Head of School Tad Roach delivered these remarks at the closing Sunday chapel service of the 2017-18 school year, held, as is tradition, at Old St. Anne's Chapel in Middletown.
I had not foreseen that I would spend six days of one of our last remaining weeks in a series of medical waiting rooms, first trying to understand what is wrong with me, secondly trying to figure out just how to remove the large kidney stone that resides in my body.
However, the good news was that I had a lot of time to think about St. Andrew's last week, imagining the beautiful service for Mr. DeSalvo, the valiant girls lacrosse game against Padua, and the crew races in Philadelphia. I also had a lot of time to think about graduation week and put together, for today, a few reflections I wanted to share with seniors today.
Graduation week is a time at St. Andrew's for gratitude and appreciation to our seniors for all they have contributed to the community. It is an honor for me to speak to the class this morning and offer a few final words of advice.
First, I want to express, on behalf of the School, an appreciation for the leadership you as seniors have provided this year. The depth, quality, and consistency of your class' commitment to the vitality and spirit of St. Andrew's this year has been extraordinary. You have built the School's culture, strengthened us, and left St. Andrew's in a very promising stage for the classes that will follow. Your personal and collective influence will permeate the School for years to come.
Your intellectual passion, curiosity, creativity, and collaboration have set exemplary standards for our academic program. You have inspired your teachers by the joy you bring to the life of the mind and by your commitment to bring your best work to every class and assignment. You are all ready to do distinguished work as undergraduates.
Your collective exploration of what it means to live with integrity has developed our important School-wide exploration of the power of honesty, trust, and accountability in our lives. You have accomplished this focus on integrity at a time when the adult world, in business and politics, continues to play loosely with the very concept of truth.
You have collectively fought to create a culture of kindness, empathy, and human rights within the School. You have helped the School articulate deep and respectful relationships, as well as a clear culture of consent. You have worked to expose the forces of social cruelty, bullying, and hazing that can infect residential communities; you have expressed support, reverence, and care for all groups that feel contempt, discrimination, and intolerance. By the very way you practice the art of dialogue and listening, you have created the way forward for St. Andrew's to become a place where we link with other leaders and organizations seeking an era of new compromise, understanding, and synthesis.
At a time when the very notion of human virtue is endangered by the headlines of the moment, you have sought to express the power of love, listening, and empathy in your lives, a commitment beautifully expressed by the Presiding Bishop Curry yesterday at the Royal wedding:
"Love is not selfish or self centered. Love can be sacrificial. And in so doing, becomes redemptive, and that way of unselfish, sacrificial redemptive love changes lives. And it can change the world. If you don't believe me, just stop or think or imagine. Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world in which love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive. When love is the way, no child will ever go hungry in this world again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there's plenty good room, plenty good room for all God's children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family."
Your Arts and Athletic leadership have inspired us for over four years, filling the seats of Engelhard, Forbes Theatre, the Warner Gallery, and sending St. Andrew's teams towards successful State Tournament play, national regattas, tournaments, and Conference titles.
Your class has strengthened our new faculty interview process, led important and comprehensive environmental initiatives, developed a gender neutral dress code, deepened our admission outreach, strengthened our School's Peer Counseling Program, and served—every single day and night, on and off campus.
You are each quite amazing to work with: there is literally no problem or issue I could not bring to you, for I know you will always give me wisdom, thoughtfulness, deep reflection, and care.
Of course, I still have a few words of advice for you:
- Allow your last week here to continue to expand your friendships and appreciation of every person in your class. Open up your peer circles, make time to talk to and include everyone, and realize that, even now you have opportunities to understand and appreciate a classmate's inherent goodness and humanity.
- Sometimes, St. Andrew's students and faculty fall into a narrative that somehow implies that all the virtues and habits of mind and heart you learned and practiced here will be under assault in the world of college, the world of adulthood. That is not exactly the case. Your virtues will be honored, respected, and revered in the outside world, for St. Andrew's and St. Andreans are part of a massive web of citizens all over the world who do extraordinary things for people every single day. Yes, there may be a loud chorus of division and cynicism you will have to work through, but these voices cannot and will not win the day. The future and its promise belongs to young people who dare to find their voice, enact their dreams, and open the world up to kindness, inclusion, and love.
You will find so many committees, so many organizations, so many initiatives that already exist to fight for the values you believe in. I see these groups and their leaders each and every day as I visit men and women who transform the cultures of their businesses, law firms, medical groups, colleges, schools, and community organizations.
You now join a vast, powerful, and quiet movement of hope and courage. Remember—you are joining a movement, not losing one!
Life will challenge you--greet you with adversity, pain, and sadness. With that knowledge comes a realization that your St. Andrew's family embraces you with love, encouragement, support, and grace, precisely when you might feel most alone. Your diploma connects you to this St. Andrew's family: it connects you to a place that will continue to resonate hope, faith, and courage. Therefore, you have to endure, be resilient, embrace a belief in life and in people that enables you to surmount everything you might face in your life.
In the end, St. Andrew's for you is a bit like Bryan Stevenson's grandmother, described so beautifully in the following passage. Remember this passage when you need to draw on the strength of your family and your School.
"My grandmother was the daughter of people who were enslaved. I tell this story a lot. I was a little boy, and my grandmother used to squeeze me so tight I thought she was trying to hurt me. And then I would see her an hour later and my grandmother would turn to me and she'd say, 'Bryan, do you still feel me hugging you?' And if I said no, she would jump on me again. And by the time I was ten, she'd taught me and all the other grandchildren, as soon as we'd see our grandmother, the first thing we would say is 'Mama, I'll always feel you hugging me.' And she had this way of creating a relationship to you that would never end.
When my grandmother was in her nineties, she was still working as a domestic, she fell on a bus, she broke her hip, she developed cancer, she was dying and I went to see her. I was holding her hand, last time I was going to see her. I knew she was going to pass away soon. I thought she was asleep, I thought she wasn't listening. I was sitting there holding her hands, and I said something to her, and then I said goodbye, and then she squeezed my hand. The last thing my grandmother said to me, she said, 'Do you still feel me hugging you?'
And there are times, right now, in the midst of a lot of conflict and controversy, when I will feel that extraordinary black woman who wrapped me up in her arms, hugging me. And it's through that kind of strength, that kind of witness, that I do not have the choice of becoming hopeless. And I believe that if she could fight the way she fought, I've got to fight even harder and even better. That's what I do for hope."
We here at St. Andrew's send you that kind of life affirming faith and love all the days of your lives.