Falling as Defining Strength–A Baccalaureate Reflection from Upper School Head, Tom Morris

Tom Morris, his wife Katherine, and their children Grace and Thomas

[Tom Morris, the Upper School Director at St. George’s Independent School is leaving after many years to take a key position at Wyoming Seminary. They are lucky to get him. We send him there with all best wishes–we know he’ll be great! Today’s post includes his reflection from our Baccalaureate Service last Friday evening. You can find the two student speeches from that evening HERE. You can also find the Valedictorian Speech and Salutatorian speeches from Saturday’s Commencement HERE. Finally, my reflection from Commencement is HERE.]

From Tom Morris, Upper School Director at SGIS:

Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians was written to the small Christian Church he founded in Corinth, and came in response to challenges within that community. With his letter, Paul was attempting unify the Corinthian church by reminding them of the core principles that bound them together as Christians.

As noted Tuesday night at rehearsal for this event, there are three threads that weave their way through the most embarrassing moments your class has had over the years. Those threads are illustrative and are worth some thought.

Thread number one involves some sort of fall. Falling over people, falling over friends who have already fallen, falling up stairs, or falling down stairs – the Class of 2018 knows how to fall.

The second thread involves mistakes in front of large groups. Whether that mistake is singing the wrong words to a song, winging a speech, or nearly fainting in front of an audience, the Class of 2018 knows how to go big or go home.

The third thread is middle school. Enough said.

I’d suggest, however, that each thread of embarrassment actually represents a core, defining strength of the Class of 2018.

Falling is unpleasant for both the faller and the fallen upon, yet the frequency with which it appeared among your most embarrassing moments reveals your resilience. Much of what the future will bring you depends on your ability to bounce back from a failure or disappointment. And, as you take on increasingly meaningful responsibilities, or when life throws you an unexpected challenge, you will be able to rely on the resilience you have cultivated in your time at St. George’s.

If you had not taken the healthy risk to be on stage, no one would have noticed your departure from the script. But the point is, you took that healthy risk. The willingness and courage to do so is another great strength of this class. Your many successes over the years would not have happened had you not chosen to take the right risk. You chose to engage in a pursuit and chose to succeed. Doing so cannot happen without the willingness to push into discomfort.

And, while middle school may not be understood as a strength for all of you, the degree to which you continued to learn and grew from that experience is a strength. Over your time here at St. George’s, you have never stopped learning and growing as thinkers, servant leaders, artists, athletes, and citizens.

You have grown in an environment that encourages, facilitates, and rewards taking healthy risks. You have grown in an environment that views impact with guardrails, sometimes repeated impact with guardrails, among its most valuable and precious teaching moments. As you move from St. George’s to the next phase of your life, the inherent rewards and pitfalls associated with risk taking become magnified in ways you do not yet fully understand. The implications of decisions made over the coming years can play out over a lifetime, thus your resilience, your willingness to lean into learning, and your comfort taking healthy risks will serve you well.

With this in mind, and with the knowledge that the school’s ability to actively inform and guide your growth is almost at its end, the following questions seem appropriate:

  • What role will love play in your life? Will you love possessions and vanity, or will you work to embody the depth of love Paul notes in our reading?
  • What will drive your decision making? Impulse, or ethical, reflective, moral thought and consideration?
  • Will your decisions be driven by a desire to please others, or by self-respect and an appreciation of your self-worth?
  • Do you know what is truly right for yourself, and for others? Do you have the courage to stand up for it, regardless of the cost?
  • What role will your faith play in informing your curiosity and boundary pushing?
  • As you move through different phases in your life, will you leave your surroundings better than when you arrived?
  • Will you choose to be around people who may lead you to bad decisions, and leave you to deal with the consequences alone?
  • Knowing that growth and achievement is forged in adversity and challenge, will you choose to continue growing, or will you take the path of least resistance? What are the implications of that choice?
  • Will your innate strengths allow you to be defined by the problems you solve, or those you create?
  • Will you have the courage to be truly honest with yourself and others? What do you risk by not being honest?
  • What have you made of your parents’ investment toward your St. George’s education? Were you respectful of their commitment and their sacrifice on your behalf? If not, what does college hold for you? How do you honor those sacrifices moving forward?

