Head of School Bill Taylor at 2024 Commencement

To the Class of 2024 — thank you, for your commitment to the School and, most of all, for your dedication to one another. You are gathered together this morning as a single entity, the Class of 2024. 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 2024, but the class will never again be together here on campus. Instead, each of you will be ambassadors for the group as a whole. I challenge you to stay connected with one another and to 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 these classmates around you today, particularly your close friends, will be there for you. When you gather together, even thirty years from now, you will be a teenager again, perhaps to the shock and disappointment of those who may not have known you at that age!

As I have said before, you represent ½ of 1 percent of the American school-age population who have had the opportunity to attend a prep school such as Trinity-Pawling. You are in a distinct minority of students who have had this opportunity and this type of experience. You have had tremendous opportunities because you have been at Trinity-Pawling, but you have also had tremendous responsibilities at the same time. And, it has not all been easy. And, in a short time you will receive your diploma and become an alumnus of this School. You have learned a great deal through your time here, thanks to the dedication and commitment of your teachers.

I want to specifically highlight three important life-lessons that you have hopefully learned during your time at Trinity-Pawling.

Life Lesson #1: Be Self-Aware

Self-awareness sounds pretty basic on the surface: Know Yourself. Yet, I would argue that it is not as easy as it may sound. How do you know yourself? You may know that you prefer the color blue to the color red; or, you prefer steak over fish; or, you prefer Kendrick over Travis Scott. But, these are preferences. Preferences are a part of self-awareness, but they are more superficial. It doesn’t mean that they are not important, but they are not at the core of what it means to be self-aware. Self-awareness has much more to do with how well we, as human beings, can know ourselves. It is beyond the realm of preferences. To know yourself in a way that is self-aware is to have a perspective that you have gifts and talents.

At Trinity-Pawling, you have heard that phrase several times in chapel and perhaps in other areas, too. The idea of having “gifts and talents” relates to what makes you, you, and what makes me, me. Each one of us is uniquely different, and that is how we were created. We have our individual intellects, we have our individual personalities, and we have our individual souls. Embedded into all of this are our gifts and talents, those qualities that truly distinguish each one of us from others. Now, I am quite certain that very few high school students have had the opportunity to hear about gifts and talents as much as you have heard of them at Trinity-Pawling. In fact, you have heard “gifts and talents” when you have even heard those words. The concept of having your own gifts and talents is what your teachers and coaches have been tapping into as they have helped you learn and grow. When you have been working on various projects, choosing electives, or working on a senior project, you have been exploring your own gifts and talents. When you worked with Mr. Mead and Mr. Dunham, you were exploring your gifts and talents.

Realizing you have gifts and talents is the critical first step of self-awareness. This realization is like a door opening. Once that door is open to an awareness that you have distinctive gifts and talents, then you begin your journey into the exploration of what these gifts and talents may be. Exploration leads to discovery of your gifts and talents, which is when self-awareness is energized and given even more power. Once you discover your gifts and talents, then you can nurture them and make them stronger. When we nurture our own gifts and talents is when we find greater value and meaning in our lives and this is the result of self-awareness. And, this is part of the transformational power of the journey of self-awareness.Because you have been here, a place that places great emphasis on the power of self-awareness, you are so much further ahead on this journey than others your age. You may not see this difference now, but your parents probably do, and soon you will, too.

Life Lesson #2: Value the Art of “Sucking It Up”
(Not Sucking Up – Critical Difference)

Now, that is my terminology and likely not yours, but the art of “sucking it up” is the ability to persevere. Not everyone learns this skill in life, but you have here, at Trinity-Pawling. Things are challenging here and much is expected of you. It requires you to “suck it up” and deal with challenges, setbacks, and things you may not have wanted to do. Now, this skill is not one that is in high fashion today. Yet, the conditions that merit the importance of learning how to “suck it up” have not changed. In fact, these conditions don’t change because they are a part of life.

