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.
Class of 2013, congratulations on your imminent
Graduation speeches have a bad name, and we all know
why. Like you, I have sat through many tedious
and taxing ceremonies, and this is the part where I always try to have
something else to do. (That is not an
option for you this morning—sorry.) Gary
Trudeau, of Doonesbury fame, in his 1986 commencement speech at Wake Forest,
said, “The chief function of the graduation speaker has always been to prevent
graduating seniors from being released into the real world before they’ve been
properly sedated.” I attended a
graduation this spring where this reality led the school to abandon the
commencement address altogether—and I have to confess that it got me
But I think it is important, especially here at Trinity, for
us to bring words to this occasion. For
what does a classical Christian education mean, if not a facility for matching
words with reality. No easy task, but we
My tack this morning is to keep this simple and clear. I’m going to give you one piece of advice,
only one. I’m going to ask you to put
that advice to work—right now. And I’m
going to practice what I preach. And
then I’m going to tell you why I think this simple advice gets at the heart of a
vital truth about life. And then we are
going to give you your diplomas.
Here is my advice: “Say ‘Thank You.’” I told you it would be simple. “Thank You.”
You are a remarkable class, a diverse class. You have your differences, freely
acknowledged, about important things. We
know, because we’ve been listening to you.
But this is an exhortation that makes sense for you all. It doesn’t
matter if you are religious or secular; athletic or robotic; evangelical,
orthodox, neo-orthodox, post-modern, existentialist, humanist, transhumanist,
or undecided—say, “Thank You.”
Write the Thank-You note.
Send the text. Smile and
nod. Give a hearty handshake or a hug. “Thanks” may not be very productive—it
doesn’t get anything done—but it is one of the best things you can ever
Come back to Trinity in a few years and tell your teachers
“Thank You” for what they taught you.
You can tell them that today, but you might actually appreciate their
work and devotion more in the future. A
few years ago, the Children’s Director at my church asked me to speak to the
Sunday School teachers at a year-end tribute dinner. As I was preparing my remarks, I remembered a
certain man—I even remembered his name, Bo Shaeffer—who had taught me Sunday
School in fifth grade. It wasn’t until I
went off to college that I became a disciple of Jesus, but when I thought back
to that Sunday School class, I remembered that Mr. Schaeffer had planted seeds
of truth in my soul that germinated many years later. I sat down and wrote him a letter of
thanks. I think that’s one of the best
things I’ve ever done.
Saying thanks keeps us from becoming self-absorbed. It forces us to explore the possibilities for
the positive. And it is honest—none of
us stands alone. Isaac Newton, possessed
of a mind as sharp as the sharpest of yours, said this: “If I have seen further
than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Thank you is a way to acknowledge this.
You don’t have to wait to take my advice. Let’s do it now.
First, I’d like for you to tell this faculty “Thank
You.” At great cost, they have poured
themselves into your intellectual, moral, and spiritual formation. Whether you came to Trinity as a high
schooler, or whether you are a Lifer, you have benefitted from the love and
labor of this fine faculty. Would you
please stand up and take off your hats and tell them “Thank You”?
Second, it is a Trinity tradition for you to deliver a Thank
You note to your parents. You have those
ready at hand. Would you please find
your parents, give them the note and a hug, and say “Thank You”?
Now I’d like to practice what we are preaching to you. I’d like to say “Thank You” to you all, the
Class of 2013, on behalf of the entire school.
Your contribution to our school has been immense. You are one class out of many souls, e pluribus unum, like the hands on the
wallboard you painted in the fall. And
you are twenty-eight, for whom we are individually grateful. In each of you we see something that no one
else brings to Trinity School. Trinity
is Trinity because of you,
collectively and severally.
Chris. Thank you for sharing your angel-quick,
probing mind with us all, for being willing to be, sometimes, the
only one in the room with a divergent opinion, and to offer it in dead earnest,
without rancor, accusation, or defensiveness; and to submit your own opinion to
the court of reason. And thank you for emerging
from your brooding thought many times to grace us with your exquisite smile.
Todd. Thank you for the passion and gracefulness
with which you play every sport you take on.
Thank you for letting us watch you drive yet another one to the fence in
left-center field and run the bases like a gazelle. And thank you for caring deeply about relationships—with
teachers and coaches especially--and being willing to forgive as God in Christ
has forgiven you.
Tyler. Thank you for hanging in there even
though it was tough and lonely, even though you learn differently from others,
and for teaching us all to celebrate that difference as a unique angle on the
body of Christ here at Trinity. Thank
you for having the courage to speak about your uniqueness in your Capstone
Luke. Thank you for coming back to us your junior
year; thank you for having the courage to follow God’s call and leave us for
the DR in the fall of your senior year; thank you for bringing back to us what
you learned, showing us all what it means not to be served but to serve, for
growing into a man of God right before our eyes.
