Westover has had a long and illustrious history of Chapel speakers. Students in Chapel have witnessed the likes of James Earl Jones, George Washington Carver, Alexander Kerensky, and Archibald MacLeish, as well as community activists, non-profit leaders, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, Buddhist monks and other religious teachers.
Chapel Talks, as diverse as their speakers, present a variety of topics that tap a wide range of emotions and encourage as wide a range of responses. One feature they share is an exploration of what the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy calls “life’s little questions.” In this they are all ethical.
Ethical, moral and religious instruction is by nature controversial. For instance, a genuinely ethical teacher cannot speak without making observations and propositions that confront, perplex, or challenge their audience. Such challenges, even when they are delivered in a generous spirit, are difficult.
Essential to the health of the Chapel Program is the spirit in which the Chapel Talks are given and received. Though some of the talks take up controversial topics, these topics are raised and addressed in a safe, supportive community space where students can explore and reflect with other students and with adults who they know have their best interest in mind.
Tom Hungerford has been at Westover since 1981. Over the years he has held positions as an English teacher, coach, Dean of Faculty, and Chaplain. He holds a B.S. in Philosophy from Northern Arizona University as well as a M.A.R. (Master of Arts in Religion) from Yale University Divinity School.
Since Mary Hillard’s founding of the School in 1909, Westover has made moral and spiritual education of students a centerpiece of its mission. In the early years, much of that character education was centered on a twice-daily chapel service. That commitment to moral education remains just as vigorous today, and is expressed in the conclusion of the School’s Mission Statement: “... Westover challenges young women to think independently, to embrace diversity, and to grow intellectually and spiritually. Westover encourages in each student integrity, responsibility, and commitment to community.”
The cornerstone of character education at Westover therefore remains its vibrant and wide-ranging Chapel Program. A Christian-based but nondenominational program, the weekly Chapel service continues to reflect its historical roots dating back to Westover’s founding. As a result, the Chapel program is able to respond to the demands of a secular and pluralistic culture and student body while still remaining true to its moral and religious foundation, which offers students and the Westover community as a whole a range of opportunities to explore the School’s Christian sources as well as other faiths. And, because of that foundation, these spiritual discussions can take place in an atmosphere that is respectful of moral and spiritual achievement across a wide spectrum of faiths.
Today’s chapel services, coordinated by Chaplain Thomas Hungerford, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, remain a rare opportunity for students and faculty – both as individuals and as a community – to practice moral reflection. The weekly chapel talks are offered by Mr. Hungerford and by other members of the Westover community – faculty, staff and students – as well as by guest speakers, including alumnae, religious leaders, and representatives of charitable and community organizations. Chapel speakers, both those from within and outside the Westover community, are encouraged to explore a wide range of spiritual and philosophical ideas of a topical nature, reflecting what is on the minds of the Westover community and exploring timeless spiritual and ethical questions that still affect our world today.