(The author with the Senior Prefects from St. George’s Independent School August 17, 2015)
(Below is my welcome back to school Chapel Talk from St. George’s Independent School in Memphis, Tennessee on August 17, 2015. The school has over over 1100 students JK-12 on three campuses. I delivered the talk that follows to students, families, faculty, and staff on the Collierville Campus, which serves students in grades 6 – 12. The remarks I gave varied a bit from this text in relatively minor ways though my welcome was a bit longer than what appears here.)
Welcome—welcome in particular to the Class of 2016…
When I was about six, my family switched churches from a tiny Episcopal Church far out in the west-end of Richmond, Virginia to a much larger urban Episcopal Church, St. James’s, which was much further in town. To my second grade eyes, this new church seemed huge…not just huge but the hugest—perhaps the biggest room I had ever been in except for the Richmond Coliseum where I had seen the Harlem Globetrotters play. My guess is that to a number of our sixth graders this campus might seem a little overwhelming too compared to the campuses where you all went to fifth grade.
Anyway back to St. James’s and the biggest room I had ever been in…in the chancel of this church written in the large gold letters was the motto of the Church, words from the 22nd verse of the first chapter of the book of James—saying… “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only.”
“Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only.” For me, the words that surround it in the Book of James are confusing, but that line, that line is clear. When we think about the meaning of those words—“Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only”, they might be better described as frighteningly clear. Because they call us not just to listen but to take action. They call us to choose the hard right over the easy wrong, they call us to care for strangers, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Not easy stuff. Not easy stuff in a school and not easy stuff in the world you will find after school.
It is, however, the stuff that can make a school great, and it is up to you. It is up to you to make the school, to invent it for this year into a place of doers and hearers. Your passivity is unhelpful, your action is required, your commitment is necessary. If this is a new beginning for all of us, then what are we, and what are you, going to make of it?
I believe that becoming educated is a righteous act. It is the lifelong task of taking the gifts you have been given and making them meaningful, making them have an impact. Making the world a better place for your presence in it is not simply something to try to do in your spare time, it is a sacred responsibility. It is the space in your life to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” This work is important—the world needs you.
I will mention several ways we might get started on this work as a school.
- First, know that we have jobs to do. For example, a job of those who have been here before is to help those of us who are new—people like sixth graders and first year heads of school. By your actions it is possible to make the campus a bit smaller less overwhelming for others. You can do this with ample doses of kindness and patience.
- Support each other. Show up for each other. We are stronger when we are connected, when we go to the game, when we deliver a well-deserved standing “O” at the play. For those of you on teams know that you win games on the field, court, or pool, but you win fans in the ways you treat others in the hallway and in the classrooms and beyond. Deserve the support you seek.
- Show gratitude: Over the summer there has been a lot of doing going on by a lot of doers, and it has all been for you. Teachers prepare for classes, and they say their own quiet farewells to summer vacation, the facilities staff has been hard at work the entire summer making this place a beautiful place of learning. Men worked in outrageous heat all summer to make sure we have places to park. They deserve our thanks and appreciation. Please show your thanks and gratitude through your words, yes, but more importantly through your actions—take care of this place and honor your opportunity to be here.
This can be an amazing year, and I think it will be, but we all have some doing, and, yes, some hearing to do in order to make it that way. Thank you and…Happy new school year.