Every morning at Cedar Classical Academy, the Cedar community—staff, students, and parents—gathers together in the Great Hall for Opening Ceremony. During Opening Ceremony, we sing a hymn, recite a patriotic recitation or sing a patriotic song, pray together, and sing again while students walk to class. Sometimes students or staff share an individual or all-class recitation with the school community or I deliver all-school announcements. The initial pattern of Opening Ceremony is always the same; I greet the students with a “Good morning, students,” they respond, “Good morning,” and after the hymn, I ask them, “How are all of you this morning?” We instruct students to respond to this question: “Well.” But why?
Rituals, Catechisms, & Habits
No matter the setting, people repeat what they think is important. If people think that exercise, church, prayer, and family are important, then they will consistently exercise, go to church, pray, and call their parents—consistently, not every once in a while. If their stated priorities do not match how they spend their time, it is not that they lack habits and rituals. On the contrary, they have formed opposing habits and rituals—like hitting the snooze button, staying up too late on Saturday nights, scrolling on their phones, or procrastinating—that reflect opposing priorities. At Cedar Classical Academy, we get a very short 13-year span to help human beings shape good habits. To succeed at this, we pack our school days and academic calendars with things worth repeating. One of these is our daily Opening Ceremony.
If you walk around our school after Opening Ceremony, you will see teachers standing at the door of their classrooms welcoming students by name and with a handshake. This sets the tone for attitudes and interactions in the classroom. Opening Ceremony works the same way. It is the only time that I, as the head of school, get to address the entire school community. In this way, it gives me the opportunity to set the day’s tone for the entire school. Through Opening Ceremony’s rituals and catechisms, I welcome students to get ready to give their best. It is an opportunity to give a sense to the students, teaching staff, support staff, and parents alike that we are on the same mission together.
Why Not “Good”?
Most Americans are accustomed to saying “Good” in response to the question “How are you?” but we train students to respond “Well” to this question. We do this because “good” is an adjective. Adjectives modify nouns. So, the statement “I am good” gives information about the subject: yourself. This is the same as saying, “I am morally good,” or “I am praiseworthy,” or “I am an excellent human being.” The word “well,” on the other hand, is an adverb. Adverbs modify verbs. So the statement “I am well” gives information about the word “am,” which is a to be verb. The adverb “well” describes how you are doing. This is the same as saying, “I am doing well,” or “I am well kept,” or “I am safe, provided for, and blessed to be here.”
Why Not “Bad”?
What if a student does not feel like he is doing well? Is it dishonest to say that you are doing well when you are having a rough day or feeling poorly? Think back to what it means grammatically to say “I am well.” In that sentence, “well” is an adverb that modifies how a person is doing. What sorts of things need to be true for you to answer the question positively? In other words, what tips the scales from “doing badly” to “doing well”? Is doing well dependent on the student’s perspective or on an objective standard? Each student who attends our school has someone in her life—whether a parent, grandparent, or donor—who loves her enough to sacrifice for her education and who pays money for her private tuition. All of our students live with two loving parents, and many of them have siblings to boot. Each student gets to spend his days contemplating what God has created and done for him. We pray that each student who attends our school belongs body and soul to Jesus Christ who preserves us so that not a hair can fall from our heads apart from the will of God our Father. In my view, regardless of how a student feels, he is doing well.
Better Than We Deserve
When you ask a certain father in our school, “How are you?”, he never fails to respond to the question with a smile, nod, and the words “Better than I deserve.” There is something important in this response. Many students and families at our school are going through hard trials. This will always be the case. Amidst these trials, we want them to increasingly gain perspective on adversity. Whether they are dealing with something as small as a bad mood or something as life-changing as bereavement, we want students to see that the Lord’s goodness means that they are still being well-kept by a Father who loves them. Like the hymn writer Horatio Spafford, we can answer “It is well with my soul” even while gazing upon the source of all our troubles.
Orienting Students’ Perspectives & Attitudes
The education we offer begins with shaping a student’s understanding of the world. The first step that each student must take is to see herself as a small part of God’s creation, and not as the center. A student who walks in feeling discontent with a chip on his shoulder, ready to criticize and not ready to obey quickly, will not be ready to learn. Requiring that student to answer the question “How are you?” in unison with his fellow students and in a way that reflects a Christian perspective helps start him off in the right direction. While there is a place for diving into how a student feels—especially at home with his parents—the start of the school day is the right time to collectively train a student that, independent of how he feels, he is always well in Christ Jesus.
At Cedar Classical Academy, we care about culture. What I say at daily Opening Ceremony is one of those tiny details that our staff has spent time thinking and talking about. People repeat what they think is important. We think that our students’ attitudes each morning should be rightly oriented to the blessings and privileges that God has given them. We assist students toward this end by training them to remember that they are always doing better than they deserve.