Headmaster’s Thoughts – June 2014

[Headmaster Ronald Stewart delivered the following graduation speech on May 22, 2013. The guest speaker at the Commencement Exercises was Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics.]

Congratulations to the Class of 2014, to their parents, friends, and teachers. Education is a team effort, but you, the Graduating Class, are the prime movers and the focus of this drive. And you have done well and are heading off to great colleges, and you all look happy, so it is a privilege for us to share this occasion with you.

This is an interesting and talented class. During the year, I asked all these seniors to write two essays on any subject they wished, so long as they gave an argument for a position. At the same time as I was doing this in my ethics class, my wife and Ms. Rooney were encouraging them to try and grab the reader’s attention with the title or the first few lines of the college essays they were writing. They know that college admissions officers have to read hundreds of college applications, and these officers have to be intrigued very quickly or they will just pass on to the next potential student.

So with these things in mind, I want to give you some of the essay titles from this class:

“SEX, IS IT OVERRATED?”

In fairness, I should say that this essay was about the pay differential between men and women. The title was certainly intriguing.

Equally intriguing—and I don’t think there is any need to explain the content of each essay—was the heading “THE DEATH PENALTY, MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE!”  No, I do have to explain that there was no personal experience with the death penalty except that the senior knew that I, the Ethics teacher, was against capital punishment. Certainly a catchy title!

Another one, which I will definitely not explain, was “FIFTY SHADES OF GREY: HOW THIS BOOK HELPED ME THROUGH MY SENIOR YEAR.” I confess I have still not read the book.

The next one was a bit concerning. The title was “PEER TUTORING AND DATING.”

The next one did not give the author’s name, but since it was the only anonymous one out of the whole class, it did not require too much wisdom to figure out who wrote it. He is here.

It had no title but began, “The Ethics Class this year was fun and interesting and bore absolutely no relationship to reality.”

And to just give one more title of these creative essays from this group of graduates: “MY THOUGHTS ON ETHICS BY WIKIPEDIA!”

So you can see that this is an interesting class.

I wrote to the graduating class in October in my Headmaster’s Thoughts (which probably none of them read) that the senior year of high school is one long goodbye to 12 years of elementary, middle, and high school. It is a year of protracted farewell that starts on the first day of school with a talk about senior privileges and responsibilities and ends with … well, it ends with today. All the while, I wrote, the clock of youth almost perceptibly ticks away. Tick tock. Things are going to change. Big things are going to happen. Tick tock. Well, that clock ends this afternoon, your final time all together.

For all the nostalgia that we feel for each other, let us rejoice in your progress and success. Happiness and nostalgia are not incompatible. As a parent, I sometimes felt that my children had been loaned to me for their early years and school time and were taken back when they went to college. I’m not sure who exactly loaned them out, but off they went and clearly could not wait until we left them in their first dorm room.

“Leave!” they audibly thought. It was almost like a silent hiss. “Leave, so that we can explore this new world of college! Leave!”

So we left, but I should also say to parents that the loan occasionally returns and your children, briefly or longer, come back to spend time with you.

To the seniors, I wish you joy and success. I hope we have helped give you the tools for that success, remembering that you must be your own best friend—an ethical, responsible, and empathetic community member, but also one who is kind to yourself and able to protect your own future. And if you don’t know how to do that, I am told that you can always look on Wikipedia.

We will miss all of you. I hope you always stay curious and have a wonderful experience at college and congratulations again.

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

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