Etiquette can make a significant difference in our day-to-day lives. Whether it is making a good first impression, acing a job interview or even having table manners at dinnertime, learning the art of social graces can pave the way for positivity and success. Manners never go out of style.
The matter of teaching or learning these good social graces, however, often feels abstract. After all, proper etiquette is about far more than whether or not to eat peas with a knife; it is a way of showing respect and kindness to others, as well as to ourselves. This is especially true at the Edina Country Club, where each fall students take part in the annual Edina Cotillion.
But what exactly is a cotillion? The word itself refers to a formal ball, typically attended by debutantes. But for more than 10,000 young men and women each year, it signifies more than that; it means community and an opportunity to take the lessons they learn wherever they go. Since the founding of the Jon D. Williams Social Education Programs (JDW) in 1949, around 450,000 children and young adults have participated in JDW Cotillion programs in more than 50 cities across the United States, including Edina.
The curriculum of the cotillion program focuses primarily on helping students learn to carry themselves with both poise and confidence, while also emphasizing the importance of courtesy and respect for others. “The goal is to teach kids skills that will carry them through their collegiate lives and well into their professional lives, as well as their personal lives,” says Cella Morales, instructor and JDW art director. “It’s about social intelligence [and] how to be a presence of positivity.”
In addition to more traditional etiquette lessons in formal dining and dance, the program also provides students with skills in personal branding and communication. For older students, digital etiquette is also a strong focus. Considerate and respectful online interactions are vital in the modern age, as society relies more heavily on technology as a means for communication. With this reliance comes uncertainty regarding etiquette, especially as young people learn how to navigate their personal and professional lives online. “Nothing ever disappears,” Morales says. “Don’t say things that you can’t defend or uphold, things you wouldn’t want inked into your own skin.”
From online classrooms to social media, the JDW emphasizes the ways that young adults can make the best of their Internet experience and transform technology into a tool rather than allow it to become a hindrance. “It’s different with modernization, but the rules for interaction aren’t any different,” Morales says. “Treat people with kindness. Treat people with respect.”
The JDW Cotillion offers classes every autumn at the Edina Country Club for elementary and middle school students (grades four through eight). The classes typically run for about five weeks, from October until December. Participants do not need to be a member of the Edina Country Club to join.
For more information and scholarship opportunities, visit the JDW Cotillion’s website.