Remarks to the Summit School Graduating Class of 2012
Congratulations. . . A word you’re likely to hear often today. It means, literally, wishing you joy. And that is what people are doing when they say it to you. They are wishing you joy. As your ninth grade year enters its final minutes, we are celebrating. Celebrating all that you have attempted, accomplished, created, learned, lived and shared here at Summit.
We call this a Commencement Ceremony—the 79th Commencement Ceremony, in fact, of Summit School. Fascinating that while today may feel like an ending—and in some ways it is, or at least a culmination—it also, as the root of commencement suggests, marks a beginning, an entering into, a starting point. Today offers a loving celebration of--and, at moments, a reflection on--your time at Summit as well as a hopeful anticipation of your journey beyond Summit. Today is one of those rare occasions when we live in 3 moments in time, simultaneously: past, present and future—one of those wonderful occasions when we deepen our roots even as we extend our reach.
It is customary on an occasion such as this to impart some wisdom, encouragement, even inspiration. You have already done that for one another in many ways—including through the quotes each of you shared in the year book. Quotes such as “What to do with a mistake—recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.” That’s from coach Dean Smith. “Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.” From author Anthony Brandt. “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Humanitarian Mother Teresa. “Most people see in order to believe. Well, I believe in order to see.” From 9th grader Lawson Wimmer.
Our sources of wisdom, insight and inspiration are as varied as each of us. I have three to share with you this morning. The first is my grandmother, who was famous for telling her well over 50 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren: “If you have the sense that God gave a dog, you’ll do well and you’ll do good in this life.” That is, you’ll succeed in your own life and you’ll make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.
That leads me to my second source of wisdom, insight and inspiration: my puppy Tucker. Tucker actually embodies the truth of my grandmother’s saying. In paying attention to Tucker, in loving him, in watching and listening to him, and in occasionally being exasperated by him, I have learned some important lessons, which I’d like to share with you.
Be curious. Inquisitive, interested. Explore life. Approach people and places as possibilities, opportunities. Approach the world with wonder.
Nose around, as Tucker does, in every corner, . Unwrap each day as if it were a gift. It is.
Remain teachable. Pay attention to the world around you. Be apt and willing to learn—to take it all in, make sense of it, and create something new. Remember Eric Hoffer’s line: “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
I think of Tucker’s emerging skill in catching a tennis ball in mid-air. With each successive leap, the ball bounces off his noise and shoulder less and into the grip of his jaws more. And, of course, he has found that vertical leap of his very handy as a route to the tasty treats on our kitchen counters.
Test the limits. Our lives, at moments, present places/experiences/attitudes/beliefs/demands/challenges that seem to have boundaries beyond which we cannot go.
I think of Tucker and our new backyard fence. One afternoon, while Liz was inside the house, Tucker tested that 4-foot vertical boundary. When Liz came back outside a short while later, she found Tucker on the other side of that boundary. We still don’t know how he did it. We do believe that a combination of will and resourcefulness (and, perhaps, divine intervention) enabled him to move beyond that limit.
See the good in others. I love that 9th grade quote: “Most people see in order to believe. Well, I believe in order to see.” When we believe in the goodness of others, we treat them as friends—we approach them in ways that bring out the best in them and the best in ourselves. I saw a bumper sticker once that read: Strive to be the person your dog thinks you are.
Tucker knows no stranger. He is, truly, a hail fellow well met. And, as a consequence, other dogs, random passers by, and neighborhood children adore him—mostly.
Be loyal. Fidelity. Faithfulness. The deep and loving ties—in our hearts, in our minds, in our actions—that bind us—one to another. Holding to our beliefs. Living our principles. Embodying our values.
Tucker sits, stands, lies, and trots with constancy by his two-legged mother’s side. He is fierce, unflagging, unfailing in his commitment to Liz. He lives and breathes loyalty.
Play. Frolic. Explore with abandon. Experiment with joy. Improvise. Make believe. Play is where joy, challenge, experimentation, discovery and innovation come together.
The head thrashing with his squeaky toy shaped like a squirrel. The impromptu tug-of-war with my pants leg. The gnawing on the bone with a hole in the center for spooning in peanut butter. The boxing-like swipes he takes at an empty liter bottle of Dr. Pepper. These are sources of joy, and acts of exuberance--of fun as a way of living and learning.
Be grateful. Appreciative of benefits received. Affording pleasure or contentment. Pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated. From a word meaning grace—a gift received without asking or earning.
Big brown eyes staring up and tongue lolling, I feel Tucker’s gratitude as he licks the chicken treat from my hand, sips from the gulpy water bottle on our walks at Tanglewood, or sighs at the gentle massage behind his ears.
Have courage. True heart in the ancient sense: the place where intellect, emotion and spirit converge. The coming together of thinking and feeling—answering the heart’s longing to be connected with the largeness of life--a longing that animates love, work and the inspiration that comes from being a part of something larger than ourselves.
Tucker pads out of the house in the morning, stands at the threshold of our gate, and surveys that expansive, unknown world before him: Crossing that threshold is an act of courage. So much of life’s meaning comes from crossing those thresholds.
Love. Nothing is more fundamental to our lives than our relationships. And nothing is more important to our relationships than love.
A lick on the face. A brief, baritone, rumbly growl. A circling around my chair at the kitchen table followed by a lying down and placing his head on my bare feet. Tucker’s expressions of love are so simple, so profound, so wonderful.
Wag your tail.
Our family’s day begins with a pattern of staccato barks. Liz’s footsteps descend the stairs, the lilt of her voice saying, “Good boy, good boy Tucker,” and then an almost unbelievably rapid sound—the sound of Tucker’s propeller-like tail thudding on the wall, the base of the counter, the breakfast table and chairs as he embraces Liz, life and his new day with unbridled joy.
And, now, one final source of wisdom, insight and inspiration: Those of us gathered here.
From the hearts and the souls of the people in this theatre—people who have supported and loved you during your journey through Summit, who admire you and will cheer you on as you travel beyond the loving embrace of this special community—we say congratulations: we wish you joy. Go forth and wag your tails.