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Head of School Reflection: Commencement Address—May 2023

Head of School Reflection: Commencement Address—May 2023

Good morning, and welcome to Canterbury’s 106th Commencement Exercises. We could not be more proud and excited to celebrate with members of the extended Canterbury family joining us today on Sheehan Field: our faculty and staff; parents, guardians, and family members; alumni and friends; and, especially, the class of 2023, 42 of whom are diehards.

The graduating class is well aware that this has been an emotional year for me leading up to the graduation of Cullen—and Bryce!—so we are going to keep this short and sweet.

It is true that a sense of nostalgia for me—and for the seniors—has been building over the course of the year since your first Sixth Form Dinner in September. Thankfully, academic endeavors, the Safe Walk, the college process, Gunnery Week, four fall teams advancing to postseason play, Girls’ Cross Country winning the Canterbury Invitational, myriad amazing concerts and shows, a winter Head’s Holiday, a Girls’ Squash championship, Field Day, The Game (congratulations, Elijah!), Girls’ Lacrosse winning the Canterbury Invitational and baseball earning a bid to the first Western New England Prep championship in school history, the Gunn Athletic Director congratulating us on winning the Cup, the carnival, painting the rock, and 17 Halo nominations have collectively served as a helpful distraction from this sentimentality and kept us focused on what is happening in real time—and what lies ahead—rather than being overwhelmed by the bittersweet memories of our years together on this hilltop…years together calling Canterbury home. 

Over spring break, however, I did not have the busy-ness of campus life to serve as a distraction, and my nostalgia led me back to my senior year in high school and the music I listened to in, well, 1990. Who knew how much fun it would be to reconnect with artists like REM, Pat Benatar, and Phil Collins? It was then that I began to wonder if song lyrics just might be the thing to help me through this year’s Commencement remarks.

REM: Stand in the place where you live. Stand in the place where you work.

Well, that is a simple yet solid theme for a graduation speech. Be present. Be committed. Grow some roots before moving on. Stand and look around at the community in which you live and work so that you can have an impact while there.

Not bad…but probably not enough. The song lyrics soul-searching continued. 

Pat Benatar: Now I believe there comes a time, when everything just falls in line.
We live and learn from our mistakes, the deepest cuts are healed by faith.

Interesting. Does everything “just fall in line” or do we come to accept that our lives take twists and turns which ultimately make the journey meaningful? Can mistakes actually lead to alignment in opinion, in purpose, in action?  Can our faith—in ourselves, in God, in our families and friends, and in our commitment to being ethical leaders—heal discord and bridge differences? I would answer yes to all of these questions and maybe even build those answers into a Commencement address. 

But these are not new messages for our graduates this morning who have lived Pat Benatar’s words of wisdom throughout their time on our beloved hilltop.

0 for 2! Maybe I should just tell a story about Bryce?  

And then I remembered. The British rock group Coldplay may not have inspired me in the 1980s, but they (and, as Mr. Stone will remind us, the Irish rock band U2) have served as a soundtrack to our family’s story since Cullen and Kip were toddlers jamming to “Clocks” in the backseat of the car.    

No surprise, then, that the quotation I used for your yearbook comes from Coldplay’s “Yellow”: Look at the stars, look how they shine for you, and everything you do.

For many reasons, my favorite Coldplay ballad is “Us Against the World.” Yes, it has some heavy lyrics about loss, strength, and relationships.  But the line I love most is: In my heart she left a home.

So how surprised was I to learn that the actual line is: In my heart she left a hole.

What? A hole is not a home. How have I been singing the wrong lyrics for 10 years? And, more importantly, how do I make sense of this mutually exclusive contradiction? And there it is: your Graduation Day message.

While we could debate the physics of a hole (the absence of an electron) or even the math (where the value of the function is not defined), I would instead like to suggest that, in fact, each and every one of you arrived on this campus with some version of a hole in your heart created by leaving behind friends, family traditions, siblings, teammates, and/or a familiar, comfortable routine. Whether you traveled across New Milford or across the globe, you could not bring your lives from home with you. And so, you have spent time with the Canterbury family filling up those voids with new people, traditions, passions, and memories…and in doing so made this hilltop a home. 

If you really think about it, those vacancies, voids, and holes are often a placeholder for a new relationship or new community:

  • That moment just before you meet someone for the first time is a space that can grow into friendship. 
  • The time you decided to walk into a club meeting, affinity space, audition, or team tryout may have been the first step toward addressing a need or filling up an emptiness.
  • This entire campus and the dorm rooms, locker rooms, Green Room, classrooms, DCL, dining hall, Steers Center, and Maguire Auditorium that you emptied each summer became your home once again in the fall. 
  • And last night, the Class of 2023 filled the Chapel with stories, tears, love, laughter, and light.

Sidebar—As Coldplay will remind us in “Fix You”: Lights will guide you home.

Which brings me to the soundtrack—maybe even the super power—of the Class of 2023. You—all of you—see empty spaces as opportunities to create something new, and you persistently and enthusiastically fill those spaces with conversation, purpose, relationships, joy, and commitment. Which, of course, makes those spaces home.

You can be sure, Sixth Form, that you will leave both a hole and a home in my heart—not so much of a contradiction after all.

As today continues to unfold in pride and celebration, may you carry with you some Coldplay lyrics from “Us Against the World”:

And I just want to be there when the lightning strikes,
and the SAINTS go marching in.
And sing
Slow it down.

Indeed, let us slow it down.

Thank you.

Head of School Reflection: Commencement Address—May 2023