Headmaster’s Thoughts – January 2017

The first joke that I remember was told to me in kindergarten: “What does a caterpillar do on New Year’s Day? He turns over a new leaf!” Pathetic (although I remember that I thought it was funny as a five-year-old). With that in mind, I wish you all a joyful New Year. It is an arbitrary date in the calendar around which we seem to have focused our attention as a society. In itself, it should carry no more significance than any other date. If you have a resolution, then why not carry that out as soon as you have it rather than wait until January 1st? Something I can easily say, but in reality I think that every New Year brings moments of introspection, resolution, and hope.

We do make a thing about dates. I remember well the graduation speech that Dustin Hoffman made to our students back at our second graduation in the early 70’s. He said he remembered his own graduation date because precisely ten years later to the very day, he first had intimate relations with a woman. He then wished the graduating class better luck. (He also said, and this has nothing to do with dates, that he noticed that the boy graduating in front of him seemed to glide rather quickly across the stage to collect his diploma, only to later discover that the young man had been wearing roller skates at the time.)

When I was a schoolboy (a long time ago), we were not allowed to wear long trousers to school until our 14th birthday. Before that date, we had to wear grey flannel short trousers. I remember the day I was allowed to wear long grey flannel trousers. They itched! Was this the prize I had been looking forward to? I also remember the day I was called to the English Bar and could wear my white wig for the first time. Now that is something that really itched! It was a second-hand wig (which now sits in my office) and was made of horse hair. On a hot summer day in the Old Bailey, (there was certainly no air conditioning then, although there might be now,) your entire head could feel as though it were on fire. Rarely – I mean once in a summer “rarely” – a judge would allow us to remove our wigs.

But I digress. Back to dates! How about birthdays! Do you remember being born? If you do, you scare me. They tell me that a third of all babies born will live to be 100. Good for them! Personally, I find birthdays to be tiresome. They seem, at this stage, to be focused more on the future than the past. Too many people tell me what I should not do if I want to live long: Don’t eat pastrami! Don’t eat white bread! I am one of those rare people who likes his pastrami on white bread. I thought that is why statins were invented?

Since dates are on my mind, I should acknowledge another one I have been thinking about lately: Election Day. In past “Thoughts,” I have lampooned the election quite a bit. There was a lot to lampoon, and a great deal that was (at least it seemed to me) unnecessarily vicious. But it is now over, and it is (mostly) clear that President-Elect Trump will be our next president in this New Year. There undoubtedly is disappointment among many, but that does not mean that we cannot celebrate the democratic process that has voted in a new president. As the first great Western democracy, we should support the seamless transition from one president to another. Of course, in any democracy, a sizeable group will generally lose. But having lost, if they believe in democracy, then they have to accept the result.

About life, I used to say that I was passionately moderate and moderately passionate. Unfortunately that phrase is a total oxymoron. It sounded clever but shows how foolishly glib I was. Being passionate about being moderate is a passion without qualification, and therefore the second part of the line is nonsense. I do have a fear that those of us who identify ourselves as “moderates” are the real “silent majority.” We have to hope that our new president will show a desire to heal the chasm between the extremes and demonstrate sufficient kindness to the weakest members of our society to appease us “moderates.” I wish him every success. He is going to be my (and your) president, and I want my (and your) president to represent this country with honor and wisdom. So, as we begin 2017, let us be resolved to find common ground between us all, to find happiness at home with our families, and, once again, may I wish you a joyous New Year.

Ronald P. Stewart


York Prep