June 5, 2016

The bad weather did not have any impact on our 2016 commencement ceremonies until the very end, when the skies opened up. Nonetheless, it was a great day for our seniors and their families. Not too many snafus, and we managed to keep things moving. My opening remarks are below:

Commencement, 2016

Honored guests, members of the Board of Trustees, colleagues, parents, grandparents, family, friends and members of the Class of 2016, it is my privilege to welcome you to Commencement.

Several months ago I was with a close friend, one of the best, discussing a variety of topics, enjoying an adult beverage when he offered an assessment about the nature of life. He posited that ultimately, there are there are three distinct stages.
The first is the one where “anything is possible.” You are young, healthy, full of energy and most of all, hope. Anything is possible.

The second, he said, was “anything can happen.” You grow older, get married, have children, bills to pay, commit to a career, but literally anything can happen. Phone rings, it’s your son, flat tire. Pipe burst in the house…anything can happen.

I listened intently, considering the wisdom in what he was saying. So what is the last stage of life, I asked? He looked up from his drink, shrugged his shoulders, “Eh, it could be worse.” So, forget about the rain…it could be worse.

This afternoon represents the most important event of the academic year for our seniors and signals the completion of their time at Gill St. Bernard’s School. It is also a significant day in the life our school community as we say farewell to some colleagues who will not be returning in August, among them five who are retiring from their service to the School. Please hold your applause until I recognize all those who are retiring, and ask them to stand. Sue Hone, Bob Orr, Cindy Orr, Irv Taylor and Gerry Cirillo. We owe them and all of our teachers our thanks and praise.
There are two more groups that I would like to acknowledge. First, I would like to ask the members of the Class of 2016 to please stand and applaud your parents…for without their support, and tuition payments (!), you would not be here today.

The second is our Board of Trustees. These men and women give so generously of their time, talents, and resources to help make our School a better one, with no thought of receiving anything in return. That is the very definition of service. I would like them to stand up now; please give them a round of applause.

One of them, Bob Hemm, is a member of the St. Bernard’s School Class of 1946 and is celebrating his 70th reunion. Last month, the main house at Home Winds was named in his honor. Congratulations to you, Bob. Two other members of our Board are retiring from service and one in particular deserves special recognition. Ed Moriarty joined the Board of Trustees in 2001, and has served as its Vice Chair for the past 10 years. Father of 4 GSB students, Meaghan ’11, Cole ’14, Caitlyn ’16 and Shane ’22, he is all in for Gill. His wife, Jill, is too, and serves as the President of our Athletic Booster Club. During his 15 years of remarkable service on the Board, Ed has helped develop and adopt three strategic plans, supported three capital campaigns (yes, there is a connection), assisted in the revision of our by-laws, and has given wise counsel to both the Board and the Head of School during his tenure.
The Gill St. Bernard’s School Medal was established as a way to recognize those rare individuals who have had made an extraordinary impact on the School through their service. It is my honor and privilege to award Ed Moriarty today the Gill St. Bernard’s School Medal for such service to our school. Ed, could you please come forward now.

The Class of 2016 is a diverse and talented group of young men and women. During their years here they have won state, prep, county and conference championships as well as Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star recognition. I would also like to give a special shout out to the varsity baseball team, which advance to the state sectional final on Tuesday. Also, good luck to the students on the track and field team that will be competing in the Tournament of Champions. Among the class are also five wonderful students from Beijing, who three years ago made the difficult decision to leave their families and homes in China as well as one from Lithuania; all of whom sacrificed much to attend GSB. We are especially proud of them and offer our congratulations to both them, and their parents today.

As we all know, “tis the season” for Commencement speakers and the typical sentiments and comments offered, though sincere, are much the same. First, figure out what you love, or something you are passionate about. Second, get better at it, and finally, third, do something with it. Got it? Great. However, the quick summary may not be so very memorable.

At Gill St. Bernard’s, the Commencement speakers are members of the senior class. The thoughts they share and feelings they convey reflect who and what they are as well as the impact of their years here at Gill St. Bernard’s. Each one is unique, all are memorable, and there are several this year.

We live in a time of transition, facing great challenges as a nation and in our world. Indeed, there have been a number of recent events which have raised critical concerns about what lies ahead for all of us. I hesitate to even say the words, “Presidential Election?” Yet, as I consider all of these young men and women seated before you here today, I am reminded once again that we do have reason to be hopeful for the future. And yes, hope is a good thing. It is so important for us to stay in that stage of life where anything is possible.

At Convocation last September, I shared a wonderful poem by Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” It was appropriate for the day and the fall season and more important, the moment. As we now end the academic year at Gill St. Bernard’s, I offer another. It was written by the poet Mary Oliver, and is entitled
“The Summer Day.”
 
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
 
Within each one of our seniors exists the possibility that his or her actions will make a meaningful difference in some way in the coming years. For them, and for us, anything is possible.

It is my wish today for everyone to see that possibility, that manifestation of hope, seated here before you, and join me in celebrating this special group of young women and men, the Class of 2016.

Thank you.
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Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a vigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.