Convocation Speech 2017

Opening of School, September 7, 2016

It is my pleasure to welcome our staff, teachers, parents, guardians, friends, and students—especially the Class of 2017—to The Bush School’s 2016 convocation.

I am standing in front of you today at the beginning of my 19th year as an educator in independent schools. I find myself here, after almost two decades in education, because school has always felt like home to me. It is the place where I feel most comfortable, most at ease, in the company of scholars, counselors, grammarians, historians, storytellers, fact finders, and and truth seekers. The men and women who plan meticulously to make a lesson thorough, resonant, compelling, and engaging were and still are my heroes.

I was a curious child, a dutiful student. I loved school and I wanted nothing more than to discover something new, to meet and exceed my teachers’ expectations, and to hopefully become one of them. I aspired to do what they did, to cultivate students’ natural talents and share my love of the written word, analysis, reason, and TRUTH with a new generation of aspiring scholars.

Since I enjoyed school, I worked hard and did well in most subjects—I won’t go into the story of the B- in P.E. Without exception, my favorite subject was history. From an early age, I had teachers who taught me and my classmates that history was more than merely identifying key names and dates, capitals or geographic borders, but stories made up of real people. People with agency and vision. And people of unassailable character. People who acted with guile and cunning. And people who acted benevolently. These historical figures were fascinating, compelling, and without fail, they were almost always male, almost always white, and presumably straight.

This history did not always accord with the version of history I learned in my home. The assumptions and attributions were different. I was raised knowing the valiant men and women who fought for our country were of every color, background, and faith. I knew that the edifices, institutions, economies, and social movements that make up our country were built with the ingenuity and labor of people who looked like me. Decades ago—when I was your age—I rarely heard this version of our history in school.

I often wondered which was the real truth—the one I was learning in school or the one I learned at home.

As a child, it was confusing. Yet, it made me eager to learn about the truth of our collective past. It was the reason I wanted to become an educator—to elevate the voices and experiences of individuals and groups who were not part of the canon, and to ensure that young students of all races, ethnic backgrounds, genders, and experiences would be able to find their truth in schools.

And it is what led me to The Bush School; an institution that is never complacent. Our school community is reflective, generative, compassionate. Our academic values promote scholarship, following one’s passions, and discovering one’s truth.

This ethos is etched in our school’s history. As Midge Bowman ’51—a former Bush teacher, parent, and Interim Head of School 1996–1997—told me when we spoke this summer, Bush girls used to read and discuss John Keats’ “Ode to A Grecian Urn”. In the last stanza of the poem, Keats writes:

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

These words are a part of the school’s three guiding principles: truth, beauty, and purpose.

We began the year with an all-staff meeting in which we shared what brought us to teaching and to The Bush School. For one faculty member, it was being able to wake up excited that he wouldn’t know what the day would hold, what experiences he would share with his students, and how he would be changed by them. For another, it was an opportunity to be subversive. For others, it was lit. Sharing literature with a student and watching their eyes beam as they read a passage. For others, it was the camaraderie of their colleagues. The sense that there is always more to learn and more to teach.

These personal truths make our school community unique, diverse, and inspiring.

I would ask each student to think about, “What is your truth?” “Who are you at your core?,” and “How can we as adults help to nourish that truth?”

I would ask our families to share your stories, histories and truths with them as well.

Over the last two years I have learned about The Bush School and discovered many truths about what makes this place special.

Here are a few of those truths:

  • Kindergartners and Eighth Grade students are equally susceptible to uncontrollable laughing bouts that are only made worse by “trying” not to laugh.
  • I have learned that the only thing better than watching Bush sports teams win a game is watching them shake hands and congratulate their opponents after the game.
  • I have learned that our parents and board spend as much time, effort, and energy in their volunteer roles at the school as many people spend on their jobs.
  • I have learned that there is no greater comfort than knowing there will be a fresh breakfast sandwich, waffle, or baked oatmeal (with that irresistible cream sauce on top) in the morning to get our day going. And the sad truth is that we sometimes take it for granted.
  • I have learned that our teachers never stop thinking and worrying about your children. About whether they are reaching them and helping them become their best true selves. And about how they’ll try differently tomorrow.
  • I have learned that gray hairs actually are a sign of maturity and distinction.
  • I know that each day we are fortunate to walk onto this beautiful campus where sinks run, buses are maintained, repairs are made, and cars move onto and off campus in an orderly fashion. I also know that these things do not happen on their own.
  • I have learned that there are more 49ers fans among us than you would believe.
  • I have learned that Dr. Seuss is a genius of the first order.
  • I have learned that change is as hard on an institution as it is on individuals. That change comes at a cost. And sometimes it’s the loss of the funny, demanding, loving teachers we spent days and decades with here at The Bush School.
  • And I’ve learned that there is nothing better than pretending to walk up to the Upper School and pause to listen to a group of students work out a new song for class or for themselves.

These are my truths about The Bush School.

One of my favorite children gave me a card with a quote from Maya Angelou, the great poet, author, dancer, and artist who died in 2014 at the age of 86.  “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

When I think back on changes to our school over the past years I often fret over the changes rather than reflect on its beauty.  I look out now and see beauty. The beauty of 656 students, 107 faculty, and staff discovering and sharing their truths.

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