Head of School Tad Roach gave this talk in Chapel after our 2018 Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, November 16.
On this special evening at St. Andrew's, we gather to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy in our lives. In particular we give thanks for the opportunity we all have to live and learn in community at St. Andrew's. We celebrate this generous, patient, inspiring faculty, our VI Form that has displayed such remarkable leadership all year, and all of you the students of St. Andrew's. I wish you and your families a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday together.
I want to talk to you tonight about the miracle of friendship in our lives and connect that precious concept to the expressions of gratitude that are so much a part of this season. I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately, both through our celebration of Mrs. Roach's birthday, my study of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Horatio, and my 40 year friendship with Mr. Speers.
I have a few theories about friendship I want to share and explore tonight. First, I believe the cultivation of true and transformational friendship is a necessary preordination for fulfilling our ultimate goal of St. Andrew's: embracing love, care, compassion, empathy, and responsibility for the human condition. One true friendship changes our lives, our vision, our belief in the power of love and affirmation. It teaches us that the process of enlightenment and recognition in our lives emerges through the appreciation for a reverence of the gifts, attributes, habits of mind and heart of others.
I clearly need to explain what I mean by authentic friendship, transcendent friendship. Let's start by looking at friendship's opposite: we all remember points in our lives when the pursuit of friendship involved a mad dash for safety, conformity, and a sense of belonging, whatever the cost. We all have probably made sacrifices for a form of friendship that turned out to be empty, hollow, even destructive of our values, principles, and ideals. We know that negative and destructive peer relationships lead to acts and expressions of meanness of spirit, social media harassment and abuse, sexual harassment and assault, and expressions of intolerance and hatred. We know that our desire to find, develop, and retain friendship can make us vulnerable to accepting attributes, behaviour, language that diminish us, make us narrow our peer circles, and shut down empathy and concern for others. We know that some friendship groups exist to cut off our growth, development, and expression of expanding concern for and love of others. At the worst extreme, we recognize that friendship born of desperation, alienation, and separation from the human family provide the foundation for disintegration, violence, and terrorism.
The best literary example of such distorted friendship might be Graham Greene's "The Destructors", a short story depicting the depravity of boys caught in a world of darkness, despair, and violence. Throughout the past two years in America, we have seen terrorism and violence ignited by social media friendship groups that espouse a form of collective hatred and terror.
In contrast, the form of friendship I celebrate tonight ignites creativity, not destruction; liberation of the spirit, not rigid forms of ideological conformity; the expression of love and human rights, not the triumph of hatred and abuse. Great friendship finds its foundation, its purpose, its spirit in one radical commitment: we design such friendship to create independence, creativity, freedom, and happiness in both or all its members. Such friendship depends on mutual regard, acceptance, hope, and high expectations for intellectual, moral, ethical, spiritual growth. It is generous; it is patient; it is kind; it is humble; it is inclusive; it is transformational. Most importantly, the relationship finds expression in the pursuit of goodness in the world.
I argue here for a definition of friendship that consists of peer pressure for human excellence. In other words, a true friendship changes you in some elemental way. It honors you; it honors your friend. It does not come with preconditions, sacrifices of humanity or integrity. It does not seek to trap, capture, control, use, exploit, or manipulate another person. Such friendship is not meant for our convenience, our comfort, our use. It is eternal.
And because of these attributes and commitments, such friendship opens up your world. It makes you believe in and have faith in human possibility and grace. It makes you want to do more, meet more people, engage in the work of community, read more widely, commit more expansively, love more, accept more, listen more. At its heart, a great friendship gives both people qualities, perspectives, values, commitments they lack and need to grow in themselves.
In his great play Hamlet, Shakespeare takes special care to contrast two forms of friendship, the one Hamlet develops throughout the play with Horatio and the one he ultimately discards with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. At the beginning of the play, Horatio is clearly a friend of the Prince of Denmark; they study together, must have enjoyed each other's company at Wittenberg. But as Hamlet's world turns tragic, mysterious, and dangerous, the role Horatio plays in Hamlet's life deepens. He is literally the only person in the play who stands by his friend--he is present, loyal, authentic, encouraging, sympathetic, and supportive. He is the witness both to Hamlet's despair and to his emerging readiness to take on the indirection, corruption, and evil of the Claudius world order.
Right before the play within the play, Hamlet pauses to thank Horatio for his friendship, beautifully contrasting his friend's steadiness, patience, and calm with his own frenzied, passionate, and exasperated outbursts, Hamlet's words:
"Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
S'hath sealed thee for herself, for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing.
A man that Fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks..."
Hamlet beautifully describes his refined ability to distinguish the friends he can rely on and in contrast the friends who use him for their own ends and desires. He beautifully expresses the dynamic aspect of his relationship with Horatio; he learns from his friend: he begins to study this notion of patience, acceptance, and resilience Horatio consistently embodies. Miraculously enough, these recognitions deepen and intensify as the play unfolds, and by Act V Horatio listens to his friend proclaim his new philosophy and spirit:
"Not a whit, we defy augury.
There is special providence in the
fall of a sparrow. If it be
now, 'tis not to come; if it
be not to come, it will be now;
if it be not now, yet it will come.
The readiness is all...Let be."
If Horatio provides Hamlet with precious loyalty, fidelity, and calm, Hamlet opens up for his friend a world of eloquence, courage, sacrifice, and grace. He particularly instructs his friend early in the play that "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy," a brilliant articulation of the ways the play opens Horatio's scholarly eyes to new visions, experiences, and lessons. By the end of the play, Hamlet's courage, idealism, and sacrifice inspire Horatio--his loyalty and love at first inspire him to offer his own life in tribute to his friend, but Hamlet desperately pleads with Horatio to be the narrator of his story, the sacred person to explain "the heart of his mystery". Shakespeare endows Horatio with the poetic eloquence of his friend as he holds Hamlet's body after his death.
"Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet Prince
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
St. Andrew's friendships are so meaningful and eternal because you literally grow in wisdom, kindness, humanity, and hope together. You experience what it feels like to reject envy and jealousy and pettiness and social cruelty and instead work towards a friendship that is kind, generous, courageous, and love. You experience the power of redemptive love in your lives here, a love that liberates and supports your identity, hopes and dreams, and gives you the security to know that you never walk alone.
That story I told about Elizabeth Montesano on the video had a hidden meaning to it. When she told me firmly that our relationship had no future, I was not so much surprised, exasperated, and hurt by her words: I was curious: just exactly what did this remarkable young women look for in a friend, I wondered, and what fortunate person might that turn out to be?
At that time in my life, I was actually not particularly good at the virtues of sensitivity or empathy, but I had glimpsed something in Elizabeth Montesano that would be decidingly transformational for me. Maybe, I needed to grow up a little and then try again: maybe I needed to become transformational for her in order for this to work out. You see friendship works both ways. Somehow, friendship allows us to find exactly what we needed to grow in wisdom and love. It is mutual; it is dynamic; it is alive.
Think of your St. Andrew's friendships as our evolving, ever developing, ever expanding, ever inspiring. Give your friends grace and room to grow and change and explore. And when you find that friend, hold them, him, or her in what Hamlet describes as "in [your] hearts' core, ay, in [your] heart of hearts."