Convocation 2018: Beauty

Welcome. It’s so amazing to see your beautiful faces here this morning.

I am certain that many parents/guardians are as happy we the we are to welcome your children back to school. It is an exciting time for us—full of hope, positivity, and optimism.

In preparing this year’s speech, I reflected on the comments of a starry-eyed kindergartner after his first convocation last year. I walked up to him and his mother at the end of the day and asked him how his first day of school was, and he looked at me with the ebullient energy only a five-year old can emitand barely containing himself—he said AWESOME. So I pressed and asked “And how did you like Convocation?” His smile slowly receded and he looked up at his mother and she nodded…and he turned to me and said…”I thought there’d be more DANCING.” So, I took note. That comes later.

There is something refreshing in a child’s candor and honesty, and the powerfully optimistic belief that anything is possible—like dancing at convocation—it is beautiful.

I began writing this speech a fortnight and four days ago and I wondered how I might incorporate the this year’s theme—BEAUTY—into my remarks. Anyone who knows me well, knows that when I seek inspiration, I look to nature. So, I set out for an early morning hike, got dressed—pulling one boot up, then the other boot up…I knew I would find the answer in the trails of Helliwell Provincial Park.

After I returned I relaxed with a cup of coffee and book. I was reading Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin. Baldwin is my favorite author, and I have been revisiting his work this summer. I love his confident voice, his use of words, and above all his hopefulness and belief in the power of love. This despite a difficult childhood and strained relationship with his father.

Baldwin was born August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York to a young single mother, Emma Jones, who married a Baptist minister named David Baldwin when James was three years old. As a child, James Baldwin was teased and insulted not only from people within his neighborhood, but from his father as well. In an interview Baldwin recalled, “He said that I was the ugliest child he’d ever seen. He told me that his whole life and I BELIEVED HIM. And I’d accepted that nobody would ever love me.”

Boys called him frog eyes.

Girls mocked the way he walked.

He remembers Grandmothers on his block commenting “That sure is a sorry little boy.”

His mother was different. From his mother, James got the sense that he was beautiful in an inner way. She knew that beauty came from the inside and that true beauty came from acts of kindness, of service, of love. She was particular about the words that young Jimmy and his siblings spoke, and the things that they said, and what it said about them. And she encouraged her son to write, to use to his words to spread love at a level that would consume hate and anger.

For young, James—“frog-eyed”, black, gay man—growing up in the first half of the twentieth century, life was hard. HIS unique ability to see the truth of the world around him…coupled with his intellect, creativity and ethic helped him navigate his course…

One of his quotes from the book A Fire Next Time stays with me…

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within….” He goes on, “…I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense BUT as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

He experienced the world differently than others and noticed that all of us wear masks, because we’ve been conditioned into believing that they give us our beauty. But in fact, they conceal it..

These are the masks that tell us that we’re perfect, invincible, courageous, confident, powerful, omnipotent,

Masks that fool others into believing that we didn’t study for that test we just aced. That we were born great athletes, great musicians, technicians, or stylish dressers. We walk around with these masks because we’re scared we cannot live without them. But they hide the truth about us, our real, true beauty. That we have:

  • Frog noses
  • Bruised hearts
  • We lisp, and limp
  • We stutter, and speak too fast or too slowly
  • We’re shy, and can be shallow
  • We’re weak and sometimes petty
  • We’re pimple faced and awkward
  • Our clothes hang too loosely, or too tight
  • Our voices crack
  • We strike out, we shoot airballs
  • We fall in front of our peers, we fail big exams
  • We forget lines or draw outside of them
  • We cry in front of our friends, big sad ugly tears that worry the ones around us
  • We’re scared to enter a room, worried about what people around us will think… or say

Our beauty comes from recognizing our imperfections.

I would like to share with you “Beauty XXV”, a poem by Khalil Gibran Lebanese poet who died when James was only seven.

And a poet said, ‘Speak to us of Beauty.’

And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror

So each morning, look in that mirror—see yourself with all of your imperfections, idiosyncrasies, insecurities, and doubts—and tell yourself. I am beautiful.

