Four Steps Forward for Groton's Iconic Schoolroom

Since 1904, Groton’s iconic Schoolroom has featured a pantheon of busts—all white men, from Shakespeare and George Washington to Socrates and Goethe.
On November 12, 2021, the Schoolroom welcomed four new faces with the installation of sculptures representing Eleanor Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks.
With these new busts, the Schoolroom—at the front of Groton’s central academic building, the 1899 Schoolhouse—now better reflects world history, the school’s commitment to inclusion, and the composition of Groton’s student body today.
“These four busts, representing more than half the population that was previously not visible in the Schoolroom, are an expression of a community that is determined to come together to prioritize adding over deleting,” said Headmaster Temba Maqubela. “This is visible inclusion at its best!”
In June 2019, Groton School’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to add the four new busts, spurred in part by student advocacy that moved the addition of new busts from a topic of discussion to a priority for the board. "It is so wonderful to bring this collection of busts into the twenty-first century with four inspiring figures who have changed the world," said Board of Trustees President Ben Pyne ’77, P’12, ’15.
By fall 2019, Skylight Studios in Woburn, Massachusetts, which owns the collection of molds from which the original Schoolroom busts were crafted, had been commissioned to create the new sculptures. The process, which was delayed by the pandemic, included creating artistic renderings and making clay sculptures, molds, and, finally, the plaster busts.
Friday morning’s chapel service celebrated the bust installation, with readings by the senior prefects; comments by Board of Trustees President Ben Pyne ’77, P’12, ’15 and Special Assistant to the Headmaster Kate Machan, who coordinated the bust project; and a blessing by the Reverend Allison Read, the school chaplain.
The prefects read quotes from each person represented by a new bust, then shared a brief history of the honoree. Maya Varkey ’22 read this quote by Nelson Mandela:
“I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Mr. Mandela, Maya explained, led both peaceful protests and armed resistance against the white minority’s oppressive regime in South Africa and spent nearly three decades in prison for his activism. Between his release from prison and his election as South Africa’s first Black president, he worked to dismantle the apartheid system.
Anthony Wright ’22 shared a quote by Rosa Parks:
“There were times when it would have been easy to fall apart or to go in the opposite direction, but somehow I felt that if I took one more step, someone would come along to join me.” The Alabama native, Anthony explained, was a lifelong activist known best for her refusal to relinquish her seat on a public bus in 1955.
Yeabsira Gugssa ’22 read this quote by Mahatma Gandhi:
“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” Gandhi, Yeabsira explained, was the leading figure in India’s struggle to gain independence from Great Britain, known for his doctrine of nonviolent protest to achieve political and social progress.
Griffin Elliot ’22 quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, the person represented in the Schoolroom who is most directly related to Groton—through her spouse, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a graduate of the Form of 1900, and her children who attended Groton:
“The development of the ideal of freedom and its translation into the everyday life of the people in great areas of the earth is the product of the efforts of many peoples. It is the fruit of a long tradition of vigorous thinking and courageous action. No one race and no one people can claim to have done all the work to achieve greater dignity for human beings and greater freedom to develop human personality. In each generation, and in each country, there must be a continuation of the struggle and new steps forward must be taken, since this is preeminently a field in which to stand still is to retreat.” The former First Lady, said Griffin, “persistently exercised her influence in advocacy for the rights and needs of the poor, of minorities, and of the disadvantaged.”
The choice of the Schoolroom additions came after extensive discussion, and grew from a student effort to add women to the pantheon. In 2018, a group of students, spearheaded by Lucy Chatfield ’18, Josie Fulton ’18, and Layla McDermott ’18, advocated for a female bust. When they shared their argument with Headmaster Temba Maqubela, he asked them to present their case at an upcoming Board of Trustees meeting. The board unanimously supported the addition of females, but also supported other new role models, including those who would resonate with students from outside the United States. "We all believe that Groton is a living institution, not a museum," said Board Present Pyne during the chapel service, "and that tradition for tradition's sake can become hollow and weigh down the potential for any institution." 
The Schoolroom, which looks virtually the same as it did in 1904—some desks still have space for inkwells—is where Groton’s youngest students, Second and Third Formers (eighth and ninth graders), study. Layla recalled thinking about the young girls in her dorm as she advocated for change. Today, she is encouraged that such progress “can happen, even at Groton, a place so steeped in tradition … 
“Representation does matter,” she said, “and more than that, this will be the impetus for conversation that will lead to more change.”
The original eighteen busts, representing Western thought and the school’s prevailing mindset at the time, were chosen by school founder Endicott Peabody with input from Charles Elliot Norton, a noted scholar and Harvard professor. The four new busts were unveiled briefly to the Form of 2021 graduates at Prize Day in June, but current students, faculty, and staff did not see them until November 12. 

"We are here today because of student initiative and dialogue, the support of the headmaster and trustees," said Mr. Pyne, "and because of the power and importance of inclusion and belonging."