Sam. Thank you for playing for us and leading us
in worship. Thank you for finding your
own voice in song and for sharing with us your heart for Christ. Thank you for not caring whether you got the
credit, so long as the band played beautifully for God’s glory.
Grace. Thank you for showing us the meaning of your
name, for surprising us with your kindness and forgiveness, for including
everyone, for learning to live with an expectation that God would do something unexpected,
undeserved, and lovely in your own life.
Alex. Thank you for being playful and mischievous
among us, with the improv group, with questions and ideas in class, with a wry
announcement in Cornerstone. Thank you
for those unforgettable Jazz moments. Thank you for reminding us to take ideas and
others seriously, but not ourselves too seriously, and God most seriously of
Lindsay. Thank you for believing in redemption,
for listening hard for those voices of beauty and wholeness in your own heart,
and for celebrating the hope of redemption in the smallest things, like the flower
vases for the Spring Formal, and in your exceptional art.
Garrett. Thank you for swimming your heart out. And for the school store. Thank you for admitting when you needed help and
for asking for forgiveness without making excuses. And thank you for having the courage and perseverance
to finish and to return.
Jenna. Thank you for discovering your gift for
teaching right before our very eyes, over at Forest View Elementary. Thank you for teaching me what a DKDK moment
is—when you Don’t Know What You Don’t Know—for returning to Trinity after a
transformative term in NYC, and for reminding us all that leaving Trinity can
be one of the best parts of the experience here.
Ren. Thank you for pursuing your passions in
Robotics and for searching in the world of programming for hints of the Divine. Thank you for fighting ferociously for the
rebound. Thank you for being yourself
without bowing to the expectations of others, for finding your own way as a
scholar, a scientist, an athlete, a believer.
Christian. Thank you for exploring your creative
side among us, for writing a graphic novel to explore your identity and
calling, for creating all those dramatic plays for the Augustine students at
Forest View, for sharing with us your sardonic self, and for never giving up
trying to hit a three on the basketball court.
Arwen. Thank you for coming to Trinity late in your
high school career and jumping completely into the Trinity experience. Thank you for nurturing the love of
learning—Anatomy and Physiology, quilting, puzzles, Robotics—even as you sought
to make yourself competitive in a most competitive field of engineering. And thank you for our faithful prayers for
all your classmates.
Michael. Thank you for your quiet (except when you
were the Voice of the Lions!) ways of serving us: Running the soundboard during
Worship, and even taking over the sound for the final Grandparents’ Day Concert
in the Spring. Thank you for serving on
the Honor Council, and for being steadfast for truth, especially the Truth of
Josh. Thank you for being part of an extraordinary Robotics
team that makes us all believe in team in the best sense. Thank you for loving everyone on the team,
even especially those whose gifts were different and who by their presence made
the team what it was. Thank you for
being honest about your own questions and refusing to be boxed into any answers
you can’t affirm with all your heart.
Bryn. Thank you for keeping your bar high, for
moving it higher, and for pursuing excellence.
Thank you for listening to the stories of others and searching for ways
to make faithful sense of the hard parts of your own story. Thank you for not giving up on Trinity, on
God, on any of us, even though you might have wanted to at times. Thank you for coming back on Day 2 of Second
Grade, and every day after that.
Bekah. Thank you for joining us for your final year,
for leaving a school and friends you loved dearly to join a school that was
different. Thank you for your tender
heart, for your passion for Christ, and for sharing with us the gift He has
given you for writing well and showing us the beauty that is so ancient and so
Jesse. Thank you for the way you purse your lips and
shrug your shoulders when you have something important (and wonderfully
critical) to say, for sharing with us your brilliance in a way that is
unpretentious and self-effacing, and for being such an important part of the
Robotics A-Team. Thank you for your
questions, which have taken us down many roads we wouldn’t have travelled.
Kelsey. Thank you for that smile of yours—I can
see it now. Thank you for
single-handedly leading the senior class through its journey toward a generous
and altruistic senior gift. Thank you
for sharing openly and vulnerably about your own struggles of faith with the
death of a close friend, but in a way that calls us all to meet God with our
Kellie Schaefer. Thank you for showing us skill and
devotion on the court, thank you for loving your family so well, thank you for
giving yourself unselfishly to the work and the kids in the Dominican
Republic. In the words of your Augustine
tutee, “Thank you for being the best Kellie that I have ever had.”
Sarah. Thank you for growing in Christ over the
years, right before our eyes, through deep disappointments, to become a young
woman with a facile theological mind.
