Mr. Matthews, other members of our Board of Trustees, Colleagues, students, parents, and members of the Class of 2023, it is my honor to begin the academic year with this Convocation.
I wish I could say things are better than they were in June, when I spoke at Commencement—the Yankees were in first place in the American League East, and the Red Sox were in last place—and unfortunately that is still the case. However, in recent weeks the performance of the Yankees has given me hope. Only kidding. One thing that has changed for the better is Covid. The CDC Guidelines and State Department of Health protocols have been revised and we are handling it much differently this year. While it is definitely not “over,” like many schools, we are treating Covid as we do other illnesses. Although not completely “back to normal,” I expect that most things will look and feel that way in the coming months.
Now, for a moment, I would like to go back in time, to 50 years ago, in 1972. The following things either occurred or were happening:
- Atari created first the video game, Pong
- There was a break-in at the Watergate Complex, in Washington, DC
- The Godfather was in movie theaters
- The VW Bug became the best-selling car of all time
- H-P created the first pocket calculator
- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was born
- The very first Popeye’s opened in Louisiana
- Gerald Ford was sworn in as Vice President after the resignation of Spiro Agnew
- Don McLean’s American Pie became the longest single (8:32) to become number one in the US (until Taylor Swift’s All Too Well (10:32)
- Apollo 17 was the last US mission to the moon, and Gene Cernan became the last person to walk on the moon
AND, the Trustees of Gill and St. Bernard’s voted to merge. After months of discussion, The Boards of both decided that by combining the two, the result would be a stronger and better school. Although the first year after the decision was not always easy, it is clear that given our history in the last 5 decades, it was the right call.
This year is the 50th Anniversary of this important event and the Class of 2023 will be the 50th graduating class of Gill St. Bernard’s. Because of that you are already starting an inherently special class.
I have great expectations for this year as I suspect all of you do, especially our seniors. Each is beginning their final year here and the college process is already in full swing. One reminder: even as I wish all of you the very best with your applications, and sincerely hope that you are accepted by the college or university of your choice, senior year does not end with that acceptance. You still need to finish and finishing well should be one of your goals.
The start of school often brings with it several emotions: excitement, anticipation, and perhaps a little anxiety. There is also just a touch of sadness, about the passing of summer. (BTW, someone should do something about that. Maybe next year we will begin classes after Labor Day?)
What did you do this summer? Although I was mostly here, I did have the chance to travel to New England to see friends and family, play golf, help teach my younger dog, Einstein, how to swim, and read several books. I also grew a beard, had an interesting encounter with a bear and made an unscheduled trip to Morristown Hospital, but I digress.
New teachers and new classes—both present opportunities for growth and learning—if you are willing to do the work. New classmates offer the chance to make new friends, this too, requires effort and hard work. Everything is possible at the start of the academic year; your challenge, and mine, is to make the most of the many opportunities that we have in front of us.
The book that Desirae read this morning, The Power of One, offers a simple, yet profound message. One person can make a big difference in the lives of others, and it can happen in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it occurs without you even being aware of it. How might this happen for you this year? How can you make a difference in the lives of others and the GSB community?
Our faculty/staff summer reading was the wonderful book, Between the Mountain and the Sky, by Maggie Doyne. She will be here on October 18th to speak and will visit some classes.
More than 15 years ago, Maggie was a senior at Mendham High School. Mr. Corona knows her. She grew up in Mendham where she had spent most of her life and decided to take a Gap Year after graduation. Maggie did a lot of traveling during that year spending time in New Zealand, Australia and India. While visiting Nepal, she had a life changing experience when she encountered a small child who was breaking rocks with a hammer in a dry riverbed. Startled by the scene, she began asking questions to people in town about the young girl. Maggie discovered that the girl had lost her father, was not in any type of school and her prospects in life were bleak. As a result of this chance encounter, in “the blink of an eye,” she decided to build a home and community center for poor and orphaned children there. Doyne used the money she had saved for college to buy land on which to build that “home,” as she refused to use the term “orphanage.” Later, her vision expanded to include a school.
Maggie’s undertaking has had a tremendous impact on the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of children and adults in Surkhet, Nepal where she still lives and leads the Kopila Valley Children’s Home and School.
“One is a lot bigger and more powerful than you think.”
At the end of July, one of my childhood sports heroes passed away. Bill Russell was, in the eyes of many, the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. His teams won NCAA, Olympic and NBA championships. Indeed, he played 13 seasons in the NBA for the Boston Celtics and won 11 championships. A few weeks ago, the NBA announced that his Number 6 jersey will be retired by the league—the first in NBA history—and just the third time this has happened in professional sports.
Russell was well known for being a “team” player. He learned early on that no matter how good you might be, in team sports, most championships are won by the team, and not an individual athlete. One of Russell’s opponents was Wilt Chamberlain (who was also a great player), and over the years the press played up the competition between them. Yet he never made it personal and had tremendous respect for Chamberlain. In fact, he felt that Chamberlain was better than him. However, their individual competition was always secondary to the final score. Russell once said, “The most important measure of how good a game I played was how much better I’d made my teammates play.” While I know that we all recognize and respect the individual achievements of athletes on a team, in the end, it is a collective effort. No matter how well you perform, if your team loses, you lose too.
Russell was also successful off the court and well known for his sense of humor and cackle of a laugh. For a brief time in the early 1970’s he hosted a talk show on which he often displayed his razor-sharp wit with various guests. Russell was actively involved in the civil rights movement during the 1960’s and 70’s and was outspoken on the need for justice and equality for all in our country.
“One, after all, is the starting point for change.”
This summer I followed some of the Little League World Series. It ended this past Sunday, and the team from Hawaii won. What stood out for me though, and I think a lot of people, is what happened in one of the regional games. The team from Oklahoma was playing a team from East Texas and the pitcher, Kaiden Shelton, from the Texas team hit an Oklahoma player, Isaiah Jarvis, in the head with a pitch, of course, by accident. After a few moments, the Oklahoma player got up and went to first base, but the Texas pitcher was so upset that he might have hurt him, he started crying and lost his composure. Remember, the players are 12 or 13. After a minute or so, Jarvis went over to the mound, hugged Shelton, and told him he was okay. The game was on ESPN, and you can watch the video of it online. It was an amazing moment in sports that was far more important than the game itself.
“One warm hug can lift our spirits up when we are feeling down.”
The last few years have been pretty difficult for everyone, and I need not recite the “laundry list’ of issues and problems we have struggled with. This year, though, will be different, and not just because Covid is becoming endemic, or even because we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the merger of the Gill School and St. Bernard’s. There is a palpable feeling that perhaps we have turned a corner of sorts--there is excitement on the campus again—and I hope you feel it too. This year we have a chance to really start anew.
I have always believed that the path ahead brings progress, opportunities, and a better world. Each of us carries within us, the spirit and ability to make a difference. Change begins with one person standing up for what is right, and one act of kindness can start a chain reaction that impacts many. Bill Russell also said, “Commitment separates those who live their dreams from those who live their lives regretting the opportunities they have squandered.” This year, let’s all commit to making our dreams happen.
Join a team, try out for a show, get involved with a club or another student organization. Make a new friend. Volunteer in your local community. Offer to help. Discover your hidden talent. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. It begins with you.
“After all, one is the starting point for change.”
Thank you and best of luck to the Class of 2023 and everyone in the GSB Community.