On a chilly Friday evening, December 4, a moving event took place at The Studio School, 115-117 West 95th Street. We gathered to honor the life and legacy of Virginia O'Hanlon. A large gathering, including three generations of the O'Hanlon family, attended the ceremony to dedicate an historic plaque in Virginia's name.
For it was here, in 1897, that 8-year-old Virginia wrote her famous letter to The New York Sun. "I am 8 years old," she wrote, " Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so.' Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?"
Her question inspired the paper's editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, to respond with one of the most renowned and treasured editorials in American history, coining the now-famous phrase, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."
The story of Virginia O'Hanlon doesn't end with that oft quoted affirmation, however. She grew up to become an educator and staunch advocate for children's rights, believing that all children, regardless of social background, should have the same opportunities to learn.
One of Virginia O'Hanlon's granddaughters spoke at the ceremony of her delight in knowing that her grandmother's childhood home, rescued from years of abandonment, had been transformed into The Studio School. In an eloquent tribute, she observed that "A full circle has been completed and [my grandmother's] life's work continues. Virginia would be so very pleased."
It's in this spirit that The Studio School has established the Virginia O'Hanlon Scholarship, so that we may educate children to take their place in the world with integrity, compassion, and a lifelong love for learning. It's fitting that in keeping with Virginia's life and ideals that Studio School scholarships, established in her name, will be need-based and go to students of merit.
Last week, in preparation for the dedication ceremony, as I read Mr. Church's editorial aloud to the children of our school, the words began to get fuzzy about half way through. This was not simply due to a lack of reading glasses.
I was deeply moved to realize how profound the words really were. I had read this editorial before, but somehow in the presence of the children it took on more meaning. My blurry vision helped me see that Mr. Church was expressing what we strive to do as educators: to speak to children in a way that deepens their perception of reality, while enhancing their visions of everything that is possible.
For Virginia's story illuminates The Studio School vision for learning. At the heart of our approach is the relationship and interaction between student and teacher, working through inquiry and collaborative dialogue. The integration of thought and feeling is what opens our vision to connect reality with possibility. Virginia's question and Mr. Church's answer speak to what is essential in education--the importance of people asking questions and answering them with both their hearts and minds.
The spirit of Virginia's inquiry is amplified by the wisdom of Mr. Church's response, a call for all of humanity to focus more closely on perceiving what is good and positive, constructive and creative in this world. The Studio School is honored to be a manifestation of this goal, and we are delighted by the providence of our shared vision as we teach children to become the people they were meant to be.
"The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see," as Francis Pharcellus Church wrote in his eloquent response to Virginia's query.
Yes, Virginia your legacy continues.