Readers of The Exchanged –
Serving as your Editor-in-Chief over the past two years has been an extraordinary privilege and honor. The Exchanged has profoundly shaped not only my St. Albans experience, but who I am as a person, reframing my perspective of this community and how I can best serve it. My fellow editors and I have had the incredible opportunity to share the voices of countless members of the St. Albans and NCS student bodies, and we have helped promote productive discourse surrounding the most widely-discussed topics. However, as my time at St. Albans draws to a close, I must inevitably say farewell to The Exchanged, capping off this three-year chapter of my St. Albans career.
Over the course of our editorships, The Exchanged has seen tremendous success. We’ve published just over two hundred articles, nineteen issues, and expanded our readership to nearly a thousand readers per issue. We certainly haven’t avoided controversy—articles about the dress code and politics on the Close have garnered substantial attention. They’ve forced us to confront the dichotomy between our goals of free speech and intra-Close cohesion. Yet, we believe that our community emerges stronger by confronting these issues head-on in a civil, St. Albans- or NCS-like manner, and we hope that The Exchanged has helped in this endeavor.
The Close has a deep tradition of journalism and publication. NCS’s founder, Phoebe Hearst, was a passionate patron of libraries and, of course, mothered the founder of the Hearst media empire. The predecessor to The Exchanged, The Independent, was founded in 1988 to report on topics too controversial to be included in The Saint Albans News.
Over the past two years, however, I’ve noticed a trend that I fear will only hasten once I depart—an apathy towards extracurricular writing. Before my time in the Upper School, The Exchanged published weekly, and other publications had similar timelines. We’ve managed to stay afloat this year on a greatly abbreviated schedule, but I, along with the chiefs of other publications, am concerned about next year and beyond. As you’ve likely observed, neither The Exchanged nor The Thinker has published since February, and The Saint Albans News has published only once—and not for a lack of trying. All three publications have expanded efforts to recruit writers this semester, but interest remains isolated to a handful of dedicated students.
Perhaps the lack of interest in optional writing is a mere post-pandemic aberration, or that next year’s editors of the various publications just need to make writing articles more accessible than we did. I am naturally optimistic about the future of the schools—St. Albans has provided me and my classmates so much academically and socially, and I want to see the school continue to thrive into the future. This optimism becomes difficult when such a foundational aspect of the Close intellectual community is struggling to subsist.
The decline in Close publications is part of a greater change of atmosphere occuring at St. Albans. Gone are the days of the hundred-fifty-voice Chorale, out-the-door crowds at History Club speaker events, or full attendance at Chapel. Some parts of the school are still thriving, such as BEEF Club or theater, and perhaps the decline in Chorale membership was beneficial in weeding out students who didn’t necessarily want to sing. Yet, the tradition of branching beyond school and sports at St. Albans is not nearly as widely-revered as it once was, even though it is part of what makes this school so special and beloved by its alumni.
Of course, the pandemic had a large role in uprooting this tradition. Clubs during this period struggled to find regular attendees, and the then-freshmen had no ability to experience the usual St. Albans-like atmosphere the grade before them experienced. Come fall of the first non-Covid year, juniors and seniors faced the challenge of reviving traditions (and the reverence of these traditions among students) with a half of the student body having no experience with any of them. This was a virtually impossible task to fully carry out, and as such, a part of the pre-pandemic school will be lost once our class graduates.
Another contributor is modern entertainment. In the past few years, especially during the pandemic, social media companies like TikTok and Instagram completely mastered how to most optimally distract humans and keep us entertained for long periods of time. Attention spans are suffering, and other forms of entertainment, such as movies or books, pale in comparison to TikTok in terms of which provides the most entertainment. Once you are accustomed to this type of content, it is really difficult to grapple with boredom. Every ten seconds you are bombarded with new stimuli specifically tailored to interest you, which no other entertainment can do. I’m by no means immune, and writing this article is infinitely more boring than scrolling on my phone. I’m sure that many of my classmates feel the same way, and I don’t fault them for being allured by an algorithm designed to distract us. I can hardly fault myself.
I am certain that the school's peer institutions are having similar issues. Traditions are incredibly hard to maintain, and it takes constant dedication to ensure their survival. St. Albans is still struggling to recover from the pandemic and its repercussions, but I have no doubt that the school can and will rebuild its core elements. We have a unique community of teachers, students, and alumni who want to see St. Albans and its values of brotherhood, intellectual curiosity, and worldly compassion succeed, and looking intrinsically at our mission, history, and scholastic character is where we will most often find success.
It is difficult for me to walk away from the Close without a solution in place to revive the spirit of intellectual inquiry once so entrenched at the school. I am not certain whether the publications next year will find more success than we did this year, or whether they will all survive. Yet, I do know that of all school communities, the Close is one of the most well-equipped for a renaissance of journalism and extracurricular curiosity. It may not be next year, or the year following that. Yet, a simple look to our roots shows that we believe in the togetherness that existed in the pre-pandemic, pre-TikTok world, and we are willing to do what it takes to rekindle this spirit.
Writing is the most vital element of a healthy intellectual community. Sharing beliefs and stories with others—especially when grades or collegiate motivations aren’t involved—fosters critical thinking and democratic discourse. It broadens perspectives, and deepens trust. It enables our scholarly institutions to flourish. And it allows our minds to thrive.
Enjoy the final issue of The Exchanged, Volume VII.
Editor-in-Chief, The Exchanged