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So what is this event called Baccalaureate, this evening with the members of the senior class, their mentors, and their parents? It is historically a religious celebration dating from the Middle Ages when universities were first established. Because the universities were connected to the Christian Church and because the Renaissance was the rebirth of classical learning, the Baccalaureate appropriately combined the power of the church with the traditional search for wisdom through learning.
The role of the Church has diminished here, but the solemnity of the event and the reflection on the past remain a key part of our own Baccalaureate service. We have established a new tradition here, with a senior member of the institution giving this address on the eve of the ceremony of Commencement and the Senior Class officers giving individual readings.
You noted that I marched in carrying a mace, the symbol of authority of the leadership of the institution, usually carried by the senior member of the teaching faculty. That honor has devolved to me, now completing my 45th year as a teacher of history and more broadly of students.
It implies an accumulation of knowledge, perhaps some wisdom, a recognition —at least to me—of regular shortcomings, and an occasional awareness of what is going on. So I have titled this address: Transition. We expect to give you seniors—each of you—a diploma tomorrow—a piece of paper rather than a wreath of laurel,—but we also know that most of you have a long way to go before you attain wisdom.
Nevertheless, you should aspire to that attainment. It may come in a revelation, a moment; it may come gradually over many years. But you have had at least a glimpse this year of that idea of revelation, and now you are about to transition from one important place to some other. And for you parents, I came across this quote from the iconic baby doctor, Benjamin Spock: All the time a person is he is both Matures looking for a Williston screw learning to be a parent. After he becomes a parent he becomes predominantly a parent reliving childhood.
It will help in your transition period. In the middle of winter, during my recuperative period, I received this brief from a Facebook friend. I had to chuckle, but still this woman graduated 40 years ago and still had feelings about this period of life you are about to leave behind, at least in the formal sense.
You get this serious speech about your obligations as students beyond the formal part of your schooling, you get pronouncements about where you have been and where you are heading, and tomorrow you get a piece of paper that you should deservedly frame and keep in a place where you can access it when you want to reflect back on this brief moment of time of transition.
As I saw several times this year: yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift, which is why it is called a present.
Adolescence can be miserable, it can be exciting, it can be formative. Think of it now as history. Last year I stood here with a screw in my neck, inserted after the graduation, connecting a couple of pieces of a broken vertebrae; this year I stand here with a couple of fused vertebrae in my lower back and a zipper-like scar; I have saved the 31 staples, although not sure yet what for. Next year is still a mystery, although the screw is still there.
An alum asked on the Williston Facebook if she could expect me to rap during Reunion Weekend. Tonight is deed for reflection, for a serious look at what you have accomplished in one year or six or anything in between.
You probably remember a bit of what the speaker said at Senior Dinner—and even who it was. You might remember that it really was a glorious fall during that first trimester, but that the first day of the calendar year was not so pleasant. You might remember Boston Strong tee shirts, and smile—or frown—as the World Series played out. Do you remember the MLK speech about a date tree taking 55 years to mature?
Towards the end of March break, as I was trolling through Facebook, I saw this from a friend, a former Williston student, who I visited in Germany last summer. Tomorrow you might think of those other five classes sitting out there under the tent who will be celebrating this graduation; your transition is not the only one that will be happening. And of course your parents are well aware of this pivot point. Parents—and grandparents will appreciate this even more: you have two fundamental tasks.
They grow, they thrive. Your second task is to give them wings. Your students have to learn to fly. They have practiced here, but they are never far away from that tree with its roots. Now they necessarily have to fly farther away, to take that risk for something new; later they will build their nests and plant their own trees and start the cycle again. That freedom may in fact worry some parents. Williston has forced you to use your wings. There is a Class of ready to replace this group, and we as a school cannot disappoint them. Some of you AP Bio kids are probably trying to figure out how the tree made the transition to become a bird in such a short time, but there is a measure of Dumbledore in this school.
Take some of that magic with you, but give some magic back—both to your parents and to your school. You owe yourself, and you have well-earned that debt.
As the Chapel bell rings to give us a moment to process this evening, give thanks: to both yourself and all who helped you on this journey. Save my name,and website in this browser for the next time I comment.
In Their Own Words. OK, now back to reality. Posted in: Commencement AddressFaculty Speaker. A site for all Williston Northampton speeches and reflections.Matures looking for a Williston screw
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