Amen.

SGIS Class of 2018 Valedictorian and Salutatorian Speeches

[Last Saturday we had a lovely Commencement for the St. George’s Independent School Class of 2018. Attached here are speeches from the Valedictorian, Lucas Williamson, and the Salutatorian, Carolyn Lane. Yesterday I posted the two talks from our Baccalauteate Service as well, and on Tuesday I posted my remarks from the CommencementLucas and Carolyn wrote speeches for an audience to hear them, not read them. With that in mind, please excuse any editing errors. JRP]

Lucas Williamson

Valedictorian–Lucas Williamson

Teachers, students, and families of St. George’s Independent School:

Although it may yet be difficult to believe, our final minutes together have finally arrived. Before I begin the speech proper, I strongly encourage you, the members of the Class of 2018, to take some time and look among one another and truly appreciate the presence of your peers – this remarkable group of young men and women will never again be fully assembled. Sure, there will be the occasional alumni event or class reunion down the line, but it is inevitable that many of you will be absent from these. Moments like these are truly precious. I know that I do not speak only for myself when I acknowledge a certain surreal atmosphere hanging low within this tent surrounding us and giving rise to the awesome, yet bitingly ephemeral, sanctity of this very moment in time.

Now, as I have gathered by my own inquiries, the number of people present at this event who are confused as to the true role of a valedictorian is rather astonishing. It is unfortunate that so many of us have learned the definition of the word “valedictorian” as the member of the graduating class with the highest GPA who gets to write some fancy speech to say at his commencement. This is not his entire purpose, nor is it even his most important. However, upon closer examination of the Latin roots behind the word “valedictorian,” his job becomes clear as day. “Valedictorian” can be divided into two parts from which it takes its meaning: “vale” comes from the Latin word vale, which means “goodbye.” (When said to a group of two or more people, it acquires a suffix, becoming valete.) The second stem in “valedictorian” is “dict,” which comes from the latin dictus, meaning “having been spoken.” Thus, a valedictorian is best defined as “one who says goodbye.” Although the honor of this title is traditionally given to the highest-ranked student in the graduating class, my real purpose here today is to say goodbye.

And so, one who is tasked with delivering this honor is met with the following conundrum: how does one say goodbye? How does one speak of such an exhilarating yet tear-jerking moment in time– a single, transitory moment in which one great era ends as another, perhaps even greater era begins– in a manner that both does it’s perplexing nature justice and provides it’s participants with a satisfactory end? These questions have weighed heavily on me for some time now, and I hope to answer them in a manner that makes some sense.

As I prepared this speech, I figured a solid place to begin building my farewell would be that bothersome trial in which many of us have endured much suffering throughout this past year: calculus. I firmly believe that adversity is an excellent teacher, and I would encourage each member in this audience to take that to heart. Now, to the uninitiated, calculus is the mathematical study of change, working with strongly related rates at which various processes happen in order to solve real world problems. Often, in the course of our studies, those of us who deal with calculus must deal with what is happening at single, critical points in time. For example, a typical problem may ask a student to determine the speed of an object at a specific moment given a function that describes its motion. What strikes me about this scenario is that we are looking at unrealistic conditions. There are an infinite number of points that make up a standard continuous function, and they all sort of blend together into this thing called a line. Where does one moment begin, and another moment end? And sure, we can certainly talk about what an object does at any of these specific points (and don’t get me wrong– this is important stuff to talk about), but when would we ever encounter an object frozen in time? We wouldn’t because that is impossible based on our current understanding of the laws of physics.

And that brings us to the following realization: math– calculus, statistics, mathematics as a whole– is fiction. Realistic fiction, perhaps, inspired by the world around us, but fictitious nonetheless. It is a means by which we understand the universe, and a means by which we are able to communicate its inner workings to one another. Math is a language: it is the language with which we speak to reality. Without it, without counting numbers, or standard deviations, or derivatives, we as a species lose touch with the inner machinations of the world. And, just like any other language, we use it to talk about things– things like how many apples there are in that tree, things like how different one score is from another, things like how to describe critical points in time.

