Now that our Commencement exercises are over and the last of our student-athletes have departed from campus, I have had a chance to reflect on what was once again a beautiful and successful Commencement weekend. The prom-goers enjoyed beautiful weather; Ann and I entertained a record number of seniors, advisors, and parents at our Headmaster’s Tea; Class Day was filled with dozens of awards given to dozens of different graduates; and Baccalaureate had the most student speakers ever—all talking about their experiences of love and reflecting on them from various spiritual traditions.
The student speakers at Commencement itself were impressive too. Emma Charrow became the first student to offer the Invocation, and salutatorian Dylan Maghini and valedictorian Quinn Bornstein gave two excellent speeches. In reflecting on their speeches, and that of Commencement Speaker Susan Dunklee, I was struck by the way their messages echoed one another. Dylan spoke about how we come to a deeper and broader understanding of ourselves and the world through relationships within a diverse community (like her graduating class). Quinn talked about how we only grow and achieve if we take risks and step out of what is comfortable, doing things that in fact make us uncomfortable. Susan talked about the importance of setting extraordinary goals and persevering in pursuing things that you love. On the surface, these messages share the theme of intentional growth and individual striving for success—not surprising given that these three strong women are excellent scholars and stellar athletes in individual sports. (Dylan is an outstanding swimmer, Quinn a top-tier long-distance runner, and Susan is the most successful female U.S. biathlete in Olympic history.)
Behind this main message, however, was another theme. Dylan spoke about how her parents always had reference books at the dinner table, sparking her desire to know things. Quinn spoke about how her mother told her to give cross-country running one more week when she was tempted to give up. Susan spoke of how her family encouraged her when she missed qualifying for the Olympic team. This message of family support resonated throughout the Fieldhouse and beyond as families from around the world came to support the Class of 2014. What we know about success, especially at the highest levels, is that it comes from supportive communities and, in particular, supportive families. Though these strong, independent women all share character traits and world views that have made them successful, they also share the strength of a caring family supporting them.
In thinking about this, I am reminded of another beautiful aspect of our Commencement: our graduates realize they have not made it here on their own, and they say thank you. Starting from the Senior Sports Recognition banquet on the Tuesday before Commencement through Last Chapel and the Commencement Concert, graduates stopped to thank those who have helped them along the way. Especially at Baccalaureate, several speakers spoke about the love of their family and thanked them, and Board President Lee Hackett said that more graduates thanked him as they received their diplomas than any previous class he could remember.
Perhaps the most touching example of this gratitude came at the very end of Commencement as Eamon Roosa became the first student ever to give the Benediction. Like the Invocation, for the last 30 years, the Benediction has been given by either Ben or Rosalie Harris or, more recently—and for as long as Eamon could remember—by my predecessor Bernier Mayo. In honor of Bernier, and in gratitude for all he has done to improve and inspire the academy community, Eamon chose to use the same Irish blessing Bernier always used.
The verb “succeed” has two meanings: the original meaning comes from the Latin meaning “to come out from under, to take one’s place, to move up” (as in I succeeded Bernier as Headmaster). Its more recent meaning is “to have achieved a significant honor.” In the former sense, Eamon, too, is one of Bernier’s successors, and the fact that he was so grateful and gracious in doing so was one of my favorite moments of the day.
As we move into summer and students join their families for days without school—some to return here this fall, some to join us for the first time, and some to start a new phase of their lives—I want to leave you with the same Irish blessing Eamon offered his classmates and the community that gathered to support them:
May the road rise up to meet you,
The wind be always at your back;
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your field;
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.