How do you even begin to reflect an entire year in a few short paragraphs? (Spoiler alert: you don’t.) Instead, I’ll start with my Middle School Closing Ceremony text and get back to you when my brain has had a few days to process…
Dear Class of 2020. Our journey together is swiftly closing and we will officially send you down the portico to the Upper School, in just a few short days. However, we hold dear to the fact that this time you have spent on the wild ride known as middle school will have a lasting effect on your lives to come.
You are scholars, artists, athletes, hunters, scouts, singers, actors, readers, writers, servers, pray-ers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, and friends. You have walked four of the most challenging years of your life. You began this journey as children and leave as young men and women poised to run towards your future. You have a world of choices at your hands and today, for a brief moment, I want to impart to you my encouragement and challenge.
Your teachers know that I am a fan of quotations. Each week, I send them one in my weekly newsletter and I have searched in my journals of quotes for just the right one for you, for this day. I’ve chosen one that I think fully encompasses my hopes for you as a member of this community.
From George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman
“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations.”
You have an incredible opportunity. You are students at The Montgomery Academy where we believe that YOU are a valued member of our community just by your very existence. You bring your own unique qualities that weave the fabric of this community. And as a member of this community, you are burdened with responsibility to move us forward. To serve this community. To work as hard as you can to become the best human you can, so that you may pass on your legacy to those who come after you.
Your success as a member of this community can be measured in so many different ways. I implore you to test the waters of as many things as you can to determine who you are and what you love. Look to the intrinsic rewards of hard work. Look to the altruistic rewards of service. Look toward the humble satisfaction of success. And be willing to recalibrate your gauge for that success. Our community has proven time and time again that we are successful in academics, athletics, and the arts. And these measures are certainly worthy of praise. AND they are not the only measures.
As I said at the beginning of this ceremony, each day hundreds of choices are made that demonstrate who you are as a person, or who you are choosing to be—the words you say, the actions you take, the people you with whom you connect, the way you show kindness and respect, and the way you bounce back from mis-steps or failure. As you go through this next phase of your life, I encourage you to focus on developing your character with the same ferocity that you will develop your athletic, artistic, and academic strength.
Julie Lythcott-Haims served as the freshman dean at Stanford University and last fall published an incredible, bestselling book titled, “How to Raise an Adult”. She uses her experience with college freshman to articulate what separated successful students from unsuccessful. While her book is primarily directed toward parents, I encourage you to consider these qualities to develop your character as you spend the next four years of high school, preparing to soar onto college, service, and full adulthood:
- How to talk to strangers: No, I don’t mean stranger danger type of strangers, but how to engage unknown adults in both conversation and information gathering. Asking for directions, listening to stories of others to build empathy, maintaining pleasant conversation with those who aren’t your close friends or family.
- How to find your way around: We have our little GPS units in our pockets everywhere we go, but maintaining a sense of direction—knowing how to find your way around with or without your phone, is so important. When you get to a new city, explore it—allow yourself to get a little lost and learn to retrace your steps. I’ll never forget last month when I skirted some bad traffic without my GPS and felt like that meant Montgomery was really home!
- How to independently manage assignments, work, deadlines—if you haven’t yet figured out a system for your own time management, now is the time. It is up to you to build schedules to manage your homework, your outside interests, and balance that time. Mom and Dad can’t check the portal for you—it’s all you!
- How to contribute to running a household: Hopefully by now in life you know how to load a dishwasher, run the vacuum, make a bed, do you own laundry, and make a few basic recipes. If you don’t, now is the time. It is also time to ask your parents how you can contribute to your household without the hope of reward-you are a member of your family community and you can be entrusted with certain tasks.
- How to handle ups and downs—In my opinion as an adult and educator, this is the most important of all of the qualities—many of you have faced momenumental challenges in health, loss, family changes, and academic challenge in your short lives. These challenges and failures provide you with a resilience that cannot be built on a smooth comfortable life. By living through and thriving through challenges, physical—emotional—spiritual—you will become a stronger human and therefore better equipped to serve others and work hard for success.
- How to handle interpersonal problems—you will face difficulty with peers and with adults for the rest of your life. You will work with, play with, worship with, and live with/near other humans for the rest of your life. It is vital you learn how to use language of respect and empathy to handle conflict. Learn how to find common ground, advocate for your opinions, and at the end of the day, always focus on kind and doing what is right, rather than just being right.
- How to earn and manage money—it does not grow on trees and hopefully you’re already learning how important it is to save and spend wisely. As you grow in age and wealth, your community and family will depend on you for support, learning these skills early is critical to success. Plus, you parents will thank you when you provide them with an amazing retirement home.
- How to take risks—this harkens back to my first quote with you—how will you choose to be thoroughly used up? Will you try new things, expand your horizons, be willing to risk failure knowing that the long term gain is better? Will you hear another person’s point of view and consider it before making up your own mind? Will you take a risk to reach out to someone in need, even if they aren’t a friend or stand up to one who is, if they are making poor choices?
As you make the jump into the next four years of Upper School, we wish you all the very best—take advantage of everything you can, work hard, and be kind. Come down the hall and visit us now and again knowing that this MA community is behind you, guiding you forward in the pursuit of excellence.