It’s that time of year again! And this year is special, marking the 30th anniversary of Randolph’s UTCT Holiday Shopping Market.
As one of Randolph’s oldest and most public traditions, this event has become a mainstay for the Huntsville community with nearly 100 merchants and thousands of shoppers converging on the Von Braun Center’s South Hall preparing for the busyness of the holiday season. This year’s UTCT market, November 7-9, promises to be bigger and better than ever.
I must confess that when I first arrived at Randolph I questioned the time and energy it takes to pull off such a community-wide event. Believe it or not, planning for this year’s UTCT began in the waning hours of last year’s event. But, over the last five years, since arriving at Randolph, UTCT has grown on me.
When you walk around the South Hall at the VBC, it is quite spectacular to behold. The big kid in me can’t help but revel in how a stale convention hall can be transformed into what has now become the kickoff to my holiday season (and it certainly helps that I can mark everyone off my holiday shopping list in just a few hours), but when I first arrived I couldn’t see how this amazing spectacle was connected to the School’s educational mission.
The countless hours that go into executing this event at the highest possible level are daunting to me and I remain humbled by the dedication of all the volunteers that make this seem so effortless. There are two places on Randolph’s campus that will always put a smile on my face no matter how bad a day I might be having. The first is the Kindergarten hallway filled with joyful smiles and infectious laughter. The second contains much of the same.
Throughout the academic year, and particularly in the months of September and October, you can hear the witty banter and laughs from various UTCT committee meetings resonating all the way down the hallway to my office at the Randolph House. I’m remiss to say that in years past, I’ve remained too focused on the pile of work on my desk or on my computer screen to fully appreciate the joy of these meetings. As a matter of happenstance, a losing battle with my computer allowed my attention to wander this fall, at least in part, to the sounds of this labor of love as they permeated the walls of my office and more importantly my mind.
I now recognize that instead of focusing on the time and energy, I should have been focused on the camaraderie, sense of purpose, and commitment of our dedicated volunteers and their desire to do something great for the School that they love. I hope the hundreds of dedicated volunteers over the last 30 years know how appreciative we are for their service. Randolph is a decidedly better School for children to grow and develop in because of their efforts.
Just this past week I had another moment of clarity about UTCT that has made me appreciate the event even more fully. I have been cautious about Randolph’s external perception in terms of UTCT. I have wondered how a holiday shopping market conveys the values that are outlined in our mission statement and what we try to instill in the students we teach. You see, I characterize myself as an educator even though I don’t have the privilege of being in the classroom on a daily basis. I have committed my career to schools because I believe wholeheartedly in the value of education to expand the minds of young people and make the world a better place.
In the past, we have offered vendor space to budding entrepreneurs within our Upper School student body, or showcased our exceptional band and choral programs, or allowed our student clubs to build a playhouse to raffle off in an attempt to make a holiday shopping market more mission-driven. Although these experiences are wonderful opportunities for Randolph students, UTCT’s alignment with the School’s mission is not defined by them. In my quest to align the specifics of UTCT, I totally missed the big picture.
My light bulb moment hit me while working to secure a philanthropic grant to support tuition assistance in order for Randolph to continue to attract the best and brightest students regardless of their family’s financial situation. Randolph was fortunate to be awarded such a grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation, the leading national foundation solely supporting independent schools. In my quest to secure the necessary matching funds for the grant, it dawned on me that UTCT has helped Randolph fulfill this very same goal for the last 30 years. All the proceeds from UTCT go directly to the School’s tuition assistance program and impact the lives of every student on campus. In the five years I have been part of this great event, more than half a million dollars has been added to the school’s tuition assistance budget. I can only imagine what the compounding effect of 30 years has been.
We are privileged at Randolph to be able to learn from a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds, something that will better prepare our students to lead in a complex world. All the time and energy invested in UTCT has helped enable Randolph to fulfill our mission to educate the next generation of leaders for our community and beyond.
Although superficially we are hosting the premier holiday shopping experience in the Tennessee Valley, more importantly, we are providing an opportunity for individual students to attend Randolph who might not otherwise be able to and therefore ensuring a more complete educational experience for all Randolph students. I am thankful that Randolph and our countless volunteers have remained intently focused on UTCT to advance the School’s mission. This is the real outcome of UTCT, the by-product of providing the Huntsville community with a one-stop shop for all their holiday needs is just an added bonus.
I look forward to seeing the crowds at the VBC this weekend and allowing the kid in me to fully embrace the holiday spirit knowing that Randolph is made better by the students who will receive these much needed resources. Thanks to the volunteers, vendors, sponsors and patrons for making a Randolph education possible to deserving students!
Photos by David Brown and Jennifer Ragsdale.