In 1916, Paul Schoedinger, a senior at Columbus Academy, created the motto “In Quest of the Best” for the first hard-bound edition of the yearbook,The Caravel. The school community took a liking to Schoedinger’s mantra, and it was eventually adopted as Academy’s official statement.
Ever since, “In Quest of the Best” has served as a driving force behind the actions of those in the Viking community.
But the concept of striving to be the “best” is not an easy one to grasp. After all, what does being the best even mean?
Among those both inside and outside CA’s walls, a quest for the best can often be taken as a thirst for superiority and constant achievement in the classroom. This was a troubling notion for many, including Head of School, Melissa Soderberg.
Regarding this concern, Soderberg said, “I think there are times when we make the conscious decision as students and faculty at this school to put achievement at the very top of the most important things-over taking care of other people, over taking care of spaces, over thinking about what might be the most generous, kind thing to do in all places.”
In recent years, the school has been working to reframe “In Quest of the Best.” Former Headmaster, John Mackenzie, articulated his vision for Academy by stating,“Each day we strive for our best, and we hope to encourage you to be in quest of your best as well.” This mission was promoted by turning more of the school’s focus toward ethics and community, rather than solely academic achievement.
Ethics and Character director, Tim Leet, played an integral role in the creation of the principle values of Academy, known as the “5+2” values. He led focus groups involving a variety of members from the CA community, and together, they agreed upon five core moral values—respect, responsibility, honesty, compassion, and fairness—and two overarching concepts: integrity and moral courage.
Upon the creation of “5+2,” Leet approached Upper School English teacher and photography whiz, Andrew Morris, and the two discussed ways in which the words could be visually represented. Together, the pair came up with the idea of etching the values on the facade of Academy Hall. Morris got to work, eventually producing a photoshopped picture of their design.
The first design, which was the favorite of the two, soon made its way into the hands of Soderberg, mere months after her arrival at CA. Impressed with Leet and Morris’s vision, she held onto the photo, finally introducing it to the Board while Academy was in the process of unveiling its new Strategic Vision in the 2016-17 school year.
The school’s administration found the idea of engraving the “5+2” words below “In Quest of the Best” on Academy Hall to be a fitting physical interpretation of an aspect of the vision’s third goal: Frame our motto, “In Quest of the Best,” to ensure this concept of excellence arises from students’ striving for exceptional qualities of mind, body, and character that remain grounded in respect, responsibility, fairness, compassion, honesty, and moral courage and integrity.
Soon after the start of the 2017-18 school year, Doug Bennett, Director of Facilities and Grounds, set out to make the values a permanent fixture of the school. The engravings were finished in late 2017, and Leet and Morris’s vision was finally complete.
Most of us know Academy’s “5+2” values by heart, yet etching them in stone last fall served as a reminder to our CA community that an Academy education centers upon becoming the best version of ourselves.
Every day, we walk past the phrase, “In Quest of the Best,” inscribed on the facade of Academy Hall. Yet, too often, we overlook what the expression really stands for, and how it should guide us through our journeys at Academy.
The model student at Academy should not just be one who is solely focused on blind achievement. Instead, our school strives to cultivate a community of thoughtful individuals, who are, as Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs Dan Olexio says, “in quest of the best person they can be.”
We’d like to thank the following people, who helped us piece this story together:
Doug Bennett, John Exline, Erich Hunker, Bob Lee, Tim Leet, Andy Morris, Dan Olexio, Melissa Soderberg, and John Wuorinen.
A special thank you to Andy Morris for providing all the images in this article.