As these young men have heard me say before, today’s event celebrates their graduation from Trinity-Pawling School. Yet, as a ceremony, it is a Commencement, a beginning of the next chapter of their lives.
I remember the day before my son and my daughter graduated. I actually found myself in a bit of a panic. I was the head of the school from which they were going to graduate, so I was confident that they were well prepared academically for their next journey. What panicked me, however, was whether or not I had covered everything in the playbook as a father. I began to worry if I had spent enough time over their 18 years preparing every life lesson.
Parents, I can assure you that these are just a few of the life lessons that your boys have been exposed to on a regular basis during their time at Trinity-Pawling.
They have learned:
● one way or another, the value and importance of hard work.
● that there are many people who will mentor them if they are willing to see the value in this opportunity.
● that disappointment is a temporary emotion, but perseverance through challenge and adversity builds character.
● they can adjust to unexpected situations and it doesn’t need to throw them off of their game.
● that chicken can be prepared in many different ways, many of which taste pretty good.
● that mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth.
● that they possess distinctive gifts and talents, even if they may not have fully discovered them yet.
● that community amplifies all things that are positive in life.
● that hard work and having a positive attitude are two things that they can control and it will make a difference in their life.
We would not be here today if it were not for the courage, stamina, and perseverance of the men and women sitting behind me today and those who are working behind the scenes right now to make this happen. They have led this charge and have pulled us through to this day. Please join me in saluting the faculty and staff of Trinity-Pawling School.
I would like to acknowledge the Board of Trustees for their leadership and commitment to the School. Leadership matters, and the quality that separates great schools from good schools is their board leadership. This board has vision, courage, and, most of all, a deep and collective commitment to the well-being of each boy at Trinity-Pawling School.
To the parents, here and out there, who have entrusted your sons to the care of this School, I thank you. We thank you. Your faith and commitment to the School is something that we never take for granted and for which we are particularly grateful, especially this year.
And, last but not least, to the Class of 2022 — thank you for your commitment to the School and, most of all, for your dedication to one another. Well, you have made it, and you are gathered together this morning as a single entity, the Class of 2022. Sadly, this is the last time that this group will gather together as a single entity, so enjoy this time together. After this morning, you will always be members of the Class of 2022, but the class will never again be together here on campus.
Instead, each of you will be an ambassador for the group as a whole. I challenge you to stay connected with one another and to stay connected with this place. Hopefully, this School and its campus will hold a special place in your heart. As you grow older and your lives grow busier and your responsibilities greater, your time at Trinity-Pawling will stand out as that place or that journey where you were young and where you began to figure out who you are and who you were becoming.
Your classmates and your friends have been your compatriots on this journey. In the future, wherever you are in your life’s journey, these classmates around you today, particularly your close friends, will be there for you. When you gather together, even fifty years from now, you will be 18 again, perhaps to the shock and disappointment of those who may not have known you at that age!
This brings me to the third bumper sticker that I put on the back of my 1974 Audi. Yesterday, at Stepping Up, I shared with the students and the faculty that my favorite car was the one that I had in high school and onto which I put three different bumper stickers. The choice of these stickers was the result of a highly deliberative process of weighing the pros and cons of many different options.
At yesterday’s Stepping Up ceremony, I shared that the first one was a Doors bumper sticker, honoring the band led by Jim Morrison. Its choice had to do with the importance of perception and the ability to question changing perceptions of your life, your surroundings, and the people around you.
I mentioned the second bumper sticker last night at the Senior-Parent Dinner. It was Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps. Its choice was based on the idea that you only allow yourself to get old and rusty if you choose to do so. Rather, life gives you the opportunity to adapt and iterate as you move through it.
So, what was the third bumper sticker? It was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. For a certain group of us during high school, there was nothing more liberating than listening to this concept album, over and over again. For a lengthy period of time, I listened to the entire recording at least once a day, and it never got old. Instead, I lost myself (and a bit of my hearing) in the life of the main character of the narrative, a character named Pink Floyd.
I realize that most of you are likely unfamiliar with this music, other than some of the songs that you still hear, like Comfortably Numb, Another Brick in the Wall, or Hey You. But the music in its entirety told the story of someone who becomes trapped inside a persona, or a way of being, that others have chosen for him. For a while, this identity worked, but over time it created isolation and a loss of self-awareness, symbolized by a wall that was built around him that became a prison.
One day, faced with the option of self-destruction or liberation, the character destroys the Wall and begins his new life that is still connected with parts of his old life, but has been freed from the parts that were inauthentic. For a high school boy, listening to the Wall told the story of possibility, isolation, confusion, superficiality, and authenticity all wrapped up together.
Pink Floyd played at Madison Square Garden in February of 1980 for multiple shows that spanned two weeks. There was so much demand for tickets that they were awarded on the basis of a lottery. I waited patiently for news, via a letter, that my request for four tickets had been accepted. That notification never came.
Fast forward to 2012 — Mrs. Taylor and I were traveling to Maine from Memphis for our son’s wedding. Before we left, we had decided we would spend a couple of nights in New York City. For Father’s Day, she surprised me with tickets to see Roger Waters from Pink Floyd perform The Wall at Yankee Stadium. It was a memorable night, especially since advances in technology had enhanced the signature aspect of that show with the creation of a 75-foot wall on the stage during the course of the concert, and then, toward the end, its complete destruction.
At one point in the show, Roger Waters sang a duet with a hologram of himself from the 1980 show that I never had the opportunity to attend. It was a poignant moment, but it was not nostalgic. Rather, the feeling was one of tremendous continuity, that the two worlds, that of my 17-year-old self and that of my forty-something-year-old self, were connected and that they always had been.
This is the takeaway I want to underscore to you, seniors. As you get older, you could look upon this time in your life as one of nostalgia. Or, you can look at it as one of continuity. To do this takes discipline over years and years, but it keeps you young at heart. That is why it is important for you to stay connected to your school. Be a mentor to students in the future, be active as an alumnus, stay in touch with your classmates, and tell stories about what happened here (but remember your audience; some people may not appreciate the stories!).
There have been many seeds that have been planted during your time here. Some of these seeds germinated quickly and began to bear fruit fairly soon after your arrival. Others took a bit longer and bore fruit over the course of a year or years at Trinity-Pawling. Some of these seeds will blossom in a few minutes when you receive your diploma.
But, there are other seeds that have been planted that will not germinate and bear fruit for years after today. You will not even know that they are inside you. One day, you will be doing something in your job or having a conversation with your spouse or your child, then it will hit you. You will realize, “Oh, this is what this was all about at Trinity-Pawling.” And, when those moments hit you, they will not be moments of nostalgia. Rather, they will be moments of continuity, an opportunity for connection between your thirty-something-year-old version of you and your 18-year-old version of you that sits here today. Welcome those moments in your life as they will be enriching and fulfilling.
For now, though, we are here to let those seeds blossom right here and now as we celebrate your achievement and your success as the Class of 2022. Congratulations!
Watch the full address here.