Michael Wirtz Opens Johnson Center Celebration

On January 8, Head of School Michael Wirtz welcomed the K-12 school community to the new Johnson Center for Health and Wellness and led students in a ribbon cutting. Read his full remarks here.
Welcome to an exciting and historic day at Hackley! Today, the Hackley School community opens the Walter C. Johnson Center for Health and Wellness and each of you has the honor of being part of the first group of students and faculty to use it.

Like all of you, I am excited to open this building. This facility, simply one of the finest around, exists for the purpose of promoting the health, wellness, and general wellbeing of the Hackley community. All of this begs two questions: What is wellness? What does it mean for me? 

As I’ve thought about these questions, I realized that there is no universal definition of wellness. Wellness programs and initiatives can mean different things at different schools and organizations. The second thing I realized is that when you reflect on Hackley’s history, you uncover the groundwork that led us to this moment. Wellness, while seemingly new, has in fact long been a part of Hackley’s story. As we open the Johnson Center today, we are witness to an important development in Hackley’s modern history, while also part of the school’s long trajectory of helping students develop in every aspect.

Mrs. Hackley, a dedicated member of the Unitarian Church, established this school to educate and prepare - in the custom of those times - boys for entrance to college and life beyond. Even then, however, the school endeavored to do more than simply help students develop their intellectual selves. Theodore Chickering Williams, Hackley’s first headmaster, stated that Hackley’s goal was to awaken students to “all the nobler elements of human life.” While clearly focused on a classic education, Williams was also attuned to the broader needs of students, their physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual needs, all of which comprise Hackley’s definition of wellness. In some ways, Williams words lay the first brick in what has become this building and the programs it supports.

From Williams, we leap forward to more recent times and the 21 year tenure of Walter C. Johnson. Mr. Johnson also understood the importance of student health and wellness in a modern academic environment. Throughout his tenure, Mr. Johnson tirelessly served the Hackley community, fundamentally transforming the school into the one we all inhabit today, a school that is not only beautiful, but is a healthy, vibrant learning community. Hackley’s Board of Trustees honored Mr. Johnson’s leadership by naming the Center for Health and Wellness after him, ensuring that generations of Hackley students will remember all he did for our school. In the coming weeks, I encourage you to read the plaque on the green wall outside the fitness center, which more fully describes his accomplishments and contributions. Appropriately, that plaque hangs next to a replica of a Monet painting, which is also part of the story of this building.

The original Monet, along with paintings by Pissarro and Sisley, were donated to Hackley by Ethel Strong Allen through her estate. The Allen family’s generosity to Hackley dates back decades to Herbert Allen Sr., a former trustee and longtime supporter of the school whose portrait hangs in Allen Memorial Hall. Across many years and multiple generations, the Allen family made the Johnson Center and many other facilities and programs on campus possible. As Mr. Johnson himself noted when the paintings were donated, “Whatever Hackley is now and can be in the future is a result of Herbert Allen’s faith and his actions, and the ongoing commitment of his children and grandchildren.” We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Allens, who have helped shape Hackley for all of us and those who will follow.

All of this brings us to today and to all of you: What does wellness mean for me? Starting now, we will advance the story of wellness at Hackley, with the Johnson Center as an integral element. This wonderful new facility invites all of us to make good use of it. It is not a museum nor a shrine, but rather an envelope for a program that transcends its walls and can impact every area of campus life.

As you walk around and use the building, take note of how its design touches on the five dimensions of wellness I mentioned previously.

We are gathered in one of the spaces dedicated to the physical wellness. This gym and the other amazing athletic, fitness, and training facilities encourage all of us to become more active, to learn about nutrition and proper care for our bodies, and to form lasting and healthy habits. The building is more than its athletic complexes, however. Nestled throughout, you find areas that point to the importance of social wellness. Behind all of you, the atrium and cafe - named “The Nest” and “The Well” respectively Community Council - are just a few of the many social spaces in the Johnson Center designed to foster strong, healthy relationships.

Emotional wellness is developed in part through healthy responses to successes, challenges, and even failure as part of the programs offered here. Classrooms spaces will help develop the knowledge, resources, skills, and support structures critical to emotional wellbeing. The cognitive aspects of wellness are central to Hackley’s educational mission and a significant part of your daily experience. I welcome you to use the numerous spaces in the building as you study or collaborate with peers.

This brings me to the final dimension of wellness: spiritual. There are many here who employ practices, such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness exercises, all which relate to the spiritual side of wellness. If we journey back through Hackley’s history, however, we hear the spiritual echoes of wellness in our mottos: Enter Here to Be and Find a Friend, Character is Higher than Intellect, United, We Help One Another, and Go Forth and Spread Beauty and Light. Friendship, character, helping others. All are promoted by this building and the programs it supports. Beauty and light are part of its very architecture, which welcomes nature into the space and provides us stunning views of our magnificent campus.

Today, as in every day, we are privileged to be members of the Hackley community. We have the great good fortune of being here for the opening of the Johnson Center, gathered as beneficiaries of the work and generosity of those who came before us and who valued our individual and collective wellbeing. Our use of this facility ties each us to Hackley’s long tradition of physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual education. We go forward and honor this history by embracing the “nobler elements of human life” present throughout our program, and by the ways in which we develop lifelong habits, mindsets, and relationships that help us care not only for ourselves, but for one another and the collective wellness of the Hackley community. Thank you.