And, what is a goodbye but a critical point in time? It’s a moment in which everything changes after which things will never quite be the same again. But, an important point I raised earlier in this discourse is the uncertainty of the discrete existence of such points. Sure, we can approach them by looking forward or backward to them all we want, but a goodbye just happens. Moments are transitory: the past and future seamlessly flow into one another in the present. Again, I pose the following question: where does one moment begin, and another moment end? As the old saying goes, the present is a gift.

If we examine this relationship logically, then if all goodbyes must be said in the present, then goodbyes must be gifts too. Sure, they might be bittersweet gifts (or not, depending on who you’re saying goodbye to), but in the best case scenario, they provide us with an obligatory end to a finite era that accentuates the sentimental value of the memories we have forged while enabling new growth to occur. By their very nature, all ends are themselves beginnings. As a testament to the truth of this fact, many traditions from across the world recognize this relationship between ends and beginnings in their own way. In his Tao Te Ching, the elderly wiseman Lao Tzu writes of a fundamental balance of opposites to the universe known to the Chinese as the Tao and to many Americans as the Yin-Yang, and there are few concepts that demonstrate this balance as that of a farewell. In Buddhism, there is this idea of dependent origination where all physical phenomena simultaneously arise from their respective opposites, and it is clear that beginnings cannot exist without ends. And, in Christianity, there is a notion of death leading to life anew, just as the end of our time at St. George’s must lead to the birth of our new lives in the adult world.

So, how does one say goodbye? My approach to answering this question is hopefully accomplished by this speech– to remind the person to whom you’re bidding farewell that a goodbye is paradoxically little different from all other moments in time while unspeakably sacred as a gateway from one age to the next age. All things must come to an end (such is the nature of our universe), but all ends must lead to new beginnings. And, perhaps most importantly of all, I’d emphasize our shared pasts as something time can never take away from us: for as long as we live in good health, we will never forget our memories we have created together at this school, and as long as the universe exists, it can never undo the effects of the actions we have taken here. But, my time speaking to you all is almost up now as are our years at St. George’s. Members of the Class of 2018, fellow academics, athletes, and artists; friends… men and women, the hour of our ascension into the world at large is at hand. Do good out there. Valete.

Carolyn Lane

Salutatorian–Carolyn Lane

To Mr. Peters, the St. George’s board, and distinguished members of the faculty, it is an honor to stand before our acclaimed alumni, family members, and friends gathered here. But most of all, it is an honor to be here with you, class of 2018.

14 years ago, you all opened your arms and dragged me through the doors of the Germantown Campus, as excited as ever to be welcoming a new student, even one who had masqueraded as a Briarcrest Saint for a year. That year, we jumped all over the school, shouting incoherent phrases and wishing we would be chosen to sleep in Mrs. Foreman’s fort during nap time. Some of us brought animals to show-n-tell, and many more broke out the building blocks during free time, eventually connecting enough to wrap from the wall of one classroom and into the teachers’ secret workroom. At that age, we learned that the best rewards were ice cream sandwiches and that being a little crazy is okay. We learned to be ourselves, as being anything but was not even option.

Six years later, we – with 10 or so new additions to the mix – moved from the hallway where we’d spent 3rd and 4th grade learning multiplication and voraciously reading to reach AR goals to the stand-alone 5th-grade rooms across the sidewalk. It was there where we received the first hint of what life would be like here at the Collierville campus. At the conclusion of each class period, we would pick up what hadto have been 1,000 pounds of books and trudge up the ramp from Ms. Petite’s room to Ms. Tate’s and Ms. McWaters rooms. Of course with our class being who it was, there were always a few who would take a shortcut and leap over the metal railway separating the classrooms; some cleared it their first try while others may have become friends with the ground a few times before mastering the skill. Soon after, our learning environments changed from those on campus to the caves of Cumberland Caverns. It was on the Cave Trip that we learned to spelunk through the caverns’ natural tunnels, army crawl through its low corridors, and slide down the muddy terrain of Bubblegum Alley. The caverns were where some of us learned that bringing a portable air mattress on a class trip was a recipe for disaster, as throughout the night all the mattresses magically came unscrewed and everyone woke up lying on the cavern’s jagged surface. At that age, we learned that Mrs. Tate’s humdinger project could quickly become the bane of a fifth grader’s existence and to enjoy our elementary-school moments while we could.

