This is my Head of School blog. I use it to reflect on my own learning, my wonderings about education, and questions about how to shape our school, Trinity School of Durham and Chapel Hill. I also use it to share with the community things I experience at school. It affords me another way to be present with our ever-growing community of learners.
I'm posting here my remarks at the third Trinity graduation, May 25, 2012. Along with some pictures of our seniors on their big day.
The Trinity Faculty Prays Over the Grads Before the Ceremony
The Glorious Cap Toss!
Commencement Remarks to the Class of
Chip Denton, Headmaster
Class of 2012, congratulations—for making it this far and
for being on time!
seriously: Listen up!
I could just sit down, since I have only one thing to say
and I’ve said it already.Did you hear
me?Are you listening?
We send you forth to college and into life, believing
that you have been in some important way, here at Trinity, educated.Learning to listen
is one of the fundamental skills of an educated person.
Learning happens when we move from less understanding to
greater understanding.And listening is
essential to that move.When you entered
Dr. Hall’s science class or Dr. Sundseth’s chemistry class, you probably did
not know the difference between ionic and covalent chemical bonds.But we believed that you could understand that difference.And the crossing over that great divide, from less understanding to
more, happened—it did happen, right?—when you listened.You might have
listened to a present teacher, like Dr. Sundseth.You might have listened to an absent teacher,
like the textbook or an internet site.You might have listened to a virtual teacher on You Tube.But if you learned, then you listened.
We often think that listening is simple and easy.I think it’s simple, but it’s not easy.
Listening requires two things from us that are hard.Not complicated, but hard.First, humility.To listen is to put something else ahead of
ourselves.We all know what it is like
to try to explain something to someone who will not listen, who thinks she
already knows what we are going to say, who interrupts us and finishes our
sentences (in very unsatisfactory ways).Studies have shown that the average time between a patient’s first words
about her primary symptom and a physician’s interruption is eighteen seconds.And the person who listens to us, really
listens, she is humble enough to believe that we have something to say, that
there is something she doesn’t yet understand which she could understand, if
she will just create the right kind of space and allow the right kind of
second thing that good listening requires of us is attentiveness.Teaching
students to pay attention is one of the best things a family and a school can
do.It is a habit that needs to be
formed, for our minds tend to wander.Charlotte Mason said that there is but one right way for students to
learn: “the children must do the work themselves”—the work of paying
attention.Mason believed that “no
intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit, but
it is the hallmark of an educated person.”
would like to practice what I’ve preached.I would like to listen to you, the Class of 2012.I would like to do you the honor of believing
that you have something to say to us, that you see something better than we do.And I’d like to attend carefully to what you
are saying.For your final Theology
Class, you seniors wrote your own version of National Public Radio’s This I
Believe essay.So Listen Up one last
time, to these seniors before they go from us:
this:“I work with kids in the
outdoors not only because I am a kid at heart, but also because I believe that
nature, no matter how strong we may think we are, will humble us.”
have given me a picture I will never forget, an image that will forever
transform the cliché “Don’t cry over spilt milk” into a picture of a new and
positive way of being in the world.
this: “I believe that leadership is more about legacy than
accomplishment.”It’s a great sadness
that her grandfather, about whom she has written, is not here to see her
graduate, but Nikki is herself that very legacy she writes about.
the dots of some very challenging personal struggles to trace a line he called
“Purpose” and to celebrate his time here at Trinity and a contentment that has
been hard won.
Matt told us
a story of almost quitting something he loves because it was too hard.Matt, we’re all very glad that you picked
your guitar back up and mastered “Supermassive Black Hole” and then many other
songs to boot.
a fascinating question: Does good news like a twelve year old’s birthday
outweigh the wickedness and bad in the world?
us all by speaking of a war, a battle of supernatural powers over the soul of
every human, and especially over his own.
Will Govert told
us a funny story about his Grandpa fetching golf balls in the mud and losing
his shoes on Christmas Eve.Will wants
us to understand that the laughter born of love is a gift.
celebrated her family and remembered some of the lighter moments that seasoned
crises with love and humor.If you want
someone to hang with you in tough times, Becca’s your woman; but you might want
to get someone else to navigate for you.
the commonplace experience of having an oncoming car flash its headlights into
a thoughtful reflection on random kindness and paying forward.And she told a hilarious story about throwing
Tums out the car window.
