Letter to the Editor: A Response to Arguments Against Chapel and Class Meeting

Re: “A Plea from Overscheduled Students” (Opinions, November 1, 2018):

In a recent Record article, James Horrocks ’19 and Harry Roepers ’19 made the case for making Chapel and class meetings optional. They argued that Chapel and class meetings are unproductive uses of time. They claimed that while both can have moments of value, students should not be compelled to attend them. Instead, they recommended that it should be up to students to decide whether or not a given week’s program will be of benefit to them. However, this change to the schedule would be harmful to the community.

Horrocks and Roepers are right in saying that rigor is expected in all aspects of student life, especially in academics and athletics. Certainly it is true that students can feel beleaguered in their quest to attain the “highest standards of excellence.” Nevertheless, there is more to boarding school life than just school and sports. Unlike the majority of students in the world, we live at school. We eat and sleep and laugh and cry together. Therefore, we have a commitment to one another that goes beyond academics and athletics: we have a commitment to our character.

Chapel gives us time to reflect on the happenings in our own lives at school and around the world. Members of our community, students and faculty alike, go up and talk about matters deeply personal to them. A personal tragedy, a reflection on their time here, calls for change in our community, and more have been shared in Chapel. Considering the many individuals that invest a significant amount of time and effort into the Chapel program––may it be writing speeches or preparing performances––it is clear that at the very least, these weekly meetings serve as a fundamental platform for sharing and engaging within our close-knit community. 

Horrocks and Roepers argued that, oftentimes “students stress about the day ahead rather than concentrating” on the Chapel talk. In response to this, we argue that students at Hotchkiss, while stressed, are not in a state of . It is evident that we are all trying to maintain many different commitments here; however, a 20 to 30 minute speech is not an immense burden on any student. They propose that Chapel be made optional and that students be provided a brief summary of the topic of the Chapel so that they can decide if the time will be useful. However, this solution has two major, harmful effects.

First, making Chapel optional will result in a significant decrease in attendance. Second, the important lessons that Chapel has the ability to teach us will be lost on the student body.

The first harm seems fairly obvious. Converting a mandatory event to an optional one would result in less attendance. It is likely that many students would never attend Chapel if optional. As we can all agree that we have busy lives, people will likely take this extra 20-30 minutes to socialize at the snack bar or go to the library and do homework. We know that many students did this two years ago during the “Consultation” period slot during Friday all-school meetings.

If we tried to preview Chapel talks over email and made Chapel optional, students would make a decision on whether they wish to attend the coming day’s chapel based solely on one summary. This summary does not offer each talk the chance to fully appeal to the student body, and would lack the emotion that is crucial to connecting with the message offered by the speakers. In order for what is said in Chapel to have an impact, it is paramount that it is delivered in person. That human element, hearing from one’s peers, is just as important as what is said. 

We agree with Roepers and Horrocks that some class meetings are more useful than others, such as discussions on rules and the organizing of major class events. As a result, we agree with them that the necessity for a meeting should be assessed each week. But instead of making attendance optional, deans should review when they need to be held.