Headmaster’s Thoughts – June 2011

Graduation Speech – May 25, 2011

This is a very special senior class for me, and along with everyone here, I want to offer them my sincere congratulations. Special, because in a difficult year personally, they gave me something to look forward to every Wednesday, when I could forget whatever the problems of the day were and indulge myself in the teaching of what is called ethics to the senior classes. It wasn’t always about ethics; it was sometimes personal reminiscence—and sometimes pompous opinion (I was the pompous one), but I always had an enjoyable time, so I want to thank you for the pleasure you gave me in teaching the class. Teaching an interested class of bright young people is about as fun a thing to do as I know. So thanks.

I also want to thank your parents for trusting us with you. I have known them as long as I have known you, and I am grateful for their support. My wife, Jayme, and Janet Rooney also want to thank your parents for entrusting them with your college guidance. Your list of college acceptances is terrific, and your parents’ support and cooperation are the reason. And finally, before I sound too much like an academy award recipient, I want to thank your teachers who helped get you to where you are today.

Since we have David Hyde Pierce here, an actor whose brilliance I have admired for many years, I think I should be fairly brief.

Every school year, for 42 years, I start the year off talking to each class, and my advice has always been the same: be your own best friend, and develop a passion. I stick to those mantras. You have to be your own best friend because only YOU can steer yourself to the place that is best for you and away from the places that are destructive for you. As Malcolm Gauld told you in the last ethics class of the year, man is the only animal who lies to himself. Malcolm put it in more colorful language, but the principle is the same. You know what happens: you tell yourself, “I will do all my work tomorrow,” “I will only go to the party for half an hour,” “Next week I am going to do nothing but study,” etc. If you really are your best friend, you will be honest with yourself and act sensibly.

My second mantra of developing a passion is so important because a passionless person is really still someone continuing to search for meaning in his or her life, and having a passion gives you direction. You can change your passions whenever you find one that appeals to you more. I have found that passionate interests lead to lifelong enjoyments.

Like many other graduation day speakers before me, I thought also of suggesting that you follow your dreams. That is the real cliché of all time given out to graduating students. That thought changed about two weeks ago because I awoke at four in the morning after having the greatest dream I can ever remember having. This is absolutely true. (Would I, your ethics teacher, lie to you?) It was a chase, I had magical powers, it was thrilling, and I remember riding a camel. It was a long dream and I woke my wife Jayme up as I was so excited. At four in the morning! She was not as excited. At four in the morning she expressed her lack of excitement quite eloquently. For some time! Anyway, I rushed to a desk to write down the dream because I was convinced this was going to be the greatest narrative book or short story of all time. I felt like Coleridge, who wrote “Xanadu” about Kubla Khan after waking from an opium-influenced dream, only I had the dream and didn’t need the opium. I tried to write down in detail what the dream was about because everyone knows that you forget dreams. In the morning I had great plans to write this wonderful piece, maybe for my blog, the “Headmaster’s Thoughts” (which no one reads but I write every month), or maybe something grander.

I have the pieces of paper I wrote on at four that morning. They are hardly legible. There are about 12 pages with maybe 20 words a page. There is very little punctuation, and the narrative seems written in the style of Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s pithy but wise Native-American sidekick.

Page 1

Demon looks like big brown poodle, dog carrier. But when released, creates such mayhem can get away. A sort of get out of jail card.

Me working as Carnie and no one knew. Carnies have the sight which means something, I am not sure what.

Page 2

Demon chasing and other tales

The sight sees bad weather. Most weather forecasters are… but now instruments more accurate. But can see Demons. Best asset.

Page 3

Now I really am in hunt. Hop over through animal

Page 4

Catch Demon. Everyone stopped 2 hour chase.

Page 5

On dog but no good; girl passes on camel. Good camels are best. Usually smelly and bad but good if they match you (and in brackets I wrote “complicated,” which in hindsight seems a slight understatement). Camel gave trouble, girl fell, I am on camel, I was falling off, camel corrected, great camel

It now get little more difficult

I had 37 (money game) but I knew about x demon and did nothing. Grabbed cash. Escaped with money. Cats and dogs v good because can’t catch.

Got Camel

If strong don’t need an animal to chase with (there are no commas so I am guessing on the phrasing) but I have camel. Camel make me win.

Page 6

Elephants good in jungle, Camel better in city. Cats too small only good for children.

Page 7

(You will be relieved to know this is the last page I will read because it gets totally illegible after this.) Huge hunt breakfast at end, celebrate demon catch. Most camels sullen but good camel great.

Now, that was the best dream I have had in many years, and I don’t understand it or my seeming obsession with camels. If I follow that dream, how do I get a camel? I would ask Dr. Reese, our school psychologist, about the meaning, but I am scared to find out what the camel significance actually is all about.

So I suppose my final message is simply this: don’t follow your dreams too literally. Some of them, in the cold light of day, may make little sense. Be flexible about the interpretation. But if all of that doesn’t work, remember that elephants are good in the country, but camels are better in the city.

Anyway, that is it on advice, and thanks. Time now for us to give you your diplomas, and Ms. Janet Rooney and Jayme are going to help me in this.

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

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