Mr. Matthews, members of the Board of Trustees, Reverend Sciaino, Honored Guests, Colleagues, Parents, Grandparents, Friends and members of the Class of 2022, it is my privilege to welcome you to this Commencement.
Back in September at Convocation, Robbie DeVirgillo read Giollia Belloni’s book, Anything is Possible. In it, she writes, “Only those who dream, learn to fly.” Many of our seniors discovered what they were capable of this year, have learned to fly and now are ready to go.
For me, it has been a challenging spring. The Yankees and Mets are winning …a lot, and the Red Sox are, well, losing…a lot.
Recently, I have even found myself rooting for the Rangers. (Update on the score) Ugh! Good thing that the Boston Celtics are in the NBA Finals. However, it has been a difficult last few years in many ways for a number of people.
This is especially true for students and in particular, the seniors. And while much has been said and written about the things that have been lost, today is about all that we have gained and to celebrate. The Class of 2022 is a remarkable group of young men and women whose many achievements cannot be simply summarized in a college list. There is Joe Licata, All State in shot put, Indoors and Outdoors, the top American finisher in the Penn Relays this spring. He throws the discus too, and btw best of luck to him in his next round of championships (Groups, M of C, and Nationals). The class of also includes Sara “Scooter”
Hulsen and Phoebe Kirsh, captains of the girls’ softball team, who recently won the state prep championship. Denver Anglin led the boys’ basketball team to the County Championship, our first in a few years. Boys’ soccer won the NJSIAA State Championship (again). Several teams won conference championships, too. And if there were all state selections for GaGa, Kareem Lawal would be first team.
We also have our families to celebrate today, and two in particular, the Novinskis and the Moriartys. Senior, Ben Novinski, was preceded here by his brothers, Brian ‘02 and Matt ’05. Although they took a few years off, from 2005-2008, the Novinskis have been part of the Gill community since 1991. Amazing. The Moriartys came to GSB in 1998, and Meghan graduated 2011, Cole ’14, Caitlin ’16 and now Shane. BTW, for the Moriartys, it has been all in at Gill, with Ed serving on the Board of Trustees for 15 years and Jill President of the Booster Club for the last 7 years. We thank them for everything they have done for Gill St. Bernard’s.
In the weeks leading up to Commencement, I often receive advice about what to say, although this year, there were more suggestions about what NOT to say. It is unfortunate that we regularly find ourselves trying to avoid controversial topics, talking in vague generalities about an issue. It’s as if we no longer are speaking the same language.
Jonathan Haidt recently wrote an insightful article about this, under the attention-grabbing title, “Why the Past Ten Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” Haidt compares the age in which we live, to the days after the Tower of Babel was destroyed. The story, from the Book of Genesis, speaks of the confusion, sense of loss and “mutual incomprehension” that occurred after its fall. Perhaps it is indeed an apt metaphor for our current fragmented culture. Mutual incomprehension, in particular, is a term to for us ponder. Fortunately, Haidt is optimistic, saying that even in a time of despair, there is an opportunity to “reflect, listen and build.” Hope still exists. But how do we build, or more accurately, rebuild in these times?
The answer may lie in our friendships, the communities we belong to, and most of all in ourselves.
A couple of months ago in his New York Times column, David Brooks shared a few thoughts on this subject as well as advice.
Citing Robin Dunbar’s book, Friends, he focused on important data that has been collected about friendship. The average person has up to 150 “meaningful friends,” of which around 15 are “closer friends,” and 5 who are in our most intimate circle. Of course, extroverts tend to have larger social networks, and introverts, smaller ones. Those under 25 have more than people over the age of 60. Lest you all start counting right now, remember that they represent averages and GSB is not an average school community.
The nature of a friendship and the category a person fits in is influenced by the amount of time spent together, proximity, and common interests. Friendship doesn’t magically happen; it requires work to establish and sustain.
Dunbar defines meaningful relationships as those people you might invite to a wedding or send a holiday card to. Closer friends are the ones you go out to dinner with or a concert.
Intimate friends are the people in your life who provide you with unconditional support—emotional, financial, physical— they are there whenever you need them.
The total time spent together primarily determines the group, with about 45 hours needed to go from acquaintance to friend, an additional 50 hours to become a close friend and 100 hours beyond that to be in the group of 5.
I share this, because for our seniors, there are many classmates who fit into these various circles of friends. Consider the hours spent in class together, at practice for a team, rehearsals for a concert or a show. When you add up all the hours you have spent together, it is no surprise that some of your classmates are your closest friends.
This period in your life though, is the easy part. Never again will you all be here together in the same place and at the same time. In a few months you will be off to different colleges and universities around the country. You will meet and make new friends. Yet, in the process of your new adventures, you will also have to determine which friendships you currently have, you will commit to maintaining. While on-line connections can help with this, the research indicates that relationships that are only maintained on-line, “tend to erode over time.” Strong friendships require in-person contact.
How does friendship offer us hope that we might begin to reverse some of the polarization that grips us today? Consider for a moment, your various groups of friends. Even when taking into consideration that the closeness of a friendship is influenced by how much you have in common, everyone is different. None of us agree on everything. A strong friendship accepts differences and endures not just disagreement, but also disappointment. If friends can navigate difficult conversations, it should be possible to extend that courtesy, that grace, as God gives us grace, to those we do not know or agree with.
Brooks goes on to suggest that “our happiness in life, as well as our health and fulfillment, is hugely dependent on our ability to be skillfully understanding of, and considerate toward others.” Having friends helps us live longer, too.
Community is equally vital. All of you are a part of the Gill community, as well as others, where you engage in various activities—religious, social, athletic—which bring opportunities to strengthen trust and deepen friendships. Healthy communities allow difficult discussions, which when they are respectful, heighten both understanding and growth. If we are willing to “listen to the other side” and seek common ground, our social skills improve, and the community gets even stronger as a result.
Through friendships and community, there is a way forward. Each offers a framework within which we can peacefully resolve conflict. A common language still exists and if we can begin to utilize that language more widely, things will change for the better. Unlike the case of the Tower of Babel, history need not repeat itself. Whether or not we remain divided is a choice each of us must make. After all, the only person who can change your mind, is you.
Finally, perhaps the most essential element of community is celebration. Life is short, and it is so important that we observe milestone events like the one today. These moments are meant to be joyous and deserve our full attention.
The GSB community has come together today to honor the Class of 2022 for their many accomplishments individually, and collectively. In the process, we celebrate our friendships, school
community and each other. Let us enjoy this moment, happy for them, and for Gill St. Bernard’s.