Not everything goes your way. Plans fall apart. You won’t get that job that you thought you deserved. Or, an important relationship is challenged and changes in your life. Tragedies happen. Life happens. Learning how to cope with setbacks and keep moving forward is an essential skill set for life. You have hopefully learned that here. Sometimes you have been aware of the fact that you are “sucking it up,” but there are times that you probably just shrugged and kept moving forward. Sometimes we need help and guidance from others in order to “suck it up” and this involves vulnerability, which is its own strength that, when combined with “sucking it up,” creates a powerful combination. Not everyone has learned how to “suck it up.” In fact, there is much more of the opposite happening, which is to invoke blame and excuses when things don’t go the right way. Practice the art of “sucking it up,” and you will emerge from the group as someone who copes with adversity and challenges differently. It will also give you greater confidence and strength as you work to solve problems and continue to move forward in life.

Life Lesson #3: Hold Fast to The Legacy of Mongolian Beef

Over your time at Trinity-Pawling, you have had many meals in Scully Hall. Some of you, for dietary reasons, have had a pretty stable supply of chicken and rice during family-style meals. Others have been sporadic chicken and rice devotees, depending on the main lunch choice. I must say that World Language Week did put a strain on our chicken and rice supply.As a keen observer of adolescent lunch choices during family-style meals, I have noticed that the Mongolian Beef has both passionate supporters, some dubious skeptics, and a contingent of people who will immediately jump to the chicken and rice as the alternative. Yet, there are some highly vocal supporters of the Mongolian Beef who can be relentless in their defense of the dish. Sometimes, to be honest, their ardor in their advocacy of Mongolian Beef seems a bit over the top, especially to the detractors of the entree. Now, Mongolian Beef stands in sharp contrast to Chicken Parm, an entree that almost everyone tends to like. Indeed, the approval ratings for Chicken Parm have always been historically high. Of course, there are times when it hasn’t always lived up to the expectations, but the loyalty to Chicken Parm remains strong so there has been a high degree of forgiveness if it underperforms from time to time. This has not been the case with Mongolian Beef. First of all, its base of support has never been as strong as that for Chicken Parm. So, if the Mongolian Beef is not as tasty, then its detractors have a pretty good opportunity to add to their ranks. This makes the Mongolian Beef menu option even more precarious in terms of student support.

But, here is the important lesson that Mongolian Beef can play in your life if you are wise enough to engage the idea. You never let Mongolian Beef divide your class. Sure, there were times when you didn’t always agree, but your attitudes and, for some, your passions about Mongolian Beef – one way or another – never became a dividing issue that tore the class apart. Why Not? Unfortunately, we live in a world that is terribly divided. While such division and tension are always a part of the larger world, it seems to be growing more acute and more nasty in its division, especially around issues of politics. One side is convinced that they are right and the other side is fixed onto the belief that the other side is blind and stupid. There seems to be very little common ground at times, and opinions are too often dialed in.

Now, I have a solution to fix this problem with our leaders in Washington, D.C., although surprisingly no one has asked my opinion. My solution would be to have Congress be forced to have family-style meals four times a week. The menu would be the same as ours. There would be Chicken Parm, Mongolian Beef, Buffalo Chicken wraps, Pasta and Meatballs, and four wildly unknown entrees during World Language Week. My guess is that they would learn how to work together pretty quickly. They would learn that the Chicken Parm sometimes has an off day and the Mongolian Beef will sometimes be surprisingly good.

Today, there are some alumni classes at Trinity-Pawling that are bitterly divided over issues of politics. In some cases, brother no longer speaks to brother. Reunions are impacted. Current tensions have replaced the great memories that bonded their class together when they were students at Trinity-Pawling. So, this is the legacy of Mongolian Beef for the Class of 2024. Don’t let things in the future take away the unity that has distinguished this class. If Mongolian Beef didn’t drive the class apart, at a time in your life when food takes on a disproportionate amount of value than it will later in life, then don’t let other things divide you in the future. As you get older, you will come to increasingly value the friendships and relationships you have in your life. Don’t let whatever the Mongolian Beef issue of the day take away these relationships you have with your brothers in the Class of 2024.

So, these are your three last take-away Life Lessons: Be Self-Aware; Value the Art of “Sucking It Up;” and, hold fast to the Legacy of Mongolian Beef.

And, my last word before you embark on this journey is, of course: ONWARD!


Watch Head of School Bill Taylor’s full speech here.