Five years later, our focuses shifted as we entered sophomore year and began to understand that our futures were starting to unfold. We joined clubs, played on sports team, and starred in musicals. We rode the Wagon Wheel all the way to state, where our football players earned a state championship ring, and after that amazing win, the whole grade celebrated the entire ride back to Memphis. We learned to accomplish our goals and to try our hardest to be the best versions of ourselves. We had students join the journalism staff and recognize that being a storyteller is just as important as being a storymaker. We traveled to Heifer Ranch, where we learned that Luke Georgi could still make a fantastic meal with only rice, carrots, and the spices Ellie Franklin smuggled in from her house. We figured out that there is so much in this world for which we have to be grateful and that we must always take advantage of the opportunity going to a school as amazing as St. George’s gives us. We learned to blossom where planted and to never doubt our incredible gifts, as they had begun to shape us into the people we would become.

Fast forward two years as we all began our final year at St. George’s, utterly unaware of how fast the time would fly. Those first couple of weeks, we opened our arms to the two newest members of our class and helped them find a place within our family. We applied to colleges in what felt – for some of us – to be a never ending cycle, only made worse by the endless “what college are you going to” questions we received to which our reply was more often “I don’t know” than anything else. This year, we learned to step out of our comfort zones with three new water polo players, five new soccer players, and two new thespians joining our teams and drama troupe for the first time. We learned to reach for the stars, to push ourselves even if we don’t succeed the first time, and to enjoy the time we have left.

But regardless of how much I have been preparing for college these past four years, here I am standing before you, 14 years after first walking through these doors, having absolutely no idea how to tell you goodbye or how to move on from the school or the people that made me who I am today. You taught me how to love, how to fight, how to win, and how to cry. You taught me that everything doesn’t have to be perfect all the time and that not being okay is perfectly fine. You taught me to love myself not in spite of my flaws but because them. You taught me to be me, and it’s for that that I can never thank you enough.

So as we begin to move on from our time here at St. George’s, I want you all to take what you have learned here and soar. Go be world-renowned scientists, Michelin star chefs, Tony-winning Broadway actresses, millionaire CEOs, world-changing political correspondents, pulitzer-prize-winning journalists, and everything I know we as a class have prepared each other to be.

As I close out this speech and say my final farewell to the incredible friends and family I have made here, I only have one more request. As my dad reminded me when I began writing this speech, it’s been scientifically proven that valedictorians and salutatorians typically don’thave the most successful careers of their class, so to any and all future millionaires out there, remember, donations to the Carolyn Lane fund are always appreciated.

But from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being such an amazing class and family to me over these years; I truly will never forget each and every one of you. Thank you.

SGIS Class of 2018 Baccalaureate Reflections

Caroline Zummach

Prefect Reflection – Caroline Zummach

It was a Tuesday afternoon in October. This senior class was about to go on our senior trip to the bunkhouse. I was apprehensive about the night and what it might bring when a friend noticed my lack of enthusiasm and reminded me of something extremely important, “I would never have an opportunity like this to be with this exact group of people ever again. That was it.” And from that moment on, I was convinced that my final year at St. George’s would not be spent sitting at home or staying within my comfort zone that I had been in since sixth grade, but, instead, enjoying my time. …And man, did I enjoy my time.

I enjoyed my time because of the very people sitting in front of me right now. I am thankful for that friend that sensed my worry that Tuesday and to all those who have since encouraged me during my time here. I am grateful for those who stood by me even when I thought oversized flare jeans and pink wallabees were the hottest fashion. I am thankful that no silly band trade gone-wrong could tear my friends away even though I thought I might lose Kirby a few times over that fashion trend. But most of all, I am so thankful that I have gotten to grow up and experience 14 years of memories with each and every one of you, and I do not say that lightly. Yes, believe me, each of you has had an impact on my life and the St. George’s community.

If there is one thing that I would say sets the class of 2018 apart is our spirit and love for one another. Our class has always had a reputation among teachers of being a bit more of a “rowdy” grade, but all this meant was that the class of 2018 knew how to laugh and live life to the fullest. This class is full of kind and joyful people who are always there to lend a helping hand, and it was inspiring to watch all of us step into our roles as leaders of the school this year, and I believe that we led in a way that was unique.

