A special welcome to our eighth grade students and families. There are many important moments in life, and this transition from middle school to upper school certainly qualifies.
In 1910, then ex-President Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech in Paris about the meaning of citizenship in a thriving Republic. He spoke generally about people who were trying to make the world a better place, stating, “It is not the critic who counts…[but] the credit belongs to the man [or woman] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” This speech is commonly known as the “Man in the Arena” speech.
What does it mean to be in the arena? I have been thinking about my comments today for several weeks, and the most important idea I want to share with you is the idea of engaging in our communities—participation in the various arenas we inhabit.
In school, this means speaking up during Town Meetings. It means joining the hiking club or writing for the Literary Magazine. When teachers provide the opportunity for dialogue about a novel, find the courage to add to that conversation. Play on a team, sing in the school choir, and join the ever-popular yo-yo club.
In the town where you live, join the public library. Attend a live concert or go to a fair or festival. Plant a tree during your town’s Arbor Day, or participate in a trash clean-up day. Better yet, organize a trash clean-up day—
In your family, support your siblings by going to their activities. Complete your chores with enthusiasm and timeliness. Put down your phone at dinner and participate in the conversation. Create a family game night.
These are just a few ways you can be in the arena. Even if your trash clean-up day doesn’t go well, keep a positive attitude and try again. Ignore the cynics.
When we choose to engage in our communities, something special happens. Despite the differences that exist among us, we start developing common interests. When we have the courage to put our thoughts and feelings in the arena, we discover that these thoughts and feelings are indeed shared by others. When we participate in various cultural celebrations, we open ourselves to a diversity of ideas. When we cooperate and collaborate, “we weave together the stories of our lives.” When we pour our sweat and blood into ideas that matter—and we do it with respect for all peoples—humanity stands to benefit.
So, eighth graders, my charge to you is to engage. Not only will your communities benefit, but you also create the conditions for healthy relationships to flourish across perceived boundaries. When we choose to participate in the arena, we encounter a shared experience. This common ground leads to respect, understanding, and ultimately empathy. Go forth this summer and get yourself out there. GSB needs and wants you in the arena, your towns need your exuberance, and our world needs your contributions.
I want to thank all the Middle School students for a great year, and we look forward to seeing the younger students again in September. Thanks to the teachers for your incredible professionalism, collaboration, and hard work. And thanks to the parents for your commitment to GSB—it’s been a pleasure working with you and your children.
Finally, I do want to recognize one special teacher who is retiring after this year. Teri Cosentino has been at Gill St. Bernard’s for eight years, but in truth she is a lifelong teacher. An advocate for peace, justice, and the environment, Teri has a gift for working with middle schoolers, and we will miss her dearly. We wish Teri all the best in the next phase of her life, and please join me in recognizing Mrs. Teri Cosentino.
Thank you very much, and congratulations eighth graders.