[I gave the comments that follow as part of the Signing Day Ceremony at The Westminster Schools in Atltanta, GA on February 4, 2015]
Let me add my welcome to the 2015 Signing Day Ceremony and my congratulations to each of our signees today. I am honored to have the opportunity to share this moment with you.
At Westminster, just as we lean into the value of academics and the value of the arts, we also lean into the value of athletics, the value of teams, and the value of competition as the ground upon which character is built. According to this way of thinking, we learn many things from sports. On the field, court, track, pool of competition we learn to be shoulder to shoulder with those different than ourselves; we learn to see that a good team allows us to be part of something greater than ourselves alone; we learn success and failure; we learn about sacrifice and commitment. We learn calm under pressure, and importantly we learn enough about humility to demonstrate grace in both victory and in defeat.
To read our national sports headlines, however, points to other lessons … ones that can make the skills I just mentioned seem trite, anachronistic, or misguided. Whether it is deflategate, or evidence of a blind eye turned to domestic violence, or some collegiate programs that have lost their moral and ethical compasses in an atmosphere of booster dollars and demands for short cuts to success, our national sports story is not always an inspiring one, and at times it is simply a very sad story of wasted human potential and squandered opportunity.
Against this national backdrop, our voicing of Westminster’s priorities regarding character must seem quaint, anachronistic, perhaps even naïve to much of the world…that is, if the world notices us at all. I know, as I hope you know, that our priorities are anything but quaint, anachronistic or naïve. They are instead vital and inseparable from our mission as a school.
All this brings into focus for me the significance of our gathering today, for today, signees, we celebrate you, yes, of course, but we also celebrate something more, and it is this…We are intractably counter-cultural in our approach to athletics. While it would be the height of arrogance to think that we are alone—we can each summon example after example of individuals and schools that share our point of view and put it to the test in competition—we are rare, and today we mark a rite of passage for each of you that includes taking the best of this rarity of your athletic experience at Westminster with you to the colleges, the universities, and the teams on which you will leave your mark.
At Westminster we like winning, and led by many of you, we have had our share, if not far more than our share, of winning during your tenure here. We are proud of the fact that Westminster is consistently in the conversation of the best High School athletic programs in the country. But more, much more importantly, we graduate students who are positioned to contribute far more than an impressive stat line. It is our request and our expectation that you, each of you, will help make and help lead the teams on which you participate meet the highest standard of sportsmanship and competitive spirit rather than sink toward a diminished cultural common denominator.
So today is a perfect moment to express our appreciation for all that you have done as athletes, Westminster athletes, and it is a moment for each of you to express deep gratitude to all those who have helped bring you to this point—parents, coaches, teammates. It is, however, also a moment to look ahead and set your personal compasses for the challenges ahead. My two cents: hold on tightly to the important things, for so much is about to change in your lives that it will be easy to lose track of what is truly valuable. The valuable things I am thinking of include: commitment, fair play, sacrifice, humility, and grace. I, just like so many gathered her this afternoon, am confident that you each have ample strengths to rise to whatever occasion the future holds. And on this big day, I am excited for each of you, and I am excited for the schools fortunate enough to be able to have you wear their name and colors.