Head of School's Charge to the Class of 2021: Ms. Tambi Tyler - The Look
Ahhh… Class of 2021, you have made it to Graduation Day! Congratulations!
I, too, celebrate with you because there is something monumentally rewarding about me standing before you in this time and space. As a mother, an African American, and an Independent School leader, I realize we all have had one monumental year.
I am so proud of you and your accomplishments. Having arrived here just a little over a year ago, I reflect on the many plans that I had to spend personal one-to-one time with you, get to know you, and see you execute in sport, your classroom passions, and ECS. All of my planning went out the window with the worldwide global pandemic.
To say that this year has been challenging is an understatement. However, we managed to have an in-person homecoming dance, prom, and now graduation, during what has been one of the most limiting years of educational opportunity in recent history.
If I could give what I am going to talk to you about a title, it would be “The Look.”
When I was little, my mother used to give what came to be known to my brothers and me as “the look.” I don’t know if you know what I am talking about, but this look had a way of conveying a million words without uttering a single word. This look could cripple your actions. This look could convey messages that only my brothers and I could understand as if it were to be our own cryptic language. This look took on many forms over the period of my growth. It happened countless times, and when my brothers and I were interpreting the look of our mother, we would often nudge each other to make sure that the owner of the look received their message. I think we thought there were customized looks. Because there were customized looks, I would nudge my middle brother Chris to let him know, “Hey, Chris, that one is for you.” Or to my baby brother Brian, I would say, “mom is looking at you.”
Now I know that you all think that I was an angel when I was in school. And you are correct! However, I, too, had my own customized look. She would look at me to correct me and to convey messages that were solely for me. I would get the look that says “speak up,” “sit up,” “be nice,” or “share with that person.” I would also get the look of “get over there” or “over here,” there was the look that said “see this,” Whether it was a mess, a beautiful opportunity, or just looking and recognizing something. One of my favorites was the “not now” look, I could walk in a room at the speed of light, and within seconds of seeing this look, I would spin around and exit. The “not now” look had a way of making you feel immediately uncomfortable, and sometimes it made you stop breathing. Oh, but another close favorite was the look of “stop talking” or, to put it bluntly, “shut up.” By the way, this one was never misunderstood. And I always loved the “didn’t I tell you” look because that one always left me with a look of “tell me what.” These messages were conveyed without any words. Now either my mom is some sort of genius, or there’s something in the human element that allows us to connect, convey, and respond to one another without words. We can support and show interest without words. We can guide, show direction, pronounce isolation, or give affirmation, all with just a look. We can just simply get one another without words. We can understand one another. If we use our human power to connect, we can do it.
As you have grown and blossomed through your journey at CSS, you have learned from each other and shared some of the best and worst of times. Whether it be surviving the pandemic, trouble with Mr. Calhoun’s homework, a victory in sport, a loss in sport, family concerns or loss, or most recently receiving acceptances and, yes, even declines to your university of choice. You have shared moments that will forever connect you. You as a class are able to look at each other right now and connect without saying a word. The message you convey should be one of warmth, admiration, strength, and above all, “I care.”
When me and my brothers were young, we used to play a game called “bouncy.” There were two twin beds in my brother’s room that were adjacent to each other, and we found it quite fun to throw my youngest brother from bed to bed. The title of this game should be resonating with you right now. I admit the word throw sounds harsh. But the word toss sounds much too mild for what we were doing. The human ability to bounce when you hit the right surface was fun to us. The sounds my baby brother made when the air was pushed from him brought our teenager giggle to a roar. Until one day, while playing bouncy, my baby brother hit the window (okay, it was only his foot). The good news is he wasn’t hurt; the bad news is the window broke. We immediately sat on the beds and looked at each other. We didn’t move. My mother walked in. She observed the window, and we all held our breath and waited for our customized look. My mother said nothing. She looked at us, but we couldn’t make out what she was thinking. She looked us over with a blankness and walked out. If we had cell phones back, then we would have asked, “Siri, what is she going to do to us.” My brothers and I began to ask each other questions. We were lost. We couldn’t make out what our mother was trying to tell us. I will never forget the feeling, the confusion, the reflection that was provoked, the inner dialogue that spiraled out of control, all because we couldn’t interpret her to look.
Over your time here at CSS, you have probably learned many messages through looks from various teachers, coaches, and support staff. If you’re a CSS lifer, think of how many adults you have had looking at you, grooming you, giving examples for you, or sharing messages through just their looks. However, I want you to know that each of you has left a great message with each of the faculty members. BUT it is now time for you to look within and begin:
Sharing your gift
Sharing your passion
Sharing your message
Sharing your talent
Sharing your courage
Sharing your gratitude with the world
My message to you is to serve something greater than yourself. Pick a problem—any problem and solve it.
Doing even a little something for someone can be seen as everything in the eyes of someone who is hurting or in need. History is still being written, and what you do or don’t do will be a part of it. As you look within: what are you willing to stand for? What messages will you convey?
In 2013 Cheryl Sandburg wrote a book called Lean In, Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. In her book, she describes that she received leadership advice that simply put says: when you want to change things, you can’t please everyone. So remember this as you begin to make your mark on the world.
So the question is:
Will you see problems and meet them with compassion and hard work? Will you be able to share your will to overcome in times of adversity?
Use this time to look out and see what you want to be. Use the looks that you have received to convey an even larger message.
Earlier I told you my mother walked out of the room after our failed, and by the way, last game of bouncy. Immediately after the door closed, my baby brother and middle brother cried like they were punished for breaking the window. They were hurt. My middle brother and I to this day remember how disappointed we felt when my mother withdrew her guidance, her direction, her message. We were hurt more with her silence than we were if she had scolded us verbally. I want to render to you the thought that when you and others refrain from bringing your voice, your message, your direction, and your kindness that humanity feels the pain of that withdrawal. We need more upstanders to stand forth and bring compassion. Let no one choke out your empathy and integrity.
Don’t be caught sitting idle, not sharing, not conveying, or contributing your gifts.
In the end, we — your parents, teachers, grandparents, friends, coaches, church community, and extended family have provided you with a gaze to help guide you. From here on out, you are the teacher.
Give voice to the beautiful look called you.
Class of 2021 Here’s looking at you.