May 21, 2022
Commencement Address 2022
To our newly minted alumni, before I give the “Charge to the Senior Class,” I’d like us to take a moment to thank some important people. While your diploma is the result of a lot of hard work on your part, there has been an army of supporters dedicated to helping you get here today, and I think it is important that we take a moment to acknowledge them.
First, the setting of this commencement is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful you’ll find at any school in this country. I may be biased, but that’s my belief. Surrounded by school buildings that have seen thousands of Wyverns walk their halls over the last decades, encircled by large oak trees, on a bed of grass we call the Senior Green, it truly is a remarkable place and an intimate way to celebrate our senior class and send them off into the world. But there are a group of men on this campus who work tirelessly to make it look THIS nice – please join me in thanking our B&G crew for spending countless hours ensuring everything is in tip-top shape.
Justin Wolfradt, our director of facilities (and father of an awesome graduating senior this year!), has been out here measuring and aligning rows of chairs for days. And Sherri Malinoski has been doing the behind-the-scenes work necessary to pull off a big event like this. Please join me in thanking them.
Another group that deserves our thanks and appreciation is the Kingswood Oxford Board of Trustees. Led by the indefatigable Mary Martin, herself a graduate and parent of two KO alums, this is an immensely talented group of people who have achieved great success in their own lives and careers. They have full-time jobs of their own but love Kingswood Oxford School and thus dedicate many hours of their “free time” supporting and promoting our school’s strategic vision and compelling mission to “inspire students to excel and lead lives of integrity” Their efforts have also made it possible for this amazing class to become graduates, so please join me in thanking the Board of Trustees.
To our Parents of Seniors, thank you for sharing your amazing children with us. There is no greater task or honor than to partner with you in the raising of your children. We are a better school because of them. Parents, we will miss seeing you around campus as well. I always tell graduating seniors “not to be strangers” and that “this will always be a home away from home for you” and I extend that welcome to you too. Seniors, your parents have been your biggest supporters and have made so many sacrifices over the years, in both time and money, for you to earn this diploma. Please join me in thanking your parents!
Lastly, I’d like the Faculty to rise. Seniors, where would you be without this amazing group of talented and caring adults, who brought you into their lives, shared their passions with you, challenged you to reach further heights than you believed you could, picked you up when you fell down, and believed in you every minute of the way? Please join me in thanking the amazing faculty and staff of Kingswood Oxford School.
CHARGE TO THE CLASS OF 2022
Class of 2022, congratulations again! You are ready for this next chapter in your life. You have met the exacting demands of your teachers and risen to the various challenges that have been put before you here at Kingswood Oxford. You are prepared for success in college, and you have learned valuable lessons about friendship, teamwork, and personal responsibility. KO’s core values are displayed on the lamposts surrounding this senior green, and though you will no longer see them on your daily walks from building to building, you don’t need to anymore – they will continue to serve as guiding lights to you as you walk this earth, pursuing excellence, involvement, and integrity.
That path will not always be an easy one, however, so you will need to lean on those values in the coming years. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but there are more uncertainties on this trail of life today than there were just a few years ago. Indeed, it seems we’ve strayed from the path and are walking through the forest a little directionless. We may need you to help us get back there.
The world is not quite as stable a place as it was just two years ago. Since February 2020, over 6 million people in the world have lost their lives due to the pandemic and an additional 7-8 million are estimated to have died due to the indirect causes of Covid-19. That’s 15 million lives lost in the past two years that would still be here otherwise. In my lifetime and yours, we have benefited from a secure international system based on the principles of cooperation, the rule of law, and respect for the sovereignty of each state. Yet Russia’s blatant and brutal invasion of Ukraine has threatened this global order and has made the world less secure than it has ever been since the end of WWII. The combination of war and pandemic could very lead to a global economic slowdown in the coming year, including rising inflation and rising income inequality in developing nations.
At home, we face serious challenges as well. We live in a social media ecosystem that traffics in fake news and disinformation, making it ever more difficult to discern what’s real from what’s not. Putin controls the press in Russia, and thus its citizens are fed a single and false narrative about the invasion of Ukraine. But are we that much better off if our social media platforms use algorithms to feed us news and stories that confirm our already held beliefs and assumptions? We are being trapped in an unending cycle of confirmation bias, the result of not just the dumbing down of our society, the rise of bizarre conspiracy theories, and a lack of trust in our public institutions, but also an increase in division and partisanship. Our country has not been this divided since the period of the Civil War. We have seen a significant rise in polarization and distrust over the last decade and a sad march towards favoring party loyalty or narrow interests over citizenship that threaten our very democracy. A recent Yale study showed that the vast majority of Americans polled favored achieving their political party’s goals, even if it came at the expense of democratic principles.
So thanks for listening, and good luck Seniors!
I realize all that sounds a little daunting, but here’s where my charge to you comes in. We need your help. It sounds cliche, but you are the future, and we need you to do better than we have done. It is your job to repair the world and fix what we’ve broken. What do I ask of you? I ask that you…
Put the interests of the nation, of the common good, ahead of the interests of party.
Recognize that our democracy relies on the principle of compromise to function properly
Commit yourself to a rigorous standard of inquiry and critical thinking – be suspicious and skeptical of facts and truths until you have had the chance to evaluate the sources and weight them carefully.
Hear the other side. You will need to develop thicker skin in order to welcome ideas that might challenge your own assumptions and beliefs.
I ask you to be willing to change your opinion or belief when confronted with better evidence to the contrary.
