The following Vantage Points shares Bodie Brizendine’s send-off words to the Class of 2019 at Commencement on May 23. Happy summer; happy courting “the world with awe and wonder while you take good care of it.”
Dear Graduates…because that is what you are now… graduates of The Spence School... good for you…and congratulations too, to everyone who stood behind you and by your side throughout. We are ever so proud to claim you as Spence alumnae.
In her 1898 letter to graduating seniors, Clara Spence wrote:
“You are free—you can choose. It is a high privilege of freedom which makes you morally responsible human beings. If the school has been faithful to its charge, each one of you should have an earnest desire to help others and remember that with the desire always comes the power.”
And so, Class of 2019, you do, indeed, have many powerful things right in your hands right now. First, you have it in your power to recognize life as a moral enterprise that greets you every morning and says goodnight to you at the day’s end. Every day is an opportunity and a responsibility, and if becoming is a present participle (and I think it is), then integrity lives far beyond the accidental and demands of you your vigilant embrace…every day. I have always found that if you have to ask, “is this the right thing to do?” it probably isn’t either right, or the thing to do.
But here is the thing to do and it’s pretty simple: take good care of yourselves and of others all the time. And this daily building of integrity means knowing enough to ask the right questions at the right time, and that’s where Spence comes in.
We have lived together in many questions and not just for school, but also for life. Knowing that we’re always unfinished, always working toward the best version of ourselves, allows you to think of your life in partnership with that privilege of freedom about which Miss Spence wrote. You have the means, the space, the education to think and to question, and you have the power to keep doing so. None of this, Class of 2019, is a given in today’s world. You’ve been given this gift of freedom and responsibility.
You also have within you the power to nourish civil discourse, the essence of Spence’s life-long commitment to a strong liberal arts education.
And I think as a country we’ve never been thirstier for each and every one of you than we are today. Muscle up what David Orr calls the “atrophied habits of citizenship,” and bring back civility, discourse and plurality. Former President of Harvard Dr. Drew Faust named discourse the “arbiter of truth,” and I agree. True, honest discourse does indeed mean being “ready to enter the conversation and being ready to be changed by it.” So enter those many conversations ahead with all that is Spence behind you. You have that power.
I very much love what a first-grader shared with me a couple years back about what my true job as Head of School really is: she said my job was to “keep us safe and to keep us learning.” I can think of no better job description for me, for humanity and for each and every one of you right now. Keep this world safe; keep this world learning.
And, perhaps, most important of all, you have it within your power to say yes to life and to its many mysteries. Clara Spence also asked her seniors, “What will you do with your life?” And I ask you that today as well, “What will you do with your life?” And, yes, you have the power to ask this without any single answer or even an answer at all: you have the freedom to be open, to wonder and to wander. Writer, Tim Winton tells us that if “you let your mind off its leash, you have to go where it does.” Follow that good mind of yours.
And while you’re at it, be thrown off course sometimes. Take a great wrong turn, and live no half-life, ever. I think there’s nothing more hostage-holding than a life already planned out, one already filling in the space between where you sit today and where I stand. Be indeterminate just enough to look for surprises, awe and wonder. I like what our Board Chair, Bill Jacob, shares with his own children: “Be proud, and stay hungry!” You have that power.
I know you all will remember my fondness for Cornel West’s quotation about being ready to enter the conversation while being ready to be changed by it, but he actually has another quotation that I like almost as much. “All departures touch us,” he says. How true. And as you leave the Church of the Heavenly Rest and walk out as proud Spence graduates, know that each one of you carries with you not only our blessings, but also our hope for a better world: a world that stands up for those powerful words of “purpose, passion and perspective,” which frame our mission; a world that thinks not only of the todays, but also the tomorrows; a world that walks tall and strong for justice and civility; a world that embraces the promise each of you carries; and a world in which each of you feels at home within it. You do have it in your power.
We will miss you, Class of 2019. We will miss the way you hold our School both in love and in responsibility. We will miss the way in which you hold yourself committed and engaged. And we will miss especially the way in which you hold one another in that deep embrace of the lifelong friendship of growing up together. You are our hope, our promise and our gift to the awaiting world beyond those Red Doors.