It may seem curious that we speak of the “history” of King’s Academy when we only opened our doors in 2007, but the school does have a history – in the 200-year-old idea of the New England boarding school – and in the lives of the people who have been part of its founding and who are among its first faculty.
Of course, the fact that His Majesty King Abdullah II graduated from Deerfield Academy is critical to our story. The formative experience that he had there, and the memory of it that he took away, allowed him to imagine what a Jordanian boarding school might do for boys and girls across the Middle East. His Majesty’s thinking was reinforced by the knowledge of his father’s experience at Victoria College in Alexandria, and then again when he visited Deerfield in May 2000 in the second year of his reign, to give the commencement address to the school.
During that visit, King Abdullah stayed at “the Manse” – the headmaster’s residence – and had a chance to walk around the campus, escorted proudly by two senior students. At one point he was greeted by his old English teacher, Mr. Lambert. At another, the football coach and dining hall director, Mr. Smith, welcomed him back. His French teacher, Ms. Lyons, reminded him of their times in the classroom and Mr. Howell, his science teacher and then dorm-master, recalled His Majesty’s service as a senior proctor in the dormitory and his captaincy of the Deerfield wrestling team.
These reunions, and the affectionate memories that were prompted by them, reminded His Majesty of what it is about a boarding school that leaves such a strong impression on faculty and students alike. While he had no trouble remembering his teachers, it was fascinating to see how well they remembered him, down to details of his life that he himself had forgotten. It is that closeness – that passionate engagement teachers have with the education of their students from morning to night – that gives the best boarding schools their distinctive place in American education, and which in the case of His Majesty made his high school years among the happiest of his life.
Not surprisingly, therefore, it was during his visit to Deerfield that His Majesty began talking with Headmaster Eric Widmer about establishing a school like Deerfield in Jordan, a discussion that led, before long, to consultation between Deerfield and the Royal Court. Soon His Majesty sent to Deerfield a planning team consisting of a dozen carefully selected individuals, including one, Khaled Azzam, who would become the architect of the new school and another, Safwan Masri, who would become the Chairman of King’s Academy’s Board of Trustees.
Four years later, in the summer of 2004, a founding board was in place and the ground-breaking ceremony occurred on the chosen site, among the picturesque hills on the King's Highway near Madaba. While Dr. Masri had been appointed Chairman of the Board by His Majesty, another significant appointment had also been made by then: Dr. Widmer was designated the founding headmaster of King’s Academy, after he announced his intention to step down from his duties at Deerfield at the end of the 2005-2006 academic year.
As the history of King’s comes to be written in the years ahead – recorded in the experiences of our students, just like His Majesty King Abdullah II’s at Deerfield – it will be our history, yes. But it will also be a continuation of the history of independent boarding education everywhere. If our roots go back to New England, we will look for alliances with schools world-wide. The “Eight Schools” of America – Andover, Choate, Deerfield, Exeter, Hotchkiss, Lawrenceville, Northfield Mt. Hermon and St. Paul’s – have already affirmed a “philosophical affiliation” with King’s and in 2007 the school hosted the G20 group of select schools on every continent – the first meeting of which the headmaster attended at Eton College and Wellington College in the spring of 2006.
These relationships, which enable student exchange and reciprocal visits among the best schools, facilitate interaction at an early age, across geographical, cultural and political frontiers. They are the building blocks of peace.
It will be in this way that a new school in the Jordanian countryside will connect with the world, making its own mark and brightening the prospect of better global understanding that we all hope for. If we have opened our doors with a sense of our place in the past, we now anticipate our place in the future as well.