Commit yourself to helping this country become a better place -where all citizens have the same opportunities to build their future.
Take better care of our planet.
All of this is a lot, so I don’t expect you to accomplish everything in your first year. But by year two, I want to see the war in Ukraine over and Congress passing a bill with broad bipartisan support!
In all seriousness, I recognize that your capacity to heal the world by yourself is pretty limited, but I hope you will address the challenges ahead armed with the core values and clear thinking that you have learned during your years at KO. It will not be easy – life never is even in the best of times, and you will need to find ways to center yourself – to find a calm harbor when the seas get too rough. You will need a constant that you can rely on in any circumstance that will serve you well during both the highs and lows of your life.
Which leads me to my final and most important charge. It’s a pretty simple concept, though not always easy to do. It’s the one that will give you the best chance to lead a happy and fulfilling life: I’m talking about KINDNESS.
Why Kindness? Well, for one, it is what a divided and angry world needs more than anything today. If we are to heal the world, it will require a good dose of love and kindness, of loving-kindness. As you go out into this world, seek out the best in other people. Extend grace to others even when it may not be deserved. Assume good intent. The disposition of kindness is encapsulated in our school’s core value of CARE BEYOND SELF. Mark Twain famously said “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” If you can extend kindness to others, you will be in possession of a universal language that will help you connect with anyone in the world.
Kindness and love are core tenets of all of the major religions. In 1st Corinthians 13;13 in the Christian Bible, it says, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” The Bible also says to Forgive others, love your enemies, and expect nothing in return.
The Jewish commitment to serving others is rooted in gemilut hasidim, – or acts of loving kindness.
One of Islam’s Haddith’s says that other than faith in Allah, the highest priority is loving-kindness towards others.
I love that concept of not just kindness but LOVING KINDNESS.
In both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, it is called METTA – the concept of Loving Kindness, and it is part of meditation practice. Many of you have probably practiced mindfulness or at least taken a mindful moment (or been forced to by a well-meaning super progressive KO teacher at some point). I’m a pretty rational person, probably rational to a fault, so I’ll confess that I used to think it was just a “new agey” thing for people who were searching for meaning. But I started working with mindfulness a couple of years ago with an app called “Waking Up” led by neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris, and yes, for those of you savvy enough to put two and two together, when I started doing this, it coincided with the beginning of the pandemic. That was a pretty stressful time for me as I wrestled with not just the “what ifs” a loved one or I got this mysterious virus but also with what its impact would be on our school community. But I learned that taking a few moments each day helps to center myself and relieve stress. The research on the mental and physical benefits of mindfulness, meditation, or prayer – whichever you choose, is pretty compelling, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a doctor today who wouldn’t encourage you to make this a regular practice.
So, Class of 2022, I’m going to do something different with you, something that I’ve never done with a prior class and something that very well could be the first of its kind in the history of all commencement ceremonies. It may end up in the Guinness Book of World Records if we all participate, so I need everyone on board. In a minute, I’m going to ask us to spend 2-3 minutes in a mindful moment together, focusing on this idea of Metta – of loving-kindness towards others. Why? My hope is that this can be an aid for you when you are stressed or anxious in the years ahead, when you are lonely or sad, or when your ship is being battered by the stormy seas. This can be your safe harbor in the midst of that storm, and by focusing our energy on a spirit of loving-kindness towards ourselves and others, it can reduce stress and will give you a greater capacity to accept what is, to forgive others, and to show grace.
So here we go. Are you ready? Faculty, Parents, guests, you’re in this too.
I’ll ask everyone to close their eyes and rest comfortably in their seat.
Take a couple of deep breaths and focus for a minute only on your breath.
Try a deep breath. Hold it for a count of four. And exhale slowly. (Pause)
(I’m taking back the diplomas if I see one eyelid open! (forced mindfulness is not generally best practice but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do).
Try to get lost in your thought. Try not to think about who is sitting next to you, in front of you, or behind you. There is only “you” – breathing in this space.
Now, I’d like you to bring to mind someone in your life who you care deeply about.
Picture someone you love or admire, or respect.
It could be a friend or a colleague – someone against whom you have no grievances.
When you find that person, just picture them in your mind. And try to picture them truly happy. (Pause)
Picture all of what they are seeking in life being attained.
Picture them healthy and consciously wish them to be genuinely happy. Free from suffering. (Pause)
Picture them smiling.
Picture them laughing.
And direct your goodwill toward them. (Pause)
As you picture them in your mind, direct these sayings towards them:
“May you be happy.”
“May you be free from suffering.”
“May you be at peace.”
Direct your feeling of well-wishing – of loving-kindness – their way.
“May you be happy.”
Okay. Thank you for indulging me. I hope that this brought you a moment of peace today. Seniors, I encourage you can find these moments of peace when life gets stressful. We can take care of ourselves by finding the time to reflect quietly and allowing our happy feelings, feelings of love and kindness, to replace our negative thoughts.
Class of 2022, as you head out into a divided world that is more uncertain than ever…
When you encounter extremism, my charge to you is to replace it with temperance.
When you come across bad ideas and poor thinking, double down on objective facts and critical thinking.
And when you encounter anger and hatred in the world, respond with loving-kindness toward others.
Know that our doors are always open for you here at Kingswood Oxford, and we can’t wait to hear about your adventures when you return to say hello. I leave you with a somewhat overused Gaelic blessing, but overused perhaps for good reason:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Oh yeah, one final charge…call your parents next year at least once a week.
Goodbye, Good luck, and Godspeed!
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