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 emit—and 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:
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.