Baccalaureate Speech by Robert W. Hill III

Editor’s Note: The following Baccalaureate remarks were presented by Head of School Robert W. Hill III on May 25, 2013 in Stephens Chapel.

Good evening seniors, parents, colleagues and welcome to our Baccalaureate Ceremony for the Class of 2013. I wanted to share a few remarks before we begin this traditional ceremony which dates from Medieval times signifying the attainment of learning and knowledge.

Preparing for this weekend, I face an annual recognition which all speakers at this time of year realize—if they are honest. It’s a dilemma which comes from trying to think of something interesting or, even harder, something memorable to say to seniors who are about to graduate and who have had their fill of advice, nostalgia, and predictions. It’s times like this that I wish I could go to Mrs. Sawyer’s writing center, or better yet, just ask her to come redeliver the message to you guys from a couple of weeks ago: Remember that lesson? “Be kinder than necessary and work with love.”

Mrs. Sawyer was so affirming, so un-ironic, so sincere, so positive in her speech …that this evening I thought I would go negative— There’s a fancy term that English and Latin teachers and AP English students know called “litotes” which means affirming something by negating its opposite. Saying “Not bad at all” is an example. And more loosely an example from the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Are you also aware, Mrs. Bueller, that Ferris does not have what we consider to be an exemplary attendance record?” I found that quote In About.Com, where Principal Rooney’s criticism of Ferris’s attendance record beats out Abigail Adams, Fredrick Douglas, and Ronald Regan in order of examples. I’m not sure what that says.

So in getting ready for this evening I’ve been looking for erudite quotes where ever they appear: Mrs. Hill will make fun of me for referring to a movie since I am one of those people who forget movies almost as fast as I see them. But since I just saw Iron Man 3—it’s pretty fresh on my mind and I confess that I like super hero and Star Trek movies.

If you haven’t had the chance to see Tony Stark in his latest cool battle gear, I don’t want to totally give away the plot of the movie. Spoiler alert—In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark stops being iron man and becomes just a regular guy. “I’m Tony Stark. I build neat stuff. I got a great girl. And occasionally save the world. So why can’t I sleep?” Life as a super hero is not perfect for him and he chooses to give it up—I won’t tell you how all of that happens (I forget the details) but he says late in the movie: “My suit was never a distraction or a hobby. It was a cocoon. And I’m a new man now.” It turns out that being a super hero might not be all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s the same thing that happens to other heroes that you can probably think of. Aniken Skywalker comes to mind, and Harry Potter seems to battle just as many inner demons as outer ones.

There’s something hollow at the core for super heroes, entombed in their suits of armor or entrapped by the very powers which protect them. The enlightened super hero understands the phoniness of living a life trying to be someone who he is not or of fulfilling someone else’s conception of him. We see this in the angst superheroes display before they willingly give up their powers or lose them to a sinister force. We might feel this ourselves in an honest moment of revelation.

How does any of this relate to you in the Class of 2013. On the stage, in the art studios, on the fields—you are an accomplished group and have spent the most formative years of your young adult lives becoming yourselves—whether you have been here for one year or six. You have made lifelong friendships; been influenced by teachers, coaches, advisers and others in ways that are both obvious and subtle. You have gotten to know yourself. So, don’t stop being yourself just because you get a Williston diploma tomorrow and head off to college or other pursuits. You don’t really need to reinvent yourself when you leave here; you don’t have to put on body armor—there’s nothing wrong with continuing to be who you are, not some super hero.

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