Thank you for your ready, quick wit and your deep understanding. Thank you for turning “It’s Greek to me”
Jacob. Thank you for all the villains you have
been on stage. And off stage, thank you
for your earnest passion for the Gospel, for your tenacious quest to understand
and share God’s Word, for the way you love your family (even especially your
sister!), for speaking up in class, and for good, never-ending conversations
outside of class.
absentia. Thank you for serving on
the Honor Council, for leading on the soccer field and on the basketball
court. Thank you for being a fierce
competitor who has also the gentleness of Christ, a quiet but passionate
Abby. Thank you for letting the light of your
joy shine among us for all these years.
Thank you for brightening up our days and showing us the beauty of a
cheerful countenance and a true friend.
Zoe. Thank you for finding your own way,
marching to the beat of God’s Spirit where you
have heard it. Thank you for your
quiet but strong way of saying, “This is what I think.” Thank you for pursuing the truth by balancing
and weighing alternatives.
Harrison. Thank you for being one of the Three but
completely Yourself. Thank you for
loving your family so well. And thank
you for your playful way with the Augustine students, making them smile and wanting
to come back every time. Thank you for
seeking out the meaning of Romans 8:28 right through some really tough times.
Savannah. Thank you for your contagious laugh. Thank you for sticking your head in front of
so many soccer cleats. Thank you for
being your own inimitable self, in the hallways, on the field and court, and in
class. Thank you for leaving it all on the court. Thank you for laying your cards out on the
table and saying what you think.
Mitch. Thank you for your still waters that run
deep, for your love of old cars, for your quest to make some sense of the
hiddenness of a God you believe in, for the dependable work you always do, and
for your wonderful affability.
Class of 2013,
thank you for being who you are. We mean
it. We love you and we will miss you.
Why Thank You Is Important
Some will think that my advice is cliché, a platitude, a
The difference between a platitude and a profundity is not
always in their content, but in what we do with them. If we let them rattle around in our brains
like a dry, unwatered, unplanted seed—that's a platitude. But if we plant them in our hearts and let
them grow into soul-truths, that’s a profound life lesson.
I think that learning to say “Thanks” is one of the most
profound and important habits to be formed in us. It is a mark of a life well-lived. It makes for greater happiness—in ourselves
and in others. It protects us from
cynicism and snarkiness. It keeps us
from becoming overly focused on ourselves and narcissistic. In short, I recommend it highly for the rest
of your life. Unless you learn to say,
“Thank You,” you will never be really happy.
And if this is true in this present life, how much more in
the life to come. Saying “Thank You” is
the mark of something deeply spiritual and at the heart of the one who
understands the grace and glory of God.
We see this truth in the passage from 2 Corinthians, which
Charlie read. Paul says that the result
of the generosity he is urging is, ultimately, “thanksgiving to God.” Our eternal blessedness consists in large
part of saying, simply, “Thanks!”
Milton’s Satan in Paradise
Lost understood this well. Caught in
a cosmic battle, he reflects on and perhaps even laments his own unwillingness
to say these simple words, “Thank You.”
Yet all his good prov’d ill in me,
And wrought but malice; lifted up
I feigned subjection, and thought
one step higher
Would set me highest, and in a
The debt immense of endless
So burthensome, still paying, still
Forgetful what from him I still received,
And understood not that a grateful
By owing owes not, but still pays,
Indebted and discharged; what
I suspect we’ve all been on the receiving end of a great
gift, one we didn’t really deserve. And
the greater the gift, the greater the debt.
A friend once bought me a very expensive road bike—I fell all over
myself and him saying thank you, until he told me to stop already. Today, you graduates have been given the gift
of an education by your parents and the school.
How will you ever be able to say “Thank You” sufficiently? Will you ever be able to extract yourself
from the debt immense of endless gratitude?
You will not.
Perhaps the greatest gift, the one that may seem most
“burthensome,” is the gift of forgiveness.
We all, I am sorry to say, know something about this—I am not talking
about the burden of forgiving now; I am talking about the burden of being forgiven. When we wrong someone and are granted
forgiveness, we know that we are always and ever both “indebted and discharged.”
Graduates, the good news in Jesus Christ is that you owe him
everything, that he has given you a gift so immense and free that you can never
repay; the only payment you can give,
the only one asked of you, is to say, “Thank You.” “A grateful mind by owing owes not, but still
pays, at once indebted and discharged.” What
I want for you is that you will learn the song of Thanksgiving, for you are
being called to sing it forever and ever.
It goes on and on. There is no
end to His mercy, no limit to his undeserved blessings. In the end, there will be only two kinds of
people: Those who say to God, “Thanks,” and those who say, “No Thanks.” Don’t return the ticket. Keep it, for there is a Day coming when the
best thing you will be able to say is “Thanks be to God for his indescribable
gift.” I think it would be wise for us
all to start practicing that eternal Eucharist right now. Say “Thank You.”
I wish you the best, all of you. I hope you remember this place fondly and
come back often. We love you. Godspeed to the Class of 2013.