Welcome Back to School 2018

Dear Bush Community,
The first day of school reminds me of the first day of spring training. The rookies—understandably nervous about finding a place on the team—roaming the locker room, trying to blend in with veteran players, coaches, and managers. Their tough exteriors masking their fears and insecurities. Sporting freshly pressed uniforms, polished shoes, straightened bills, and bleached socks, they take the field looking for new friends and mentors. For veterans, spring training can mean a fresh start—the chance to prove oneself again after a debilitating injury or a subpar season—or a time to set new goals, to recast expectations. It is a time of bright beginnings, measured optimism, and infinite possibilities.
As teachers, we love to welcome the students to school and connect them with friends who share common interests, passions, and talents. This beautiful alchemy makes the first weeks of school so vibrant and exciting. As I walk around campus during the early weeks of September, I like to observe and document students’ questions, observations, and comments.  They are a mix of exuberance, reticence, and innocence. They are sweet, funny, curious, and remind us why we cherish our jobs. Over the past years, this is what I have overheard:
  • “Where’s the bathroom, and what happens if I don’t make it in time?” —Lower School Student
  • “I know like half of the state capitals already.”
  •  -“Well, I don’t know half, but I know most.”
  • “I feel like I’m totally lost.” —Sixth Grade student
  • “This is totally our year!!” – Eighth Grade student
  • “Can I sit here next to you?” – Kindergarten student
  • “Oh, thank goodness, school started” – Seventh and Tenth Grade parent
As my fifth “opening day” at The Bush School approaches, I am excited to welcome your children—new and returning—during Convocation on Wednesday, to see their faces, to hear about their summers, to discover what they’re excited to learn, and to meet their enthusiasm with my own hopes for them.
And just like in baseball, the start of the year brings with it boundless hope. I have no doubt that this year at The Bush School will be the most beautiful ever. Dare I say, a homerun.
Welcome. It’s a great year to be a Blazer.
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School

MLK Day 2018: Take a Knee for Justice!

The cover of the January 15 issue of The New Yorker depicts Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. kneeling on the sidelines between two football players—and former division rivals*—Michael Bennett and Colin Kaepernick. The image, “In Creative Battle” by Mark Ulriksen, depicts a sideline demonstration reminiscent of NFL players’ protests meant to bring attention to police aggression against black men and boys and society’s racial injustice. Both Bennett and Kaepernick have been outspoken critics of racial injustice in America and have sought to raise awareness through their civic engagement and philanthropy.

Ulriksen’s image suggests that—were he alive—Dr. King would stand, or, as the case may be, kneel, in solidarity with Bennett and Kaepernick. Like the nonviolent protests of the 1950s and 1960s, in which black men, women, and children sat at counters, on public buses, in restaurant booths, and classrooms where they were not permitted by law, their quiet act on stadium sidelines proved powerfully symbolic.

Continue reading “MLK Day 2018: Take a Knee for Justice!”

On Spending Time with Family Over Winter Break

While reorganizing my daughter’s room over the weekend, I picked through some of her books on her bookshelf, browsing titles as I took a nostalgic trip down memory lane. As a Ninth Grade student, my daughter Claudia is as likely to download and read books on her phone or tablet as she is to thumb through the pages of a hard cover book. I reached the top shelf and pulled down one of her favorite books from her youth, Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. In Third Grade, Claudia and her friends read the book in advance of viewing the Martin Scorsese film adaptation Hugo.

I combed through the book and was captivated again by the book’s drawings. Selznick’s illustrations are part magical realism, part builder’s manual, and part science fiction; they are wholly astonishing. I remember as a child creating robots out of radios, mini-helicopters out of spare bicycle parts, and time machines out of car parts. I also remember the wonder and awe on Claudia’s face—and later my son Carlos’—as they read the book as young children, rooted in the world of young Hugo.

One of the quotes from the book reminded me about the ephemeral nature of time—an important character in the story. Selznick writes, “Time can play all sorts of tricks on you. In the blink of an eye, babies appear in carriages, coffins disappear into the ground, wars are won and lost, and children transform, like butterflies, into adults.” As we take a well-deserved rest away from The Bush School during the winter break, time may be the greatest gift we can offer our loved ones, even if they are clamoring for a new iPhone or XBox.

Spending time with our families, reading together, hiking, baking cookies, playing a board game, telling stories, or making crafts and collages creates lasting memories and slows the metamorphosis of our children into adults. Looking back on how much has changed, and how fast Claudia and Carlos have grown, I value the precious and priceless gift of time each day.

I am fortunate that during the school year I get to spend almost six hours a day with your funny, thoughtful, kind, and creative children. We will miss them over the winter break. Please take the next two weeks to enjoy their presence, their humor, and their creativity. Soon, like butterflies, they will transform into adults and fly away.

On behalf of The Bush School family, I wish you a safe and restful winter break.