Head of School Rick Kirschner Delivers Class of 2019 Commencement Address

On Friday, May 31, 2019, Head of School Rick Kirschner addressed the Class of 2019 one final time, sharing great words of advice before they headed off on their next adventure. You may read the full transcript of Mr. Kirschner's speech below or click here to watch a video.

To our Students, Parents, Board of Trustees, Family, and Friends of the Class of 2019, I want to thank you for joining us on this wonderful occasion. Graduates, this is one of the landmarks of your lives and we are happy to be here to recognize your accomplishment.
To the Class of 2019, you are special to all of us including me. You were mere freshmen when I started at Canterbury and now you are finishing your journey at our wonderful school and commencing upon the next chapters of your lives. You are a truly great class, and I’ll tell you why. First, you are kind people. You were paying attention when you learned that Socrates said: “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I have learned in my life, that kindness is an essential quality for greatness. The best people are always kind. Second, you are a humble class. Each one of you has every reason to be proud and boastful because of your accomplishments, your looks, your station in life and yet you choose to be humble always striving to be better and knowing that there is much more to learn. Humble people don’t think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less. And finally, you are a wise class. The best equation I have heard for wisdom is that wisdom equals intelligence plus love. We all know brilliant people with high IQs who are exceptionally unhappy. However, wise people always attempt to make their small part of the world a better place.

I have confidence that you will take these three traits of kindness, humility, and wisdom with you in your lives to the benefit of others and yourselves. You will find that these three traits are powerful weapons in the battle of life that lays ahead of you. Wait, what? Kindness, humility, and wisdom are weapons in a battle? I sense a paradox coming… and you are right.

Most of the people in this room, especially the ones over 30 years of age can confirm that this thing we call life is not easy. In fact, at times, it is excruciatingly difficult. Jesus said, “In the world, ye shall have tribulations.” In fact, your fantastic parents who decided to send you to Canterbury, who entrusted us with a part of your education and care, did it because they wanted it to be more difficult for you academically and otherwise to prepare you for a difficult and competitive world that exists beyond our 33 acres. In trying your hardest and writing paper after paper, lab report after lab report, doing math problem after math problem, you somewhere along the way became wise and learned that humility and kindness are disarming qualities that actually make people want to help you and that you can never have enough friends. You learned in the heat of fighting through tough athletic practices and contests, and the pressure and work required to put on concerts and plays that excellence requires an incredible amount of work and that you cannot do it alone. Yes, you will meet arrogant, boastful people in life. You will probably meet them very soon during freshman week in August or September at your new colleges. But you, because you are wise, will know that the truly great people like you are the kind and humble ones.
Sir Isaac Newton expressed his humility when he said: “I do not know how I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me… The first truth, then, that I would leave with you is this: modesty – the realization that you know very little – is the beginning of wisdom.”

A book that was given to me as a gift by an incoming faculty member’s father changed me this year. The book is called “With Love and Prayers” and it is a collection of talks given by retired Headmaster Tony Jarvis who served for 25 years as Head of Roxbury Latin School, the oldest prep school in the country. He has turned me into a hopeful pessimist who expects adversity rather than a blind optimist who expects things to be easy. He is far wiser than I am so I will use his words to close.
He laments that so many of us are born originals but die as copies living a life into which we did not put enough thought and therefore find unsatisfying.
Jarvis states: “There is another way. It is the way chosen by the few in every generation who are courageous enough to face the existential reality of their own mortality, of their own modest place in the universe. It is the way of the few who - fully aware of the smallness of their own lives - are somehow, nevertheless, empowered to use what little they have for causes and concerns beyond and greater than themselves. The way of the few is the harder, the more lonely, and the more costly way.”
Ironically, he argues that the hard life is more exciting, more rewarding, and more fun than the easy path. Someone asked Mother Theresa of Calcutta shortly before she died, “Why did you choose to give up family and money and security to go to live among the destitute and the hopeless?” In a flash, she replied, “I wanted a very hard life.” You have been introduced to this harder life at Canterbury where we expect your very best every day. While we also try to protect you from some of the harsh realities of the world, we hope that you have learned valuable lessons here that will benefit you and help you in your life beyond Canterbury. In school, you are given the lesson and then the test. But in life, you are given the test and then the lesson. With a little courage and confidence, you can use the same principals that helped you to be successful at Canterbury to be successful in college and beyond.

Graduates of the Canterbury Class of 2019, you have a bright future ahead of you, but remember, this is only the beginning. We are so happy to see your progress on this happy occasion, hopefully, ready to tackle your next big challenge that is your college education! However, we will miss you and your bright spirits.  So, if we can ever be helpful to you, please know that we at Canterbury are in your corner, and we are only a text, email, or phone call away. You will always be alumni of this great school, and members of the outstanding Class of 2019 and we hope to see you on campus and serve you well even beyond graduation - where we can include you on the journey that we are upon. We wish you all the best and Godspeed on your journeys as well as offer our deepest congratulations!