Over the years, many of you have asked about the origin of our unofficial motto,“words matter.” This simple phrase strikes a chord with so many – and especially now in the current atmosphere of verbal virulence. The story of its origin is equally simple: the fact of the matter is that we are not quite sure how it started! In the summer of 2008, Martha Cutts, our former head of school, and I were
making our way through our endless to-do lists: 1) get a building; 2) design a logo; 3) write a high-school curriculum – easy tasks like those – and we realized that we needed a motto. We came up with “Discite, Servaturi,” (Learn, those who are about to serve), as the official statement on our crest. This motto underscores our belief that learning and stewardship are paired: A good steward must be educated, and an educated person must put learning to a good purpose.
But while our official motto does its official business, the phrase that has really stuck in our community is “words matter.” Martha and I were talking one day, no doubt about the above “to-do” list, and one of us said, “you know, words matter.” From that, we realized the multiple levels of meaning of that phrase for a classical school — and for two women who love languages and words, and who have spent a lifetime helping students see that they can wound and bless with what they say. We both started to use the phrase. It stuck, and people started to repeat it. A student made a poster for Mrs. Cutts with the words in big letters, a poster that still hangs in our school.
Words matter! How appropriate for a school that is trying to emphasize the importance of the liberal arts at a time when programs in the liberal arts are being cut everywhere! How appropriate for a school that requires more language instruction than any other school in the city! How appropriate for a classical school that aims to teach students to use their words well publicly, and to be able
to present, in the long history of rhetoricians, a clear, clean statement of their thoughts! How appropriate for a school that is trying to combat the technological McLanguage of the day, encouraging students instead to do justice to the ambiguity and nuance of their ideas in equally nuanced language! How appropriate for a school that is trying to help students curb their tongues and not fall prey to the verbal nastiness that seems to pervade our society! How appropriate for a school that believes, at its core, that we will begin to understand and appreciate one another when we begin to communicate.
Such a simple yet powerful phrase! May words matter for a long time to come!