Head of School's Charge to the Class of 2015
I have thought a great deal about what to say to you all today. I was hoping that I could simply appropriate/steal the speech from my own commencement exercises on Tuesday in New York but…… it was too lame to take credit for. Plus, that would have been a bad example.
I do feel a special connection with your class and am rather fond of you. Your sincere welcome this fall meant the world to me and even though some of you call me A-A-ron, this is not the worst thing that a head of school might be called,—so, no hard feelings.
Winston Churchill, no relation to Carl, once said courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.
CSS is a place where it is safe to try new things and a place where your effort tends to get recognized. This environment helps inculcate courage.
- ECSs breed courage
- Athletics breed courage
- Public speaking breeds courage
- So do the fine and performing arts
- and Model UN
- Taking on the faculty in matchwits breeds courage—and ultimately, failure. Just kidding—we rigged the questions.
At CSS you have learned empathy through the strong bonds you have with your peers. You have also learned empathy in academic contexts — learning about how people from different circumstances and cultures view the world. Empathy is a fundamental element of a CSS education — and it is useful in life.
Once you are finished with school, and out in the so-called real world, your personal and professional lives will require courage and empathy in many ways. Outside of academic contexts, effort and outcome are not guaranteed. For example, you don’t enroll in a job and get guaranteed results if you work hard. Partnerships with others don’t come with a syllabus that clearly states what to do and when to do it. There will not be an academic dean making sure you have a fair shot when your company puts out a bid. While the best companies will be concerned with your development and your growth, most are simply concerned with the skill set you will bring to them.
Another way that the rest of your life will be different from school is that you will be faced with more than just problem solving. Problems, as challenging as they can be, are comforting in the sense that problems have solutions.
Life is often about dilemmas. Dilemmas, as opposed to problems, have no clear solutions. Dilemmas ask us to balance things that are in tension and to live with unresolvable ambiguities.
Some examples of dilemmas include:
- The freedom of individuals and the rights of a majority
- tradition and innovation
- the personal and the professional
- and one that has been of sincere interest to me recently, the tension between indoor and outdoor commencement ceremonies… just to name a few.
Managing dilemmas is challenging work but you can and should embrace dilemmas… Because they require us to use our whole brains, to see things from multiple points of view, to be in conversation with those who disagree with us and to get hard things accomplished. Additionally— solving dilemmas, at this point in time, cannot be done by a computer, so it is work with a little job security at least for now. The good news is that the empathy and courage you developed at CSS will help you tackle challenging dilemmas.
My advice— do what you love and what you are good at and use courage and empathy to connect your passions to the needs of other people. Those whose life passions meet the needs of others— tend to be employed, sometimes lucratively, but more importantly, they tend to be happy.
At first glance this idea of measuring your life by how you meet the needs of others sounds very selfless and possibly, socialist, as if only people in Manitou Springs or in non-profit organizations meet the needs of others. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Our mission statement talks about meeting the needs of a dynamic world. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg masterfully met the needs of others without an iota of selflessness. Howard Jacobs, CEO of Starbucks, met the unmet need of the $5.00 frappuccino. And while these entrepreneurs weren’t selfless, it does take empathy and understanding of others to see what people really need. And it takes courage to provide it for them when there are no guarantees.
Where there are unmet needs there is a market. Banking and finance are also about meeting the needs of others. Technological innovation is about meeting the needs of others. So are teaching, health care and the fine and performing arts—the latter meeting our need to interact with the transcendent and the ineffable. Being part of an effective team is also about meeting the needs of others, and so is being part of a loving family.
So, my charge to you is to be ambitious and connect your passions to the needs of others—and change the world- one met need at a time.
Why this simple and rather personal charge? It is because my impact on the world is rather limited and indirect. I’m an educator. This isn’t just my job. It is my life’s work and I love it. I work with teachers, students and parents to create transformative learning environments. But that means there are a lot of things that I won’t do. I’ll never build a bridge or win a court case. I’ll leave that work to you. I have spent my adult life in school and teaching school. I mean this literally; I graduated on Tuesday, so technically I have only been out of school for 46 hours. I have in the past, and will in the future, make zero contributions to nano medical technology or aeronautical engineering. Renewable energy, clean water, cyber security, issues of social justice—these are important things and you have an ability to have a large impact. I wish you a life’s work as rich and rewarding as mine, fulfilling your passions with courage and empathy. CSS class of 2015—you’ve got this. Please visit often. You are always welcome here. Congratulations.