Head of School's Charge to the Class of 2017
- Where have you been?
- And where are you going?
First, let’s talk about where you have been: David Brooks recently wrote a thoughtful article about thick institutions- the kind that leave a mark on you. He wrote, “a thick institution becomes part of the person’s identity and engages the whole person: head, hands, heart, and soul.”
Thick institutions have the following features:
- Collective rituals - ours include dodgeball.
- They tell and re-tell a secret origin story about themselves. We all know that 9th graders are reborn from the ashes of the Tucker Death March on Walkabout, find courage on the Mountain Caravan Swing and develop mental and physical agility trying to dodge Dr. Young’s markers.
- Thick institutions also have idiosyncratic local cultures— here the lockers are unlocked and it’s cool to care about school.
- Finally, they have a different moral ecology— at CSS personal kindness and inclusivity are the norm, rather than the exception.
You’ve been at a thick institution— and to paraphrase the song Hotel California: today you will check out, but you can never really leave.
Now that we’ve talked about where you’ve been, let’s talk about where you are going.
For the most part, talking to graduates about their future makes them feel nauseous. Remember the line about the importance of plastics in the film, The Graduate?
There is a more logical way to talk to young people about their lives and future work and that’s the language of economics, industry, and nonprofits. And since I’m inspired to share the stage with an economist, that is the approach I am going to take today. We both want you to be “sussessful,” as Dr. Young would say!
According to a recent Bloomberg article, “About a third of 18- to 34-year-olds in the U.S. live at home. Among 25- to 34-year-olds living at home, one in four is neither enrolled in school nor working. That’s 2.2 million people.” Maybe they are playing Dungeons and Dragons, as Sarah mentioned. Didn’t Matthew McConaughey make a documentary film about this called Failure to Launch?
We want you to avoid this fate. As a thought experiment, imagine yourself as a startup business or nonprofit organization vying for clients, capital, and donations with other startups. This a bit strange. To be clear, I am not saying that you should start a business or non-profit (of course you should, that doesn’t even need to be said), but rather that you should imagine your life as a business or a non-profit. Doing so will shift the focus to your mission, your differentiators, your niche.
Let’s begin: take your name and add LLC after it, for limited liability corporation.
Or perhaps, take it the next level and get a weird name in the style of mojang, google, skype and uber…
Here are my suggestions:
- And Fribble
These are words that actually mean nonsense, and therefore good places to start looking for a weird name.
After you’ve named your company, ask yourself— would you be more focused and more productive in the next 4 years if you were the CEO of a one-person company?
- If you had a board of trustees?
- A mission statement?
- If your social media feed represented your business and not just you?
This isn’t just a thought experiment. You are in business. For yourself for sure. But if you are to be successful, you need to be in business for and with others. And if you are to stay in business, you need to add value to your life and to the lives of others.
Explore this idea with me for a moment. Like any business, yours has shareholders, to whom you are responsible because they’ve invested in you.
And all analogies aside, you really do have shareholders- look out in the audience, there they are.
- Shareholders, can you please wave to the graduates?
- As you can see, parents are amongst your shareholders.
- So are your siblings, grandparents, friends and neighbors.
- So are the faculty and staff of CSS.
They have invested in you in every way possible and you owe it to them to fulfill your mission. Whatever that mission is….
When I say that you are a business—that does not mean you need to be focused on profits. There are many businesses to be in.
The business of saving lives, standing up for the underrepresented, making poetry, literature, and art.
The best businesses are durable precisely because they are compelling to others. They avoid tunnel vision. They see the technical side and the human side.
If you are able to make this switch— you can avoid seeing the world in false opposites. Many people see a dichotomy between science/math and the humanities.
- Science and math show us what we can do— possibilities without moral guidance.
- The humanities often indicate to us what we should do, but without the “data” and research we need to know how to do it
We need both. We need poetry in our science. And science in our art.
In order to be helpful, I have created and signed a certificate of incorporation, which we share with you today in addition to your high school diploma. Please note: both of these documents are suitable for framing. You should also note that I have taken the liberty of naming myself as Executive Vice President. That way, in case you all are as amazing as Sarah says you are, and bambosh turns out to be the new amazon: I am in on the ground floor. I am happy to serve in this role, but please know that, like many of your future employees, I require extensive time off.
Members of the Class of 2017, newly minted alumni and freshly appointed Chief Executive Officers. Let me be the first to say congratulations. You will be missed.”