Andrew took an
experience at the Durham Rescue Mission and turned it into a thoughtful
reflection on the power of unspoken love.Andrew’s ability to critique his own motives was remarkable.
Martin told the
powerful story of his parents’ sacrifice to come to this country and challenged
himself and the rest of us to transform our desires into a strong work ethic.I’ve thought of Martin’s story several times
over the last week as I’ve been tempted to put off until tomorrow what I could
Aaron told a
story about a shoeless hula-hoop dancer in Carrboro whom he completely
misjudged, and then went on to cast a vision for a world where prejudice was
overcome by kindness.The picture of
Aaron surrounded by Haitian children will forever be etched in my mind.
an unforgettable picture of her grandmotherly voice teacher as she coached
through and Italian aria: “You love him! And he’s breaking your heart!You can’t just say it like you’d say anything
else!”.That picture became the
centerpiece of her argument that music keeps the soul young and alive.
David, in his
inimitable understatement, showed us the value of anonymous service.He and his father were the anonymous
benefactors of a couple in need; and so they fell into a story much larger than
themselves, where people sacrifice without praise or recognition.
a very personal story of her mother’s urging her to smile in the middle of a
very hard time.Almost in spite of
herself, she celebrated the warmth and joy of a giggle to heal brokenness.Kelly-Anne, we are the fortunate ones, who
have glimpsed that giggle.
admitted that he had grossly underestimated the challenge of teaching, until he
met his Augustine Tutee, a little ball of energy named Janetta.Will’s capacity for empathy is inspiring.
a courageous account of her own spiritual journey in order to establish the
idea that faith can’t be inherited but has to be one’s own.Julia, I’ll always remember your story of
panic the first time you were asked to turn to the book of Romans.
his own experiences to make a case for breaking age barriers in order to form
meaningful and lasting friendships.This
is a story that rings true to all of us who have watched Fielder befriend
students up and down the grades.
how she and her sisters borrow one another’s clothes and went on to explore how
this is a metaphor for the ways they have influenced and shaped each other.
Max gave us
several palpable pictures of simple pleasures—his grandmother’s turkey
sandwiches, his trips to the video store, his Sunday iced coffee—to celebrate
his journey.We all want to thank Max
for the simple pleasure of his firm handshake.
It’s a joy and a privilege to Listen Up to you
seniors.You have much to teach us, and
our community of learning will be impoverished by your moving on.Thank you for sharing your gifts and insights
So once more, before you go: Listen up!Jesus put it this way: “He who has ears to
hear, let him hear.”You have ears to
hear.You do.Not everything in God’s good creation does,
but you do—rocks don’t, algorithms don’t, dogs don’t.This is your glory and your freedom: You can
listen to God.
In order to hear God—really hear him—you have to believe
that the One speaking to you is God himself.In the story Abigail read to us, Samuel thought that the voice he was
hearing was Eli’s voice, the voice of the old priest.But in the course of the story, he comes to
realize that the voice is God’s
voice.Eli is the first to realize this,
and he tells Samuel to go back and wait and when he hears the voice, to say,
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”That’s the moment when Samuel knew
You remember meeting my friend, Bill Haslam, a few weeks
ago, when he came to speak to Trinity?Well Bill and I used to play a trick on each other.When we were in college one of our great
spiritual guides and heroes was a man named John Stott.In the years after college, Bill and I would
call each other up and fake a British accent saying, “This is John Stott.May I speak to Bill?”Back and forth we would go until it became a stock
joke.So one day my friend Bill picks up
the phone and hears, “This is John Stott calling for Bill Haslam.”Bill says, “Knock it off, Chip, I’m in a
hurry.What’s up?”A long and awkward pause on the other
end.And then, again, “This is John
Stott, may I please speak to Bill Haslam?”Can you imagine my friend’s response when he realized that the voice on
the other end really was the Reverend, the August, the Famous, the Man Himself,
Class of 2012, this I pray for you: That you will know
that the Voice on the Other End is not your uptight and white headmaster, not
your teachers droning on, not your parents saying the same thing you’ve heard a
hundred times, but the Voice of God Almighty.The Voice of All Voices.The
Voice you have traced in your study of human rationality, the Voice that gives
meaning to your own conscience, the Voice that explains why the music of
Beethoven seems so beautiful and so right, the Voice that makes sense of all
your loves, sacred and mundane.The
Voice that says, “Fear not, for I have
redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”
Farewell, Class of 2012.Come back often.Listen for God.We love you.