We all worked hard with a smile on our faces, a laugh in our lungs, and love in our hearts as we truly embraced our slogan of “Taking flight.”

We knew how to laugh at our own craziness, whether that was with a mini cooper or constantly having to be settled down by Mr. Densford as we screamed until we lost our voices cheering on our friends on the court or field.

We learned how to smile our way through SIS support and college application deadlines together. We were there for our friends who got that denial letter and celebrated with everyone as we chose where our next home away from St. George’s would be.

And we learned how to come together as one. We truly showed up and showed out for our peers inside and outside the classroom. This year I’ve seen this class come together, as friend groups broke down their barriers and reached out to people they may not have spoken more than 10 words to since they sat next to each other in Silent Sustained Reading.

We were fortunate enough to attend this place whether that was for 15 years or just one. We have been taught how to be caring, intelligent, and creative men and women. We have learned from teachers who spent their time day in and day out helping us be the best students and people we can be. We have been led by coaches and directors who encouraged us to be ourselves.

In your years to come, always be yourself because that person built their character and knowledge at St. George’s. So, do not let what you have learned at this place and from these leaders grow stagnant in your heart. We are strong and intelligent human beings, and do not let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

While it feels like the end now, this is just a chapter of our stories. Our stories will be different than anyone else’s in college because we grew up at St. George’s. We grew up learning how to care for people and treating them with respect. We grew up knowing how to face challenges head on. The class of 2018 knows how to face difficulty with a smile and a fortitude that has been cultivated in us since we arrived at St. George’s. I encourage you all to write your story with color on every page, a laugh in every memory, and love for those around you.

So here we are. The tent is pitched. Tomorrow is May 19th, 2018. It is time to take flight again, but now away from the nest that we know at St. George’s and begin writing that next chapter of our book. For some of you tomorrow is the day you’ve been waiting for, but for a lot of you, like me, tomorrow is a day that feels like the ending of one of the greatest chapters of our lives. The day that we will step down from that stage and officially end our time at St. George’s. And while it may feel like we are leaving St. George’s, St. George’s will never leave us. Yes, there won’t be anymore Friday night fourth quarter roller coasters, x-blocks on the senior deck, nights at the bunkhouse, Proms, or advisory snacks. But the memories and the people we met here have shaped us and prepared us for our futures ahead. You will look back as you have just  been dropped off by your parents at your new home away from home, and you will remember all the little things. Even when you didn’t realize it, the conversations you had with your friends driving back from lunch or walking across the boardwalk and the innumerable number of frisbees you have thrown with the underclassmen have made you who you are.

Those little moments are the ones we will miss most of all. Hold on to those little things.  Hold onto the person who always made sure to hold the door or tell you good morning. And now, YOU be that person in your days to come. Model your life after the person that always treated you with kindness while at St. George’s because I am sure there were plenty of them.

So it’s time to go our separate ways, but we will always have this place and this family to connect us together. When you are at college next year and repping your powder blue or big orange, always stay true to your cardinal and gold. As you’re cheering on the bulldogs or the tigers, remember once a gryphon, always a gryphon. And when you are in the student union or at a tailgate and you begin to hear the violins and beloved Wagon Wheel lyrics “Headed down south to the land of the pines,” remember the Friday nights and the people sitting next to you right now.

Thank you for our time together over the years, and here’s to a new beginning. Thank you.

Sid Martin

Senior Reflection–Sid Martin

Good evening parents, faculty, friends, and St. George’s students. I cannot believe this weekend has actually arrived, but here we are. With the relentless support of our family, teachers, and peers, we made it. It’s our time.

On behalf of the entire class I want to thank the faculty for being the inspiring, supportive, and passionate people they are because that drive is contagious and has certainly infected our class over the past four years. I also want to thank the parents and family members of the class of 2018; your love and support has been the foundation of our success and will continue to be for the rest of our lives. That encouragement is indispensable and it is the reason we are all here right now.

