What To Pack For Your Next Story: A Commencement Address

St. George's Independent School Class of 2016
St. George’s Independent School Class of 2016

[The Class of 2016 graduated on Sunday, May 22nd from St. George’s Independent School. It was a lovely graduation. The Valedictorian and Saludatorian speeches were particularly well done. I gave the address below right after the opening hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.”] 

Good afternoon—what a beautiful day for this gathering!


It has always really been about stories. We’ve been telling them to you and telling them about you since before you were born. Your families dreamed of you before you arrived and many of them I bet told anyone who would listen all about…the day you first rolled over on your own, the day you took your first step, went to kindergarten, took a bus for the first time, moved up to sixth grade, went to dances, played in games, made the grade.


As wonderful as those stories can be, there is an even better story ahead for each of you. You’ll tell this particular story through your actions, through your relationships, through your respect for others. When you leave here and go to what’s next—colleges and universities across the country and when you move beyond even that deeper into your adulthood: jobs, relationships, marriages, and children of your own—when you leave here, the life you lead will be a story drawn from where you’ve been and drawn forward to the world you wish to create.

“when you leave here, the life you lead will be a story drawn from where you’ve been and drawn forward to the world you wish to create.”

The other night when I spoke briefly to you during Baccalaureate practice, I said that you were in a moment in your lives when you were caught between—not really fully where you’ve been and not yet where you are going next. Such moments are challenging—it is not easy to move from your St. George’s story to what is next, to go from one stage of life to another, to move from what is completely familiar to what will be new at virtually every turn. Indeed, this is part of the reason we commemorate such transitions with gatherings like baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies, so we can surround you in this in-between place with a strength greater than the sum of our parts. That said, such ceremonies, rites of passage, also mark a moment in time when those who love you, who know you best, announce unambiguously that we believe you are ready to begin your next story, that we recognize a deep reservoir of intelligence, strength, faith, and resilience in you. The message we send you today is that you are ready. You have the things you need—they are already a part of you.

That said, I have three things I would like to ask you to keep close by, to pack in and amongst your clothes, books, and computers. Three things to keep within easy reach.

First, pack kindness. Lead with it. All the work you have done, all of the sweat and frustration you have endured, as well as all of the success we recognize today only has value in as much as it allows you to live a life of connection and contribution to your family, your neighborhood, your community and city, your nation and your world. Recognizing the primacy of relationship allows us to see the primacy of kindness. I focus on it here because I know…

  • Kindness is not easy; it is certainly not quaint or trite; kindness requires courage, it makes us vulnerable, and it requires selfless contribution. It requires thinking of others before we think of ourselves.
  • Kindness sets a high bar; it is rigorous. It is not simply a hobby. It is not OK to be kind only when it is convenient and to shut kindness out when it is not practical.
  • Kindness is not seductive but its alternatives are, and they are ubiquitous.
  • To do unto others as you would have them do unto you requires selflessness, self-awareness, and yes…kindness.

I say all this about kindness knowing how often we each have fallen short of its mark, and knowing as well that we each will fall short again. And again. When you do fall short, apologize, and move forward resolved to do better next time.

Second, pack your best self—you’re going to need it, the people you love deserve it, as do the communities in which you will live, serve, and lead.  We are living in a moment in history when we have more dynamic and significantly more powerful means of connection than at any other time. If we think it, we can communicate it—globally. If we want to know more, we can find it—immediately. Strangely in this environment we can feel surrounded by people who disconnect, who alienate, or who dismiss others. Please don’t be swayed, deterred or diminished by those voices, and please don’t allow yourself to become one of them. Our education, certainly the education we seek to provide at St. George’s, should lead us to be among the people in the world who overcome these challenges, among the people who find ways to create relationships and partnerships that transcend the distances that separate us. I believe this effort is at the heart of our school. My most earnest hope is that you leave here with a desire to participate in making a better world. To do this work, to make this part of your story requires casting off pettiness, meanness, self-righteousness, and instead prioritizing humility, selflessness, and contribution. It requires your best self.

Finally, after packing kindness and your best self, pack the ability to count to ten. You might think after all the math classes you have taken I might suggest a more advanced mathematical skill, but counting to ten might be the most important math you do. Yes, life happens fast, but most often you have time to think before you make decisions. There are moments in our lives that require us to be reactive—for instance, you don’t have time to count to ten before you make every decision as driver. But more often than we recognize there is time to think about what you are going to do, to think about who you should be in a given situation. Please, please count to ten before you act—before you say what can’t be unsaid, before you forget what is most important, before you miss an opportunity to make a situation better.


Interestingly, this entire graduation ceremony is a sort of counting to ten before you move your tassels and turn your rings, before you put on dark glasses and head into summer. This counting to ten allows us time to be thankful for you and the lives you have led here; it allows us to celebrate you and wish you well before we are each immersed once again in our daily lives and routines. In this particular ceremonial counting to ten under this lovely tent, on this beautiful day, at this remarkable school, I am excited about who you will become, the lives you will make, and the stories your lives will tell. So…

1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. Godspeed Class of 2016. Thank you.




With Paige Madison, Member of the Class of 2016
With Paige Madison, Member of the Class of 2016


6 thoughts on “What To Pack For Your Next Story: A Commencement Address

  1. georgelamplugh May 23, 2016 / 12:10 pm

    As always, Ross, thoughtful and perceptive. The notion of “packing” the three qualities you single out was a great idea, and you develop your message with understanding and insight.

    • J Ross Peters May 23, 2016 / 1:19 pm

      Thanks so much for this, George. I always appreciate your feedback. Best–

  2. admiral17(RB) May 25, 2016 / 6:44 am

    Your equipment list is one for all time. Congratulations on your first year! My best to Katie and Eleanor.

    • J Ross Peters May 25, 2016 / 2:23 pm

      Thanks for this, Rick. I hope your year is rounding out well–please give my best to Dave in particular–what a career! I hope that you will get some good time in the boat this summer. All best–

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