Head of School's Charge to the Class of 2016
“Class of 2016, my charge to you will be brief- so in a sense, Mr. White, if you consider this to be a race— I will win. You are not a very competitive person and so I don’t expect that this will bother you, in any way. Me winning here, in front of all of these people.
Graduates- I have two thoughts to share with you today—and I’ve been inspired by the music and energy of Garage Band, the Upper School student rock band, and the recent Musical, Bye-Bye Birdie. Therefore, like Mr. Greg Johnson did last night, I’ll will reference the lyrics of some popular songs to support my points.
My points are:
- The things people say about your generation
- The gifts of a deep education, like the one you’ve received at The Colorado Springs School
To my first point, people talk “smack” about young people. We saw this in Bye-Bye Birdie when Jack Mclaughlin and Emma Walker sang, What is the matter with kids today.
The song goes:
Kids, I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today
Kids, who can understand anything they say?
Of course, this is isn’t new. Adults have always criticized young people. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a prominent Enlightenment philosopher, who, in keeping with the musical theme, began his career as a composer, once railed against the danger of children, reading. He thought the written word would destroy the memory of the young. In a twist of irony, he wrote many books about this topic.
But as Public Enemy— a hip hop group I listened to continuously from 1987 to 1991 once rapped— “Don’t believe the hype”.. And as the great Taylor Swift sings, “haters gonna hate.”
If I am going to quote T Swift, which either lowers or raises the bar dramatically depending on how you look at it, I also need to quote a more serious source, like The Journal of Developmental Psychology, which notes,
“Interestingly, studies in animals have shown they share with humans a period of adolescence in which four distinct behavioral traits are apparent: they are very sensitive to rewards, show a tendency to risk-taking, are sensation-seeking, and have a love of novelty. From an evolutionary perspective, we conclude the purpose of these behaviors is to compel the animal to leave the nest and conquer a kingdom”. Adolescence, a much-maligned phenomenon, has been theorized to be a beneficial adaptation in human evolution.
As Ms. Taylor’s AP Psychology students know, when people age, their frontal lobe develops and risks and consequences are weighted more carefully. This is somewhat good. It helps when you are thinking about intricate risk/reward ratios over a long period of time— refinancing your house. But it has disadvantages. We get old. We get stuck in a rut. We listen to Coldplay. My point here is that we need to de-pathologize adolescence. We need your energy, drive and ambition. We need your idealism. When we, as adults, appreciate and listen to young people, we benefit from a multi-generational intelligence. Like a computer, we need RAM, that is you, and a hard drive, that is us old folks. Michael Gohde, can explain this in some detail later.
The strengths of your generation
- Open mindedness
- Use of irony
- Skinny jeans
More seriously, according to a recent article in the Economist, many believe, that “When the millennials rule, society will be more meritocratic and better governed”. And, “when young people rule, the world may also be greener. They have shown great ingenuity in using resources more efficiently by developing apps to share resources like cars and housing”.
In the same article, the author concludes, “The young are less racist than the old, too. In a survey of young people in Brazil, Russia, India and China, 86% of youngsters agreed that ‘my generation is accepting of people from different races’ and 76% said they differed from their parents on this topic”.
I guess, as The Who once famously sang— the kids are allright!
This brings me to my second point, the real gifts of a deep education. Is the value of an education specialized skills and knowledge? Or is it something more fundamental?
For me— a deep education, like the one you’ve already received at CSS, comes down to identity (how you think of yourself) and purpose (the reason or reasons you do what you do).
First, identity. It matters. Dr. George A Sheenan, a running expert, once explained the essential difference between a jogger and a runner was not ability or training; it was entering a race. The same could be said of entering an Art Show or a Play. When you commit to difficult challenges and the hard work that they entail, the way you see yourself changes. This difference is a matter of identity. Aziz referred to this, he began to see himself as an Advanced Placement scholar and an athlete during his time here. His identity created his outcomes.
In the process of identity formation, a science student becomes a scientist and math students become mathematicians.
To find popular a song to confirm my point I had to turn to Macklemore…
This is my world, this is my arena
The TV told me something different I didn’t believe it
I stand here in front of you today all because of an idea
I could be who I wanted if I could see my potential
Those that prepare and plan with a purpose in mind are more successful. Self-fulfilling prophecies come true. If Aziz would have concluded the opposite about himself, that he was not a scholar or athlete, he also would have been correct.
Ancient Chinese philosopher, Sun Tzu, in the Art of War, written in 550 BCE, remarked on this tendency when he said, “Every battle is won or lost before it is fought.” Of course, Sun Tzu, did not write or produce any music, but his point was so well made I couldn’t exclude him from my talk. But to strictly adhere to the musical theme, I am compelled to note that the rapper 50 cent was so inspired by Sun Tzu that he released a track called The Art of War. Unfortunately, it is terrible.
My second point and last point, Mr. White. Purpose is a key part of identity and it can be hard to find. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression.
On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research. “It is the very pursuit of happiness,” as philosopher Victor Frankl knew, “that thwarts happiness”.
Jake Norton, our mission day speaker this year, found more purpose in helping people access clean water than he did at the summits of the world’s highest mountains. He changed his identity from a mountaineer to an educator, storyteller and philanthropist. People who know their purpose, know why they do what they do, not just how. Purpose often lies at the intersection of what you love, what you are great at doing, what the world needs done, and what people will pay you for doing. We believe that the rigor, relevance and relationships of a CSS education will aid you in finding a purpose in your life.
My thanks to you, members of the class of 2016, for all you’ve done to make the most of your time here. You are scholars, actors, musicians, and athletes. And these positive identities will sustain you in challenges and lead you to noble purposes. Lastly, please remember where you came from and come back and visit. This is your school. We are proud of you and your successes. Congratulations.”