I was nervous as I began my journey at St. George’s in fifth grade. New school, new students, new atmosphere. I was scared that I wouldn’t fit in with others because I would be labeled as “the new kid.” But after a while, I made  friends during football and attending “Aftercare” after school. The class of 2018 had graciously opened their arms to me as if I had been there since pre-k. Throughout the year, we got to enjoy activities like Fun Food Friday in Mrs. Pettits class and Menu day in Mrs. Mac’s class. Also, we went on exciting field trips like the adventurous Cave Trip and Biztown, where we worked at companies like First Tennessee Bank, Chick-Fil-A, and many more as we got a taste of what it’s like to have responsibility. As we prepared for crossing, we were sad about leaving our former home but glad to embark on the next chapter in our lives.

New people. Old people. New teachers. New campus. New atmosphere. Arriving at the Collierville Campus just felt new. Along with this new feeling, came new opportunities. New sports like tennis and swimming along with new clubs like Forensics enlightened our young minds as we began to discover new talents within ourselves. I soon discovered that Forensics, however, was not one of my talents. In the 7th grade, I joined the club because … why not? Seems fun, everyone in assembly gets medals for it, so it shouldn’t be that hard. Boy …. I was wrong. There are multiple categories that you can participate, I chose Duo Acting with Ben Sawyers. Together, we transformed into Abbott and Costello as Ben kept wondering Who’s on First. NO MATTER WHAT WE TRIED, we always got last. “Emphasize on these words” Mrs. Berry would say, “Make hand gestures”, Mrs. Berry would say. Nothing worked. But there was this time where there were only two groups in a St. Frances Tournament. So we had a one in two chance of getting first place. After our best performance with “emphasizing certain words and making hand gestures”, we got last, even though we just tell people that we got second.

High School is a place where you discover your inner-self. With more students, new clubs, and new types of classes every year, we found our gifts that will help us create a path for our future. Through these classes, we can become the next journalists, historians, engineers, entrepreneurs, artists, or anything we put our mind to. That’s what distinguishes our class from others. Our dedication for learning is unrivaled as we continue to reach to new heights.

Earlier this year, I learned an African proverb, Ubuntu, meaning “I am who I am because of who you are.” To the class of 2018, I want to thank you for all you’ve done for me. You have given me a home, made memories I can laugh and cry at for the rest of my life, and you have taught me to always follow my heart. You all are courageous, smart, and loving individuals. I will miss you all so much. Home is where the heart is and I hope St. Georges will always be in your hearts. Lastly, I learned the Serial Position Effect, where when given a list of objects, you normally remember the first thing and the last thing. When arriving to St. George’s in 5th Grade for Convocation, I was greeted with a cordial smile and “Welcome to St. George’s” and as we end our journey, we will be saying “Oh, St. George’s, we won’t forget you.”

Thank You.

[Both of these talks were written for an audience present to hear them more than for a reading audience. With that in mind, please excuse any editing errors. JRP]

 

 

Three Questions for the Class of 2018: A Commencement Reflection

Members of the St. George’s Independent School Class of 2018

[Posted here is my reflection from the Commencement Exercises at St. George’s Independent School held on Saturday, May 19th. On Wednesday, I will post the two student speeches in one blog post from the school’s Baccalaureate Service held on the 18th, and on Thursday, I will do the same thing with the Valedictorian and Salutatorian speeches from Commencement on Saturday. On Friday, I will post the excellent Baccalaureate reflection from Tom Morris, the Head of Upper School who, after a remarkable tenure at SGIS is leaving for a new role at Wyoming Seminary over the summer.]

Good morning! And welcome to family and friends, to faculty and staff, and in particular to the Class or 2018.

I am grateful to the Class of 2018 for bringing us together today. Seniors, think for a few seconds about all of the people who have gathered together today, include those who couldn’t make it but are waiting for a report about how it went. You are the reason for this gathering. Who you have become, or better, who you are becoming has brought us together on this Saturday morning, and we are grateful.

