US Commencement: Head of School Remarks

May 24, 2019
Good morning and welcome to the 2019 Commencement Exercises at St. Christopher’s School, the 108th Commencement of our storied institution.
 
It is my pleasure to welcome all of you this morning, especially the parents, grandparents, family, and friends of our outstanding Class of 2019.
 
Before we proceed any further with this morning’s service, let me state the obvious—it is warm today, and while I surely make plenty of mistakes as a leader at St. Christopher’s, I am feeling pretty good about the decision to experiment with a tent this year. I cannot promise that this is a new tradition at St. Christopher’s, but it is nice to know we can deploy it when needed.
 
Even with that coverage, and with apologies to senior Elby Omohundro who told me that we should keep our jackets on “because we will all look better in the photo”—and you’re probably right, Elby—still, gentlemen, if you wish, you may remove your jackets.
 
As you can imagine, an event such as this involves many hands and hearts, and I am particularly grateful for the outstanding work of our Upper School Chaplain Whitney Edwards; for Mark Gentry and our entire maintenance team; for our Development Office, especially Cricket O’Connor, who is both an event planner and a proud mother of a graduate this morning; for our partners at Sage Dining; and also for Laura Brown, Emily Keith, Karen Glasco, Cathy Hensby, and Beth Wood. My sincere thanks to everyone who helped us prepare for this special morning and day of celebration.
 
For the faculty of this school, including Extended Day, Lower, Middle, and Upper School, thank you for the manner in which you have raised these young men, intellectually, yes, but also morally, physically, and spiritually. The fruits of our labors are known and celebrated in short form, today, but they will become fully manifest in the decades to come.
 
For our Board of Governors, many of whom gather with us this morning, thank you for your leadership and stewardship of our shared and precious resource and for the thoughtful manner in which you guide this community. A special thanks to our Board Chair Ned Valentine, who is also the proud father of a member of the graduating class.
 
I am also grateful to our colleagues at St. Catherine’s School, especially to Head of School Terrie Scheckelhoff, who is here with us this morning, to the Director of Upper School Lara Wulff, and to the entire St. Catherine’s faculty for all that they do to enrich the experiences of our boys here at St. Christopher’s.
 
Parents of the Class of 2019: You deserve special recognition this morning. Thank you, first and foremost, for entrusting these young men into our care. It is a sacred trust and one we do not take for granted. Thank you, also, for supporting this school not solely by sending your sons here, but in the myriad ways you have made this institution stronger over your years of association with us.
 
Whether it was volunteer service through our Parents Association, serving on a committee or in a leadership capacity of some kind, chaperoning a field trip, or dispensing warm Chick-Fila sandwiches, collectively you all have logged tens of thousands of hours at and for St. Christopher’s, and for that we are grateful.
 
I want to call special attention this morning to our “lifer” families, those who have been with us for 13 or even 14 years—your commitment and loyalty to this school and community is remarkable, and we thank you for that.
 
Speaking of lifers, gentlemen, last night I was perusing the 2007 edition of Raps and Taps, your Kindergarten year, and according to that publication, your top five Kindergarten activities were as follows—Fingerpainting, Name Game, Share Time, Nap Time, and Snack Time. Sounds about right.
 
Approximately half of you, gentlemen, joined us in either JK or K, which means that the other half have joined our school and community either later in the Lower School, or in the Middle or Upper School years. To those boys and families, thank you for the gifts and perspective that you brought this class and community—we are better for being a composition of dynamic families from all over the Richmond community, with unique stories, strengths, and perspectives. Thank you.  
 
Now, to the Class of 2019. How to capture the essence of this special group of seniors? When I think of you, gentlemen, I will tell you that one word comes to mind, and that is excellence—Excellence in all that you pursue, academically, civically, athletically, artistically. You have been, in a word, excellent during your time at St. Christopher’s, and most especially during your final years with us.
 
And in that way, you have been exemplars of the mission of St. Christopher’s School. Let me remind all of us of that mission by sharing with you the final and, in my opinion, most important sentence of our official school Mission Statement, “St. Christopher’s strives for excellence and seeks to make an enduring difference in the lives of its boys.”
 
We strive for excellence, and we seek to make an enduring difference in the lives of our boys.
 
Phrased in that way, we have two independent clauses, separated by a comma, yet complimentary and interdependent at St. Christopher’s.
 
