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Head of School Reflection: Commencement Address—May 2024

Head of School Reflection: Commencement Address—May 2024

Good morning, and welcome to Canterbury’s 107th Commencement Exercises. We could not be more grateful and excited to celebrate with members of the 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 2024, 50 of whom are diehards.

Though I will not tell the full story of the diehards, I do believe that their journey reflects the spirit and soul of the entire class. Arriving in the fall of 2020—masked and distanced—and making the brave, deliberate choice to experience that academic year under pandemic protocols rather than virtually, our four-year seniors stand tall and proud of their resiliency, commitment, and abiding love for this school and community. It would have been easier to stay at home. It would have been easier to eat meals with family rather than separated from friends by plastic barriers. And it would have been easier to shy away from building community under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. But it would not have been better. The relationships you built with one another that year—and for the following three—have cemented a foundation of purpose, respect, and confidence unlike that of any other graduating class. I will be forever grateful for the role you played as Third Formers in Canterbury’s success.

Now, four quick years later, you are often asked, “How did COVID impact your teenage years?” or “In what ways have you grown during high school?” or “Do you feel ready for college despite the disruptions you have experienced?”

The good news is that the Class of 2024 has shouted with conviction: We are ready! 

And so, let us talk about this concept of growing up.

Just before spring break, Hayden presented his Hume Speech, entitled “Childhood Dreams,” and walked us through the various career options he considered as a young child. From Video Game Programmer to Architect, Veterinarian to something involving his belly button and a grocery store, Hayden reminded us of our cultural obsession with asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up. It is sort of strange, isn’t it?  As if identifying a career path in kindergarten will somehow magically bring us there 20 or 30 years later.

Just as strange is that somewhere along the way, we stop asking. The questions shift to college programs and majors, summer internships, and professional networks, but shouldn’t we all be asking ourselves and one another: What do you want to be? 

Hold that thought. 

Just about one month following Hayden’s speech, at her senior recital, Morgan tried to sing Taylor Swift’s “Never Grow Up”—I say tried because her emotions got the best of her. But I think I can speak on behalf of the other parents in attendance that afternoon that sometimes we feel stuck—or conflicted—between encouraging our children to imagine and embrace all that lies ahead on the one hand and wishing we could go back in time for those sleepy hugs, first words, and childhood milestones on the other. As Taylor says:

“Your little hand’s wrapped around my finger
And it’s so quiet in the world tonight
Your little eyelids flutter ’cause you’re dreamin’
So I tuck you in, turn on your favorite night light.”

Grow up. Do not grow up. This is a complicated continuum!

And then, just recently, Ed walked to the front of School Meeting and thanked all of you for being in his corner this year. He shared with us fears he had as a child that he would not be successful, followed by the pride he feels now for what he has accomplished as a student, an athlete, and a friend. In other words: I have grown up, and I am just getting started!

Finally, at yesterday’s Sixth Form Awards Ceremony, Ava, Cora, and Sylvia so beautifully reminded us of the timeless lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game”: 

“And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time.”

So, whether it is the rush to grow up, the desire to stay young, or the recognition that life can feel like a continuum or a carousel ride, I think we are back to this morning’s fundamental question: What do you want to be?

The great news is that the sheer number of career pathways for Gen Z has grown exponentially.  If preschool Hayden were asked today—What do you want to be when you grow up?—he might say a Digital Marketer, Data Scientist, or Supply Chain Specialist. The sky is the limit for the Class of 2024. 

I think, then, that we should ask a better question. If your years on this hilltop have taught you anything, it is that the values you live by and the role you choose to play in the lives of others matter most. So, instead, let us ask: “Who do you want to be?”

During your Sixth Form exit interviews, you were all asked a similar question: How do you want to be remembered at Canterbury? Over the course of the interviews that I had the privilege to conduct, responses have included: a positive community member, a leader, a good friend, someone who shows up, a peer who makes others feel seen and heard, a Saint.

This morning, I would ask that you take just a moment to consider our improved question in order to make something stick in your brain. As we discussed during Monday morning’s Senior Seminar, an important part of navigating life is fiercely holding on to past accomplishments and growth even as we set new goals and clear new hurdles. So, right now, take a moment and ask yourselves—who do you want to be?

Make it stick!

And while I have your undivided attention, some more advice.

  • One: Stop saying “literally” unless you—literally!—mean it.

  • Two: Your college professors probably will not understand the Canterbury use of the word “low-key” or “mid”—but they should understand “pop out.”

  • Three: Never, ever forget that you have learned how and when to ask for help—academically, emotionally, socially—and that is a skill for life.

  • Four: While your freshman college classes will likely be much bigger than today’s graduating class, I believe you can bring the mantra we live by—“Saints show up for Saints”—to your new communities. Tigers, Bobcats, Bison, Bulldogs, Eagles, and Huskies can also show up for one another!

Finally, as Mr. Stone and I ‘graduate’ from Canterbury alongside the Class of 2024, we want to thank you for making this our home. And, you know I have to include song lyrics from Coldplay in my last Canterbury Commencement speech. As highlighted in your yearbooks, from “Don’t Panic”: 

“We live in a beautiful world
Oh, all that I know
There’s nothing here to run from
’Cause yeah
Everybody here has got somebody to lean on.” 

Thank you.