Now the people under this tent are guilty of asking you relentlessly over the last month where you are going. We have been asking you, “what are you going to do?” and “where you are going to go?” for so long now that there is a risk that your eyes will be caught permanently at the height of an eye roll. Of all the questions we ask, it strikes me as a bit strange that our most important questions remain too often unasked. So, at this final moment before you cross the stage and receive your diploma from Mr. McGuffee, I am going to ask you three of these questions. Pens and paper are being passed forward from the back. Here we go: First, who do you want to be? Note the difference between this question and the more common, “What do you want to do?”—the former has to do with one’s character, the latter in this case has to do with your college choice or work-place. The second question: How would like to leave the places you will live, work, and contribute better for your presence? And finally, the third question: To what beliefs will you hold tightly when the losses that inevitably visit our lives come calling?

There are moments in our lives that seem simultaneously to go by too fast and to freeze time—impossible, I know, but the days surrounding a Commencement Ceremony are just such a time when it is possible to see further backward and to see a bit further ahead than our daily lives generally permit. For our Seniors, this Class of 2018 in particular, I don’t believe we should waste such moments. Linger in them just a bit longer, not simply to enjoy the company of a class that has been so deeply connected for years and years, but also to provide space for reflection not only on what has brought you to this time and this place but also to reflect on what is to come in your lives. The word graduation indicates a departure—it focuses on leaving a place, and in truth most of the time I have used the word “graduation” more than I have the word “commencement,” the word on the cover of the program today.  The difference between the two words is important. While a Graduation celebrates more what has come before, a commencement looks ahead—it is a beginning. If the road for Seniors over the last weeks has been a season of lasts, let’s think of today as the start of a season of beginnings, of commencements—a chance to look ahead.

Now I know you all have been thinking about the future because I read your yearbook pages where you each completed sentences beginning with, “In the future I will…” I didn’t spend as much time on your senior quotations though the wit was often sparkling… Hats off to Trey Royalty in particular for a bit of profound insight from Steve Martin who said, “A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.” Well-done, Trey.

I spent far more time reading your statements beginning with, “In the future I will… .” While they were each strangely impressive, some even intriguingly cryptic, they certainly didn’t provide much of a crystal ball for your actual futures. For those of you who may not have studied the yearbook yet, here is a sampling:

  • Unsurprisingly following her heart straight to Chilis, Kate Seabrook said, “In the future I will marry my own Derek Shepherd and live out my days working at Chili’s and building an underground Crocs empire with Emma.”
  • Robert Weaver kept things simple… and frightening, saying: “In the future I will dominate the world.”
  • Carson Moriarity set the bar high, asserting: “In the future I will try to be on time to class for a week straight.

Griffin Hancock pointed out what is true I am certain for many of his classmates when he wrote: “In the future I don’t know what I’ll do.” While I know that Griffin may have simply gone quickly through a Senior survey when he answered that question, his statement about the future doesn’t worry me. Very few of us have a vision of the future that works out the way we envisioned anyway. I worry more if someone doesn’t have any sense of what type of person he or she wishes to become, or a sense of the general areas where he or she would like to make the community better, or a sense of where he or she will draw strength when he or she suffers loss.

When I was a senior in High School, I thought that adulthood was a kind of destination—a place one arrives, a train station at the end of a line where I would exit with luggage full of knowledge and understanding that then would remain somewhat the same for the rest of my life. I was deeply incorrect.  The best learning you have done here revealed to you that learning is lifelong and that learning more is a responsibility, a responsibility to yourself, to those who have invested so fully in you, and to the communities where you will live and work.

“The best learning you have done here revealed to you that learning is lifelong and that learning more is a responsibility, a responsibility to yourself, to those who have invested so fully in you, and to the communities where you will live and work.”

In the future you will go to amazing places, you will make great things happen, you will suffer disappointments (and you will rise above them). You will meet people who positively impact you and change the trajectory of your life. You will study things that challenge you to reimagine some of what you thought you knew. You will love and sacrifice for people you have not yet met. At each juncture you will learn more, you will understand more fully, and, I hope, you will appreciate more deeply the gifts you have been given in your education.

So much that you have learned at St. George’s will help you answer the questions: Who do you want to be? How would you like to leave the places you will live and work better for your presence? And finally: To what beliefs will you hold tightly when the losses that inevitably visit our lives come calling? Even as you go far away, know that you can’t leave St. George’s—it is now part of who you are and who you will be, and you are a permanent part of the fabric of this rare school as well.

Thank you, Class of 2018—we will miss you and hope you return often.