Graduation 2012

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.
Twenty-one Graduates

The Trinity Faculty Prays Over the Grads Before the Ceremony

The Glorious Cap Toss!

Listen Up
Commencement Remarks to the Class of 2012
Trinity School
Chip Denton, Headmaster

            Class of 2012, congratulations—for making it this far and for being on time! 

But 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 silence.

The 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.”

So I 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:

Emily said 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.”

Olivia: You 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. 

Nikki said 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.

Trey connected 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.

Renee asked a fascinating question: Does good news like a twelve year old’s birthday outweigh the wickedness and bad in the world?
            Hansen challenged 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.

            Becca 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.

            Sheridan turned 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 do today.

            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.

            Colleen painted 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.

            Kelly-Anne told 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.

            Will Powell 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.

            Julia ventured 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.

            Fielder took 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.

            Caroline told 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 with us.

            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 the Lord. 

            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, John Stott?

            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.


Popular Posts