Headmaster's Thoughts: June 2022

As in all previous years, June’s “Headmaster’s Thoughts” is the speech made by the Head at the 2022 Commencement Exercises.
Congratulations to the graduating Senior Class of 2022, and your families who helped get you here. This is a great group of young people, and all of us applaud your success. You have contributed to so many parts of our school academically, socially, in the performing arts and athletically. I note that over 10% of your class brought home our first Basketball State Championship since 1992. That is just a sign of the spirit of this group. In all arenas, I give you my congratulations.

Realistically, your faculty acknowledge that this has not been an easy time to make it through high school with the COVID pandemic, but you have shown resilience, and are here today. After this achievement at a time of such stress, we are all confident that you will make it through the challenges that lay ahead. 
One such challenge is ageing, so I advise you to enjoy your youth. Work hard and play hard. Love your family. Most of the rest of us are just full of envy that you are going to college in what, I hope, will be glorious years of learning and fun. But, I remember the first graduation of York Prep when Jayme and I started the school. And most of those graduates are now 70 years old. Yes, the ones sitting here like you…now 70. I am sure at their graduation neither they (nor Jayme or I, for that matter) ever projected forward to the time when they would be 70. We, and they, thought, like the song, that together we would be forever young.
But now you know. Now I have presented it in stark terms. You will have to decide what you are going to do with your lives until that point when you reach 70. Who will you be? I wish every success for all of you. This year, in Ethics, I only brought two speakers; a billionaire and a street seller. Actually, because of their ethical beliefs, I think of both of them as successes. I admire them both for their character and grit. No one can tell you how to get where you want to be. I know because I thought I was destined to be a lawyer, practiced law, was successful, and gave it up because I did not feel that it was right for me. I was married to Jayme. We came to New York from London, and we started this school. It was a decision that baffled all of my friends. Frankly, I think they thought I had a nervous breakdown. The senior lawyer of my chambers told me that they had my future planned out for me. Beware when others plan your future. You plan your future. Only you. You work at school and college not for others, not even for your loving parents who are here at your graduation. You work for you. Be your own best friend. Always!
I want to say just one thing about the present challenge facing the world, and that is Russia’s cruel invasion of Ukraine. This kind of aggression only works in a country like Russia where the government does not encourage people to question the truth. They discourage people from asking too many questions. I hope your education here has taught you to ask the difficult questions, and not accept blindly what is taught to you. Challenge is an essential part of our educational process. The truth is sometimes obscured quite deliberately. 
So I should finally end my year-long Ethics class. One of the greatest modern American philosophers was William James. He was a medical doctor and a philosopher, and spent most of his life teaching philosophy at Harvard. I admire his writings. He was a curious man. He experimented with nitrous oxide, the laughing gas that dentists used to give patients to ease the pain. While under the influence, he was convinced that he had discovered the secret to life, but when he recovered his consciousness, he realized he had forgotten that secret. The solution to all of life’s problems. So he strapped a pen to his hand and took nitrous oxide again. And when he recovered he could not wait to see what he had written—the secret of life, the greatest thought that he had ever had. There it was. He had written: 
A smell of petroleum pervades throughout.
It may be that when you are 70 you will come to the same conclusion. Until then, I hope that your education at York has helped prepare you for whatever path you choose. Star Trek’s message was right; Go forth and prosper, but also stay curious, and enjoy, On behalf of the faculty and administration I thank you again for all of your contributions to York Prep School. We are very optimistic that you will make your society better.
Ronald P. Stewart
York Prep