Headmaster’s Thoughts – June 2009

Farewell speech to Seniors at Graduation 2009

Well, here we are… Almost time to give you your diplomas. Congratulations to all of you.

I will try to be brief because I am looking forward to your graduation speaker, Wally Lamb, whose books I have read and admired, particularly because he was a High School English teacher for 20 years.

But first I feel I should say something.  We have been together for so long, and I have had the privilege of teaching you all.

So, as I thought of you going off and leaving us, I was reminded of Moses leaving Egypt. You are right. It is a bit off the wall. I don’t know why I thought of that either. Maybe because I never really bought the Charlton Heston version of the parting of the Red Sea. I like to think that Moses did not stand on a rock, stretch out his staff, and bingo, the sea parted. It just isn’t that easy to get miracles. I think Moses actually got in the water; he got in and said “Help!” Nothing happened. He went farther and the water came up to his waist. Nothing happened. Even farther, and only finally, when the water got up to his chin, did God, in an imitation of Mel Brooks say, “All right, I’ll part the sea!”

My point is that I don’t believe that miracles occur without some real activity, some heavy lifting if you will, by the person who is going to get the benefit of the miracle.  What this means to you is that when you go to college, you have to go to the classes, do the work, and sweat, before the magic of your success will happen.

We create wonderful exams that test young people’s abilities: their mathematical skills, their proficiency in answering multiple choice questions, and their grammatical prowess. But none of those skills, in my opinion, are going to be the critical factors in your success at college.  What will be the crucial factor is your motivation; if you want to succeed enough that you are prepared to work toward that goal, you will succeed, regardless of those tests you have taken. And there is no real test for motivation. Your high school transcript certainly reveals some sense of how goal oriented you are, but it doesn’t really give you the Moses test.  He, at least in my version, had to get pretty wet.  There is little doubt about his motivation. He was, after all, escaping from plagues and boils.  In fact, he was desperate considering Pharaoh’s army was on his tail. Though he was probably not sure where exactly across the Red Sea he was going to finish up, he knew he needed to get there.  He had to move forward. I hope you act with at least some sense that you also have to move forward. So I agree with Malcolm Gladwell who says in his new book “Outliers” that what we call talent is really the strong DESIRE to work at something. It is all about desire.

Anyway, enough of these earnest words.  Your diploma is next and this is the most important of the prizes that is being handed out today.  It gets you into the next round, which is college.  Many believe this prepares you, in turn, for the next round after that, which is graduate school, which prepares you for the last round, the moment your parents have been waiting and praying for, which is when you actually earn a living.  And then, my young students, it goes very quickly.  From the youngest to the longest serving (in my case, headmaster, but in your case it can be in whatever field of human endeavor you can dream of) is not as long a ride as you might now think it is.  The trick is to have fun, and it is more fun if you are successful.  It is even more fun, in my experience, if you have someone to share it all with.

I want to tell you that I have enjoyed teaching you, and I assure you that most of the people in this hall are watching you, a bright, intellectually curious, and attractive class going off to college, with a considerable degree of envy.

We hope that we can get some vicarious pleasure out of hearing of your successes in life, that you come back and see us, and that you stay in touch with each other.  In these tough economic times, we also hope that you send your children to York Prep in due course. So, congratulations again! I hope God parts the seas for you.

My wife and our Principal Chris Durnford will help me (I hope) give out these diplomas along with all of our affection and praise.

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

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