Head of School Tad Roach delivered this talk at the opening Sunday morning Chapel service of the 2018-19 school year, held as is School tradition at Old St. Anne's Church in Middletown.
We thank Hannah for her courageous and illuminating words, and this week, particularly on Tuesday, we pray for the victims of the attacks on September 11, 2001 and their beloved families. We send love, support, and strength to the Murphy family and to our friend Elizabeth Jordan who lost her husband Robert, St. Andrew's Class of 1986, in the attacks. We remember the courage and sacrifice of police, fire, and emergency responders that day in New York and Washington.
We remember too the victims of the acts of terrorism that we study and have witnessed in America, both in our history and the recent past: the death of Heather Heyer as she protested at the white supremacy, Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville last year; the victims of the shooting at the AME Church in June 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina; the 4400 men, women, and children who were the victims of lynching in America and now find their lives and suffering remembered, witnessed at last at the National Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. We remember victims of school shootings from Columbine to Sandy Hook to Parkland.
Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing describes in powerful detail these agonizing and horrific moments in our history, and she suggests through the heroism and grace of Jo Jo and Kayla that it is your generation that has the power to heal these lacerations of the human spirit.
In the climatic pages of the book, Jo Jo and Kayla confront this tree filled with the souls of those who have died: "and the branches are full. They are full with ghosts, two or three, all the way to the top, to the feathered leaves. There are women and men and boys and girls. Some of them near to babies. They crouch, looking at me."
Kayla, in her innocence, vision, and love finds the words and gesture and commitment to bring solace, peace, and healing to these souls and our country: "And Kayla sings louder. She waves her hand in the air as she sings, and I know it, know the movement, how Leonie rubbed my back, rubbed Kayla's back, when we were frightened of the world. Kayla sings. And the multitude of ghosts lean forward, nodding. They smile with something like relief, something like remembrance, something like ease. Yes."
We make our way through tragedy and sadness, Ward suggests, by sharing the grace of redemptive love, a love that calls us back to the love we felt as babies, as children: the love that passes understanding, the love that gives us the power to heal even in the face of our hardest memories and experiences.
As some of you know, last year Ryann Schutt '18 and Will Gray '18 worked with Dean of Honor Ms. Pressman to add a powerful addition to our Honor Code at St. Andrew's. They together wrote the following two sentences:
"We seek to live lives of integrity in moments small and large, in all we say and do. When we fall short on these commitments, we take responsibility for our words and actions."
I admire these words, for they so perfectly capture the spirit of the School we are working so hard these past seven days to regenerate and strengthen. These words help us to focus on building a solid and enduring set of principles of integrity in our lives. This code or aspiration of integrity will bring out our best selves; it will create the courage we need to be both true to our values and responsive to the needs of others.
A life of integrity takes many forms and expressions. It is dedicated to respecting the dignity of every person. It is dedicated, in Diane Nash's words: "to assuring that generations who follow us will live in a school, country, and world that is better, more kind, accepting, peaceful, and sustainable."
It is dedicated in the words of the late Senator John McCain: "to causes larger than ourselves: to love of our country, to the protection of children, to service to those in our society who are vulnerable, scorned, invisible, neglected."
It is dedicated to humility, what Bryan Stevenson calls "proximity," and respect for the experiences, perspectives, and political beliefs that differ from our own.
It is dedicated to the scholarly tradition described by Columbia President Lee Bollinger: "We develop an awareness that we are part of a vast human effort extending over tune to build up a store of human knowledge, and it is our responsibility to carry it forward. Adding to it whatever we can and to ensure it continues on into future generations. We are modest about our individual roles in this vast effort; we are meticulous in crediting others (past and present) for their contributions..."
Bollinger cites two mortal sins of what he calls the Scholarly Temperament: "Taking the ideas of others as your own. Failing to consider—truly consider—ideas different than your own, being unwilling to change your mind in the face of compelling arguments and facts demanding that you do and thinking it's appropriate to end any discussion by declaring: "Well, that's just what I believe".
A life of integrity gives us the strength to be resilient, true to our values even under and especially in times of pressure, pain, suffering, and fear. The Flight 93 National Memorial opening today in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, features the Tower of Voices, a 93 foot tall musical instrument of 40 chimes representing the 40 passengers and crew members lost on the flight, many whose last contact came through phone calls to loved ones.
Gordon Felt, brother of Edward, said: "We know they formed a battle plan and fought for the flight and to get home. The message is: This could have been any one of us. Could I have done what they did? Could I have stepped up? That's the inspiration."
A life of integrity helps us to protect, defend, and strengthen the power of truth, honesty, and justice. I thank you for thinking about and signing this honor pledge that will protect and strengthen you throughout your life. I look forward to being the last person to sign today, pledging St. Andrew's dedication to integrity.