These are the notes for my charge to the 2023 ECS graduates.
Good evening, graduates, their parents and families, school board and faculty, and guests. It is actually a blessing to me to have both the opportunity and the delight to speak to you tonight. There is no place I would rather be than right here, right now, with you.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t great places to go, other great places we could be. The post graduation get-togethers will be fun and your summers full and your falls and farther futures will take you to various and valuable fields for good work. But it’s not only appropriate to look back and thank God for what He has done, it is appropriate to look around and enjoy where God has you even in this moment.
It would be very easy to ruin our time by looking at the time, by counting down the minutes on the clock until we can get out. The minutes will pass, but we are filling the minutes with meaning on their way by.
Take a moment and mediate with me on the Aristotelian (probably) truism that you always are where you are, or more often phrased: wherever you go there you are. This is not sophomore dialectic, it is senior rhetoric. It’s life rhetoric. While it’s obviously true when the FBI is tracking the location services signal on your phone (unless your phone isn’t on you), the cliche is more about your character than your address. The cliche is so obvious that it’s a temptation to forget its force.
I asked ChatGPT to tell me about the phrase, “wherever you go there you are,” and the artificial intelligence explained it as being about “inner self awareness.” Really? Is that it?
Among the first few books I read about classical education is The Seven Laws of Teaching. I’ve read it a few times over the years, and it’s John Milton Gregory’s first rule that has left a deep groove in my mind. Gregory says,
“A highly effective teacher will love God, love life, love the students, and love the subject he teaches.”
A teacher thinking about what he teaches must start by thinking about loves. As C.S. Lewis put it, * docere et delectare, docere delectando*: “to teach and to delight, to teach by delighting.”
The great commandment is about love: love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, then love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said these two commandments summarize all the law. Our character is seen in our loves.
These are not about internal awareness but about affections expressed. These are not loves of self-reflection or self-fulfillment. They are loves that light up our current location, our present situation.
Our loves are to be present tense, we are loving, not future (we will love) or subjunctive (we might love). We love now, we love this neighbor/classmate/customer, and extended, we love them in this minute and in this place. We are not always grasping for the intangible “later” or “elsewhere.” If a teacher can’t bring his loves into his work and into the room, it creates boredom, if not abhorrence in the students.
“The teacher, feeling no fresh interest in his work, seeks to compel the attention he is unable to attract, and awakens disgust by his dullness and dryness where he ought to inspire delight by his intelligence and active sympathy.”
Because we can disobey, we can actually get around the cliche. It is possible to not be where you are, to go through the motions with little or no heart in them. It’s possible for a teacher, it’s possible for a student. It is possible to put one’s attention on a future time or a different place; “Senioritis” is a diagnosis of division: the parts aren’t all together.
This doesn’t mean you can’t pursue goals; goals are great. This doesn’t mean everything must stay the same forever; it won’t and it can’t. But it does mean that the impact you make as you walk toward your future and your goals will be different.
One of my top-five favorite books, all time and any genre, is The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon. There is no other book I’ve highlighted more than this so-called “cookbook.” You all read it just a couple months ago in your Capstone class. Though I haven’t talked to any of you seniors about it directly, I have been directly impacted by your reading of it, and not only in the presentation feast you all hosted last night. The whole school has smelled different.
Capon is the kind of cook (and author) who makes you wish you could sit down at his table because he loves what he sets on it for the sake of those sitting around it. We can’t fellowship over bread and cheese and puff pastries and lamb, but we do imagine ourselves settled in his kitchen and seeing his wry smile and asking for another glass of whatever he’s pouring. We want to be there because he wants to be there. He has loved the food so that we want to love it.
Whatever the ingredients were, something started simmering among you seniors in a way that lifted the aroma of the whole school campus. You were like butter and cream that thickened the laughter. You were like a splash of wine that made Matins more bright. You were like onions, not making others cry, but revealing more layers of what raggants can do.
In some ways you’ve saved the best for last. You are leaving ECS better, not because you’re leaving, but because you spent your last days not trying to be somewhere else.
Allow me to commend this mindset, this way of loving where you are, and recommend it to you as a strategic and potent lesson as you go on to other “Wheres.”
Young people are tempted to think they are wasting their lives if they aren’t where they think they could be. But it is more likely to waste your life that way, consumed with constantly thinking about where you’re not. Young people are tempted to think that their parents, and sometimes their teachers/school, are holding them back from something better. It is more likely that they are trying to give you beloved resources so that you can have something better. Those days of preparation aren’t wasted any more than the third inning of a nine-inning game, no more keeping you back from the “important” than dinner ruins dessert.
“There are more important things to do than hurry.” (Capon, Location 922)
It’s true with smoking meat and with some meals. You must not be chintzy with your proteins, or your presence. This is a kind of unreasonable hospitality, unreasonable because being a great host is about the heart, not the venue.
You are the class with the most years under their ECS belt, some of you for as long as ECS has existed, so 11 of your 13 years of school. Now you are done. You can get out and finally do what you want. And you will find that wherever you go, you will take some of here with you.
During your senior presentations one line was quoted from Capon more than any other. I love it as well.
“boredom is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.” (Capon, Location 83)
So with that in mind, here is my charge to you. Last year I urged the seniors that they were too blessed to be stupid. To you, class of 2023, you are too loved to be bored. And not being bored is the same as loving where you’re at, which is the same as being where you are. Wherever you go, you know the the fertilizing principle of not trying to be somewhere else before it’s time. You have made ECS more lovely, and yourselves as a class, by being here. That is a potent, and delightful, lesson to love.