loving well every boy. These are not in conflict but in complement to each other.
Our work on diversity and inclusion will not only benefit our boys who might be marginalized, excluded or pained due to their background or identity, but it will benefit all of our students in preparing them to live and lead in a diverse world in which empathy, social-emotional intelligence and collaboration are vital skills...and in which we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and be merciful, compassionate and just.
As a faculty and staff, we are in a posture of listening and learning. We are hearing from our students, alumni and parents…and what we hear is sometimes difficult, but we welcome it nonetheless. We welcome ideas and feedback from all our alumni. We are reading and discussing, and we are and will be evaluating and synthesizing ideas and resources from a variety of people and perspectives in light of our mission. We have task forces and committees to organize our efforts and an overarching initiative called “Moving Forward Together as Brothers.” We are leaning into this. We are moving at a pace that is slower than some would like, but in a way that is deliberate and thoughtful. This work, which is both of the head and heart, is too important to rush, despite the urgency.
I do not know the specific outcomes of our ongoing work in this area, but I hope that by understanding the foundation and framework for it, you will have confidence in both the process and outcome. That process will include our Board of Trustees setting broad and strategic policies in their stewardship of our mission and enduring foundational values.
Our work in these areas has entered the public domain, not just because these are vital topics in our interconnected society, but because McCallie’s reach, reputation and impact are national, even international. From social media platforms to an upcoming newspaper article, people are watching, commenting and discussing. And we welcome that public examination. It makes us stronger, more accountable, and more consequential.
Sadly, though, we live in times in which individuals and groups with opposing viewpoints and ideas are accustomed to attacking and vilifying each other, attempting to shame or cancel, rather than listening, learning, empathizing and looking for common ground. Though members of the McCallie community will of course hold different ideas, it is my hope and expectation that we can and will model for our students and society how to hold discourse with civility and respect, how to extend grace and compassion, and how to listen carefully and love well.
As alumni, you and I are the products of McCallie teachers who loved us well. They met us where we were and walked alongside us as trusted guides and mentors during the challenging and confusing journey of adolescence. We each needed them. And we are better for them.
And our faculty today is doing the same -- walking with our students, guiding them, mentoring them during a journey that may be even more challenging than ours was. But we need to make sure we do that well for every single boy, including and especially those who are gay or of color. For some of these students, we have, regrettably, fallen short of giving them the best of McCallie.
As fellow alumni, I hope you will join me in supporting our work to give every boy the fullness and richness of the McCallie experience: one in which we express well the love, dignity and respect that he deserves as a child of God created in His image. And I pray that we, as a school community, as the McCallie family, would glorify God in modeling the love and teachings of Jesus Christ as we nurture and love every McCallie boy.
Let us move forward together as brothers. McCallie brothers.
On McCallie, and onward McCallie.