First Day of School – By Boat!


New students and faculty arrive to campus by boat from the Centreville Wharf and are greeted by the entire Gunston community.

On Tuesday, September 5, Gunston held its annual Embarkation ceremony. As a 107-year old school, Gunston has many traditions, but few are as meaningful as Embarkation—all new students and faculty arrive on their first day to campus by boat. Gunston’s sixty-four new students and seven new faculty and staff members departed from the Centreville Wharf, traveled down the Corsica River, and arrived at the school’s waterfront, where they were greeted by the school’s Headmaster, Mr. John Lewis. After shaking the Headmaster’s hand, each student signed the school’s honor code—Responsibilities of the Community, then climbed the stairs of the embankment and proceeded to shake the hand of every member of the student body, faculty and administration. “This ceremony is meaningful and symbolic” commented Lewis, “as it celebrates our unique connection to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and also celebrates our strong sense of community.” Many of Gunston’s new parents were on hand to witness the event.

The class of 1921, led by freshman Emma McClary, shakes hand with each of their new classmates.

This year, Gunston—a co-educational college preparatory high school–is opening at a historically high enrollment of 195, and welcomes new students from Queen Anne’s, Kent, Talbot, Cecil, Caroline, and Anne Arundel counties, as well as Delaware. Gunston also welcomes a number of students from overseas, with students arriving this year from Switzerland, Japan, and China. Lewis said, “We’re excited to be welcoming such a large and talented class of new students, and with our largest enrollment, we are looking forward to a great year.”

Gunston School Sept 5, 2017

Gunston School began in 1911.  Originally called the Gunston Farm School, it was founded by Sam and Mary Middleton on their farm along the Corsica River near Centreville in order to provide their daughter Emilie, a polio victim, with the highest quality education. From the beginning, the school had a strong focus on academics, coupled with development of character. Important features of the early curriculum included the performance of plays by Shakespeare and an emphasis on French, the international language of diplomacy. The primary athletic activity was horseback riding, a feature that lasted into the 1960s. Students rode day and were responsible for maintaining the house and the stables.

“Aunt Mary” Middleton – long-time headmistress and founder of the Gunston School

Sam Middleton passed away in 1929, but “Aunt Mary” Middleton continued to oversee the school for another 35 years, building Gunston from a small boarding school to one of the more prestigious college preparatory schools for girls in Maryland. The school’s website quotes one alumna’s comments on “Aunt Mary” saying  “Mary Middleton was not a woman who expected accolades. She was a doer, not a talker. She had character and backbone. She was bold and formidable. She was a fighter and a peacemaker, a diplomat when necessary.”

While there were occasional male students through the years, Gunston remained primarily a girls’ school until 1991.  At the same time, Gunston became a day school only with no boarding facilities.  In recent years, the school has been roughly evenly distributed between male and female students. The total number of faculty, both full and part-time, is 29.  The instructional class size averages 10-12 pupils per class. The emphasis is on a highly academic college preparatory curriculum, though sports and community service are also emphasized. In a typical year, all graduates go on to pursue higher education.

The tradition of new students arriving on campus by boat began in 2010 when John Lewis became headmaster. He saw the school’s waterfront location as an important asset and decided to incorporate it into the students’ first day of school. In addition to the embarkation ceremony, he introduced the tradition of older students lining up to greet the new students with a handshake. In the spring, the seniors leave by boat.

Headmaster John Lewis meets new students at the dock on Gunston’s campus.

In mid-may, all students participate in a week of Chesapeake Bay studies, some with overnight trips and some on day trips.  Following Chesapeake Bay week, qualified seniors may serve a two-week internship with a local business or organization or another project of their choice.  Graduation is in early June.

Senior Lila Ingersoll of Chestertown speaks to the assembled school.

For more information visit the Gunston School website.

See more pictures of Embarkation Day below.  All photos courtesy of Gunston School.

New faculty & staff also arrived by boat.












Letters to Editor

  1. Louise obrien says:

    Although I am quite new to the eastern shore and it’s traditions I am so impressed with Gunston! Their yearly plan to get all the new people to campus by boat is so great and then to shake hands with everyone who is already there is so beautiful. I wish you much success this year.

    Louise OBrien

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