Families, teachers, trustees, students and friends, welcome and thank you for coming to the 2015 8th Grade Graduation on this beautiful morning.
We are here to celebrate the accomplishments of the class of 2015, but also to acknowledge some really talented faculty members who will not be returning. This past Sunday we celebrated the incredible legacies of Pam McKnight and Carol Chambers and it’s hard to imagine a Harding Academy without them. We wish them the very best in their retirement and know they will come back often. We will also say good-bye to Coach Anderson, our incredible utility player, and Pat Ryan, the other half of the artistic dynamic duo. For ten years she has been inspiring creativity, curiosity and passion for the arts in her students, while winning her fair share of scholastic art awards along the way. We wish her the best as she heads to sunnier climes.
I couldn’t help but be somewhat reflective at the confluence of preparing my farewell remarks for these incredible educators as I also prepared my remarks for graduation, and certainly draw some lessons therein.
At the same time I was also finishing a great book by Anthony Doerr entitled All the Light We Cannot See. In the book at one point one of the characters asks the question, “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?”
When asked how he came about the quote the author said he was inspired by his mother, who was his science teacher, and a particular activity she had them do. They marked the hallway with all of the different time periods is all of history, and they rolled a roll of toilet paper down the hall to measure the length of time. As it rolled past different eras – Precambrian, Paleozoic, etc. the roll barely got to ancient Rome and the like before it ran out.
The author remarked how this exercise gave him the acute sense of how short a time we really get to be on earth even if we live to a ripe old age.
He thought to himself, and I would ask our graduates, that in that short of a time, “why not learn as much as you can about the world while you’re here, and see what you can, and be as good to as many people as you can because you really only get this finger snap of time” In other words, don’t you really want to be alive?
And when I think about the intersection of this event, coupled with these significant retirements, could there not be better examples of folks who have learned much and seen much and been as good to as many people as they could?
I was reading a piece in the New York Times by Arthur Brooks, who was offering commencement speech advice. I was a ready reader, to be sure. He says he was struck by the words of Bach, “and if anyone had the right to dispense product advice, it was Bach, the creator of more than a thousand published works and considered by many to be the greatest composer that ever lived. When asked his approach to writing music he said, “Music’s only purpose should be the Glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit” He cites Bach’s mission as sanctification and service and says, to which I wholeheartedly agree, that it’s hard to find a better life purpose than the pursuit of higher consciousness and benevolence to others. (Would that not encapsulate well the careers of our retirees, and a mission to follow for our soon-to-be graduates?)
Following Bach’s advice I would urge putting purpose ahead of product and emphasize sanctification and service as you move forward and out of the comfortable confines of Harding Academy.
If I had asked you, as Anthony Doerr’s character did, “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” your answer in actions and deeds and contributions to this point has been a resounding ‘yes’.
After all, this is a class who has always led by example and been successful at every turn, as the leaders in six phenomenal middle school theater productions, winners of seven athletic championships this year alone with five runners-up in addition to four scholastic art awards and 13 state and 1 national winner in the Duke TIP Program. Under 8th grade leadership they raised a tremendous amount of money for the school, as you heard, and led the school’s first and very successful Robotics and Engineering Club, in addition to their many other accomplishments.
Back in August this was also the group who developed their slogan – Cherish Every Lollipop Moment. Rather than give you the whole back story, suffice to say, it was about appreciating all of their 8th grade moments, and each other, throughout their last year at Harding, and they have absolutely been successful in that regard.
Thus far I have not fallen into the commencement speech trap of offering all kinds of advice. Until now. And that is only to say that I would urge you to continue to cherish each lollipop moment, in high school and beyond. As Anthony Doerr said, ‘ you only get this finger snap of time’.