Headmaster’s Thoughts – June 2012

My “thoughts” for June are always my speech at Graduation. A written speech is never the same as the one that actually is spoken—at least, mine are not. Somehow, the “moment” changes the speech to make it more relevant to what has been said already and to the mood of the occasion.

Graduation was a lovely occasion this year, with speeches by the two salutatorians (because there was no difference in their GPAs) and the valedictorian as well as a superb speech by our honored guest, Stephen Schwartz. As is obvious from the notes for my speech, we will miss the class of 2012, who contributed greatly to their school. They also contributed to my speech by responding very well (like a Greek chorus) as I asked them to do, including the three Senior members of our Barbershop Quartet, who came up and sang appropriately.

Graduation Speech 2012

I, too, want to congratulate this wonderful class of 2012. As you have heard, they are much loved by their teachers, and their leadership has been powerfully positive. They really are a terrific class.

I want to thank Ms. Alegre for taking the photographs on view at the beginning of graduation. Until last year, I did that and realized that maybe my photographs were not so good when I was asked by the American Dermatological Association to be their official photographer. Also, thanks to Ms. Schwartz, our distinguished guest speaker’s daughter and your art teacher for many years, for returning while rather pregnant, to take pictures of you as you graduate.

One valedictorian, two salutatorians… sounds like a Broadway play.

This class gave me this year the best day of my week; “Tuesdays with Ronnie” was one of probably many other names for the class in which technically I taught, but in fact they taught me, “ethics.” They divided themselves into groups, but they always supported each other, never ever put down others with different opinions, always were friends, and usually, and I do not know how they did this, brought sex into the discussion.

Let me give you an example of teaching this class. In the last round of ethics papers they wrote, one student began his essay with the question, “What does life mean?” It is a question that most of us have asked at some time, and we usually avoid facing the answer. Another student ended his essay with, “Life has no meaning at all. It is completely incomprehensible.” That should cheer us all up!

Now if, perhaps, I ventured in class any answer at all to the question of what life meant, let us say I said “Life is like a bowl of cherries,” I would hear:

(Whole class)


That is the questioning side of the class.


“It is like a bowl of cherries without regard to race, creed or sexual orientation.”

which is the liberal group;


“It is only a bowl of cherries if you succeed without any government regulation or interference.”

–the libertarian or conservative group;


“It is a bowl of only female cherries.”

which is the feminist group;


“It is unacceptable that women have to suffer from forced genital circumcision.”

which is the “this is my agenda and let us discuss it” group;

and finally there is the…

(trio comes up and sings)

“Life is like a bowl of cherries

Don’t take it too serious

Life’s too mysterious

You work,

You save,

You worry so,

But you can’t take your dough

When you go, go, go.”

So you have the “it sounds good” group.

You get the picture. They crystallized for me the purpose of the class and, by extension, the school. That they have done so extraordinary well in college admissions (which they have, and congratulations to all of you and your counselors, my wife and Janet Rooney) has nothing to do with standardized testing. You cannot learn answers to standardized testing from taking an ethics class nor is that its purpose nor should it be the purpose of the school. The goal of any school should be to draw students out to express themselves and to challenge them to be thinking people, to create energy and creativity in its students in a joyful setting.

There are many ways to answer standardized test problems. What I like about Ethics is that there is no right answer. Actually, I sometimes think the same of standardized tests. I know this because we had standardized tests in England, when I was eleven, called the “eleven plus” exam. One of the questions was, “What does ‘benign’ mean?” I got it right. I said it happens after you are eight.

I could keep feeding you those sorts of lines, but we are all so grateful that my friend Stephen Schwartz is here that I am going to be brief. Stephen is truly a creative giant in the world of music. So, before I give you your diplomas, I can only express again our thanks to all of you for all that you have given to this school. You have been outstanding and inspiring and will be remembered. Will Rogers, in one of my favorite quotes, said that one must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been. Using his analogy, it has been a splendid “day” of years for us who have worked with you, and I hope your time at York Prep was splendid, too.

So, before we wallow in the fact that this may be the last time you are all together, before we start kissing and crying, let me get you your diplomas with Jayme and Janet’s help; then you can kiss and cry.

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

“Headmaster’s Thoughts” for previous months are archived in the section More News. You may access additional months by clicking Headmaster’s Thoughts Archives on the same page.