Headmaster’s Thoughts – June 2008

Farewell speech to Seniors at Graduation. 2008



Let me add my congratulations to this wonderful class of 2008 and also add my thanks to the parents who entrusted their children to the school.


Graduation for my wife, Jayme, and I (and I suspect for all of the York faculty here) is always a bittersweet occasion. A sweet and happy one because we see students whom we have watched grow, and have enjoyed teaching, now achieve this accomplishment and rite of passage in their lives; and sad, for the most obvious reason that we will miss them deeply as they leave us.


Because we are blessed with such a distinguished graduation speaker in Dr. Ruth Westheimer, I have told myself not to make too long a speech before we give you your diplomas and hear her address, but I do want to say something about you and your school.


I think you have heard a great deal about what an outstanding class this is, and I totally agree that you are. You are a class that began 6 th grade, the grade our school starts at, with a very challenging day: Sept 11 th 2001. Eight of you in that original 6 th grade are here. Since then you have grown to the 53 that you are, with accompanying joys and pains, while you participated in every aspect of our school life. This year you witnessed a medical miracle for one of your classmates. So I find it very appropriate that you are the first class to graduate at this beautifully revitalized auditorium of the Christian Science Church, a religious auditorium that is distinguished by no iconography other than the single illuminated word “love” in the top of the dome. You are a loving class, compassionate toward each other, and respectful of your school. And you have given all who know you a great deal of joy and love. It has been a privilege to teach you, and surely we will miss you deeply.


But I also want to temper this rightful praise with some thoughts about the reality of the learning process. First, let us acknowledge that one of the purposes of education is to promote further education. In other words, you still have a lot to learn. If we have not inspired you to pursue further learning, then we have failed. High school, for sure, is only the beginning. We hopefully have sparked something that will continue long after today, which is a continuing passion to learn and pursue what you believe in. It is not success. Never confuse passion for what people refer to as success. Success is always comparative: you are more successful than… have more possessions than… and so forth, while passion is never comparative. We all want you to achieve your goals, we all want you to live a great life. But to have a life that enables you to passionately carry out your goals, and a life where you have a passion for more knowledge, that is something truly beyond compare.


I also was inspired by Dr. Ruth’s presence to think about schools and education. She is a great educator and world-famous for being an educator on the subject of sex. Now—and you have to bear with me because the thought line here is pretty convoluted, and with no disrespect to Dr. Ruth—as I was writing this speech thinking about our guest speaker, the cliché that the world’s oldest profession is prostitution suddenly popped into my mind. Dr. Ruth, it really had nothing to do with you personally, it just was that I was thinking about some of the issues that your professional research must have touched upon. Anyway, I don’t think for one minute that prostitution really is the world’s oldest profession, and so I wondered, “What in fact is the world’s oldest profession?” And I think the answer is education.


Man moved forward by inventions of tools. Some gifted caveman or cavewoman, with a bright spark in his or her head, invented a flint axe. To prevent subsequent generations of his or her family from having to re-invent the tool again, he or she taught the skill. And others sat around and learned the skill. There was instruction, there was a school, there had to be tests, maybe SATs in flint axe making, and so on. And I wonder if there were graduation ceremonies during which the school went down to the local Christian Science Church and handed out diplomas in flint axe making and had a distinguished sex and health professor give a speech, and handed out awards for the best flint axe maker, and… well, you get the drift of my musing.


So, since I teach ethics, I hope that early on someone taught the flint axe-making class the principles of ethics and character. Modern technology is flint axe making taken to extraordinary limits. Unfortunately, it can do a great deal of harm as well as good. It can cure disease, and it can destroy our environment; it can provide us with the opportunity for a better life, and it can destroy that life. So the teaching and support of good character is something that we must take as seriously as the teaching of skills.


Heavens, you are probably thinking to yourselves, “This is getting depressing. He is going to give us more ethical philosophy. Didn’t we just finish that class?”


Do not worry. I am over. No more philosophy. And no more mention of cavemen or flint-axe making.


Let me just say that you are all very, very special to everyone here today. I urge you to stay as close among yourselves and your family as you are now (that sign “love” up there means something to me) and that you stay, as the song said while slides of you were shown, “forever young.”


And, finally, I want to thank you for bringing such joy and energy to our school and again to congratulate you (and your parents who are rightfully proud of you) on your outstanding achievements. You, the class of 2008, are a great class!



Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org 

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