Headmaster’s Thoughts – June 2018

2018 Graduation Speech

Let me add my congratulations to the Class of 2018. A bright and energetic Class who have led the School Student Community for the last year.  I want also to congratulate your families who have contributed to your achievement. This is your day, but they certainly helped to get you here.  We, as a school, thank them for their trust in putting your education into our hands. I hope you had fun at York.  I am sure you are ready for college, and I hope the colleges are ready for you.

As one of your teachers, I want to thank you for putting up with me.  I have tried to get you to give me your thoughts, but the truth is that all year long you have suffered and put up with my opinions. I do not apologize for that. Having an opinion, and possibly a contrarian one, does not mean that you cannot change that idea or discuss something. It means merely that you start with a point of view and encourage someone else to challenge it.

You may be right or you may be wrong…but having no opinion implies to me that you have not thought about the subject. So I encourage you to form an opinion and be prepared not only to discuss it but, also, to be persuaded to a different opinion if the other side makes a better argument.

There is a prejudice against “opinionated” people. You cannot, obviously have an opinion on everything, nor should you because you cannot know about everything. But I think the prejudice is based on the belief that people with opinions cannot change them. And, of course, faced with new facts and convincing arguments, you can.

So, imagine that a group of people are in a darkened room in a museum trying to discover what they are feeling. One describes ears, one describes a large body, one describes teeth, one describes the feet and the tail. And then a brave soul gives an opinion: I think we have a Hippopotamus here.  And he may be right. Or someone can say: “I forgot to tell you that I also felt a horn on the front: I think it is a rhinoceros.”  And everyone agrees (including the person whose original opinion was that it was a hippo). The lights go on and they discover what it is…it certainly sounds like a rhinoceros.

Tough enough as it is with rhinos, ideas and concepts are, needless to say, far less concrete and much more difficult. There is no solid matter to touch or see.  And yet, if the subject is interesting and you get a certain amount of information, I encourage you to strike out and have an opinion.  Obviously first comes introspective thought. You may be wrong, you may change your mind, the horn though not there physically, may be there in some way unnoticed by you until pointed out. But at least there comes a point where you can have the courage to give your view. Of course there could be a rhino’s horn metaphorically still out there, and so you have to be prepared to change your mind accordingly. If you cannot change your opinion after hearing about the new fact, in this case the horn, we have a name for that approach too, we call it bigotry.

But I believe that giving your own personal view, thinking it over and then sticking out your proverbial neck, perhaps connecting things that were previously thought not connected, shows that you are a thoughtful and, hopefully, original and creative student. Plato said that to prove a proposition to be absolutely true in an ultimate sense was impossible, and he urged constant questioning.  While that is true in the absolute sense, it is not in the practical or useful world we live in. So for me, at any rate, a bad opinion, a well thought out bad opinion, hopefully a creative one, is better than no opinion at all. The world has improved because people had original ideas.

So now you are going off to college, and they will ask you to describe things. They will ask you to learn things. I hope they ask you what you think of things, of ideas, of what your opinion is of whatever subject you are studying. There is a moral and philosophical side to every field of human endeavor. Respectfully give your opinion. Be prepared to debate it, and be open minded and prepared to change your mind. But go for it.

My wife, Jayme, has asked me to say that the preceding remarks represent only my opinion and do not represent her or the official endorsement of the school or any of its subordinate constituents.

This is listed somewhere as the head’s farewell address.  I wish you, indeed, to fare well. But I also want to let you know that the faculty look forward to seeing you many times again in the future, and we all wish you every success. That truly is the opinion of every member of the school community. So congratulations!