May 1, 2012
Today is Principal's Day at Exeter – a day of no classes and some well-deserved R&R. Principal's Day is a long-standing tradition. It's always a surprise, announced in creative ways, and always at the last minute. This year the announcement came as a riddle.
Yesterday at 12:43 p.m. Principal Hassan sent the students an email with a poem and a riddle by English Instructor Todd Hearon. The poem, "Atlantis," appeared in Out of Oz, the final volume of the popular Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire. Hassan's email continued, "I have also attached another poem I asked Mr. Hearon to write especially for all the students of Phillips Exeter Academy. It contains a hidden message."
It didn't take long for students to figure out the acrostic in Hearon's riddle:
Predictable as lightning, change and chance,
Right in its errant focus to unfix
Ingrained exactitude and ignorance,
Nulling the authority of bricks;
Comfort to crumb-crammed minds disconsolate,
Invisibler of bodies' wear and tear,
Punctiliously arriving spot-on late,
Annual balm of the deciduous year–
Lowers to upper lighter spirits rise,
Seniors and uppers sink again to preps,
Death to the death of nunc and hic! the cries
All down the years reverberate, perhaps.
You who decipher this can say (in Caps):
[clue: it is tomorrow May 1]
Within minutes voices were raised with delight across campus; cell phones, Twitter and Facebook spread the news.
Last night, students enjoyed the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, an Exonian-themed LEGO® tournament and free popcorn.
Today, students are catching up on sleep. It's rainy in Exeter, so scheduled outdoor events will be moved indoors.
Hearon, who was called on to pen his riddle in very short order, had fun with his assignment. "Principally (!), it was the acrostic that suggested the form," he says. "That's what I started with; rhymes and the loose pentameter rhythm held it together and suggested content." Feedback from students was positive. "The students seemed pleased, those that I talked to, and seemed to have 'a greater appreciation for poetry' because of it," says Hearon. "Auden said, 'poetry makes nothing happen,' but this had direct consequences on and in their lives. (though I wouldn't go so far to call this poetry)."
Principal's Day started under Exeter's 9th principal, William G. Saltonstall (serving from 1946 – 63). Originally dubbed "St. Gurdon's Day" (after Saltonstall's middle name, Gurdon), the tradition continues today as a celebration of spring, and a day to recoup. Each year the delivery of the message is half the fun. In recent years the announcement of Principal's Day has come via encoded Caesar Box on the Facebook page of The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown '82, and through various edibles – M&M's®, soda bottles and fortune cookies.
— Nicole Pellaton