Let’s begin with the first clause—our striving for excellence, and the unequivocal excellence of this class. Let’s start, as we should, with your academic accomplishments. Here are but a few—
 
This class boasts a U.S. Presidential Scholar semifinalist, one of just 16 such scholars named in the commonwealth of Virginia, one of only two from Virginia independent schools, and only the second such scholar in St. Christopher’s history.
 
This class boasts a Johnson Scholar, the most prestigious scholarship offered by Washington & Lee University, and the first such recipient in St. Christopher’s history.
 
One out of five students in this class earned at least one perfect score on an AP exam, and over 40% of you earned a 4. More than 60% of you earned at least a 3 on an AP exam, which qualifies for AP Scholar distinction, which you earned at three times the national average.
 
There are dozens of prestigious acceptances among you to the most highly selective colleges and universities in the country—far too many to name here, and we are particularly proud of what we believe to be the first-ever St. Christopher’s graduate appointment to the Coast Guard Academy and also for our Army ROTC Scholarship Award winner.
 
Artistically, we have superb, and I mean superb, performers in the visual, theatrical, and musical arts—just listen to the Glee Club, Beaux Ties, Jazz Band; or come to a student art exhibit or an Ampersand production; or see the Pine Needle or Hieroglyphic and you will know what I mean. We are delighted by the fact that nearly 10% of this class intends to major in either the visual or performing arts in college—what a wonderful statement that is about the variety of talents in this class.
 
Athletically, you are very tough to compete with, much less beat. [And I know that personally, by the way.] For only the second time in St. Christopher’s history and the first time in nearly 30 years, this class, the Class of 2019, has gone through four years of high school without once losing the Prep League Director’s Cup for overall athletic excellence in the League—four Director’s Cups in a row.
 
Thanks to your senior leadership, this year we secured nine Prep League championships and five state championships. Nearly 10% of this class is a high-school All-American, and nearly 25% of you plan to continue your athletic career in college.
 
Thanks to this class, St. Christopher’s has more Lexus Pursuit of Perfection Leadership Award winners and Richmond Times-Dispatch Scholar Athletes than any other school, public or private, in all of central Virginia, and among male recipients, the competition isn’t even close.
 
Gentlemen, academically, artistically, athletically, there is excellence among you. But—and this is the really important part—there is more. There is goodness.
 
Let’s go back to that St. Christopher’s mission statement—Independent clause one, “St. Christopher’s strives for excellence”—Check—and independent clause two, “we seek to make an enduring difference in the lives of our boys.”
 
You see, gentlemen, you are not only excellent in ways that are easy to quantify and calculate, but you are good, you are decent, in ways that are more difficult to express. Let me try.
 
I see your goodness on Saturday mornings in the fall, winter, and spring when you volunteer your time to support Richmond youth through our Saturday Academy program.
 
I see your goodness in the ways you did show up, especially this winter and spring, to support your classmates at performances and athletic events throughout the year.
 
I see your goodness in the ways you patted each other on the back, said a kind word, perhaps quietly, to a classmate, modeled good behavior to a younger student, or worked hard to make our Honor System better than the way you found it this year.
 
Finally, I saw your goodness in full display this year in Chapel, when nearly a dozen of you showed the courage and conviction to share homilies with us, the most student speakers we have enjoyed in Chapel in a very long time.
 
In a New York Times column written by David Brooks just over four years ago titled, “The Moral Bucket List,” he distinguishes between our “Résumé Virtues”—those skills we bring to bear for college admissions, job interviews, and promotions—and “Eulogy Virtues”—the characteristics and habits that are shared at one’s funeral.
 
Constructed that way, who wouldn’t or shouldn’t care more about our Eulogy Virtues?
 
I know that we, as a competitive school preparing you for the rigors of college, graduate school, and professional life beyond, are as complicit as anyone in over-emphasizing our students’ Résumé Virtues—I dedicated eight paragraphs to them earlier in my remarks.
 
But, gentlemen, believe me that when we say, as we do in our statement of Core Beliefs, that “We care most about developing young men who possess character and integrity,” we really mean it.
 
We care about your goodness, gentlemen, we see it, and we appreciate it.
 
Independent clause two, “We seek to make an enduring difference in the lives of our boys.” On behalf of the St. Christopher’s faculty and staff, I hope that we have done that for you, just as you have done it for us.
 
It is my pleasure to now introduce the Class of 2019 Salutatorian Philip Maruri. Thank you.
 
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