Friday, May 22, 2015

Graduation Remarks May 22, 2015

          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’.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Year in Review 2014-2015

As the 2014-2015 school year draws to a close we are eager to share some of the notable accomplishments from the year:

     Curricularly, the students have enjoyed greater STEM initiatives, including programming and robotics and we look forward to finding ways during the coming school year to incorporate even further as several faculty members will be spending some time this summer learning more.

     We had another incredibly successful year with regard to high school placement.  Students will be attending the following schools in the fall – CPA, Ensworth, Franklin High School, Franklin Road Academy, Harpeth Hall, Hume-Fogg, Montgomery Bell Academy, Nashville Christian, Ravenwood High School, St. Cecilia’s and University School of Nashville.  32 students were accepted to every school to which they applied and 16 students applied to only one school, and were accepted.  Of the 90 applications sent out, 76 were admits.  29 of these graduates started in Kindergarten.

      In the arts, the fall semester saw an incredible production in Guys and Dolls and the all-school musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang  was equally wonderful with 150 students involved in the cast and crew.  Additionally, we added a middle school Glee Club who performed beautifully several times this year and seven of our students won awards at the Scholastic Art Awards – certainly an impressive accomplishment!  

In athletics we had a most successful year: 
Girls Cross-Country,  HVAC Division A Champions
Boys Cross-Country, HVAC Division A Champions
Girls Volleyball, HVAC Division A Champions (first time in school history)                                         
Boys Golf, HVAC Runners-Up
Girls Soccer, HVAC Division A Runners-Up
Girls Basketball, GNAC Champions                                                                                                      
Boys Basketball, GNAC Champions (first time in school history)
Girls and Boys Swimming, HVAC Combined HVAC Champions
Baseball, Middle TN Independant League Regular Season and Tournament Champions (first time in school history)                                                                                                                                        
Girls Tennis, HVAC Division A Runners-Up
Boys Tennis, HVAC Division A Runners-Up                                                                           
Girls Lacrosse, Middle TN Tournament Runners-Up
10 athletes earned individual championships in the sports of wrestling, swimming, tennis and cross-country.

As proud as we are of the records, we are equally proud that 96% of our students competed on a team, 86% were two season athletes and 40% were four season athletes.

Our K-3rd and 4-6th grade Chess Teams qualified for the State Championships and both placed in the top 5 in the state.  The 4-6th grade Team is also the Regional Champion.  11 players took part in the Elementary National Championships in Nashville.  One of our students tied for 1st in his class and one of the teams placed 12th in its division.  For the first time we were also represented by a team of our youngest and future stars, three Kindergarteners and a 1st grader who placed 26th in the Nation in K-1 Championship.

We had eighteen 7th grade students who received state recognition through the Duke Talented Identification Program for their success on the high school ACT.  Two students received national recognition, which put them in the top 3% of students in the nation.  One of these students earned a perfect score of 36 on the Reading section of the ACT!

We had 45 7th and 8th graders receive recognition on the national language exams including 1st place state winners in Eighth Grade French and Seventh Grade Spanish and two students who received Maxima Cum Laude recognition in Latin.
     We had another very positive year in admissions and will open the year with our highest historical enrollment with 72 new students representing 36 schools from 7 states, 2 foreign countries, 4 languages and 19 zip codes.  7 Harding graduates are returning as parents and Harding will have its first class of ten-year students in the inaugural Pre-k class.

You may have also heard that we are expanding 5th grade to accommodate a fourth section, and we are adding a section of Pre-Kindergarten that will reside in the current Pursuit space.

Whether winning a championship or learning new programming or robotics skills, it has been an exciting year by all measures.  We are now focused on our planning in order to make 2015-2016 the best year possible!