BLAIR ACADEMY’S 167th COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES ADDRESS
BY CHRISTOPHER M. FORTUNATO
THE HEAD OF SCHOOL
May 21, 2015
As I have the privilege of standing before you, our Class of 2015, one last time together, I admit I’m feeling parental, experiencing the range of emotions that no doubt your parents and families are feeling today. I am proud of you, because you’ve accomplished so much; but more so because you are simply very good people. I am sad, because now at the end of my and Mrs. Fortunato’s second year, we have grown to know many of you – you’ve spent time with our own children and you have brought joy to our lives and we’ll miss that more than you know. I also feel as hopeful as I have ever been in my life, because you are all becoming exactly what the world needs for it to become a better place, no matter what you choose to do. I found myself over the last couple of nights struggling to find the right words that encapsulate this range of feelings that I and our faculty have, to do justice to how much I admire you, how much you’re loved in this community and how excited we are for you to take on your futures and to live your stories.
Searching for those right words, I tried to quiet my mind, to listen to the inner voice we all have that we sometimes struggle to hear, that helps us speak our truths and fulsomely express what our heart and head wish to convey. I was expecting to hear a voice come to me that was well soothing, calm and Zen-like perhaps. But instead and quite surprisingly what came into my head was a voice that was somewhat monotone, low, gravely, and authoritative. And I suddenly realized – my inner voice was Mr. Sam Bacon!
It all strangely though made sense. Mr. Bacon has this incredible penchant that I am going to miss dearly for finding just the right words on most occasions largely by pulling out of thin air a perfectly relevant if not obscure line from a book or poem or even a movie albeit ones from decades before you or frankly I was born. Those lines are often brilliant in their brevity and their ability to perfectly capture what I often try to say in too many words. Now of course the great irony is that while the brilliant lines he quotes are remarkably brief, the experience of his getting to them in the conversation alas is not. They have sometimes required me to open a diet coke or two to maintain my stamina as he ultimately gets to his point.
So channeling my inner Bacon, I posed the question how do I sum up the stew of somewhat conflicted feelings we are experiencing as we deliver you into the next chapter of your lives. And I once again found what I was looking for, what I wanted to say to all of you – and it’s this – “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” The words come from author AA. Milne and were voiced by one his title characters – an unassuming young leader by the name of Winnie the Pooh.
Of course more than just Mr. Bacon’s, your varied and wonderful voices will echo in our heads and hearts long past your graduation. They have grown strong individually and collectively over your years at Blair. It has been our pleasure for us to hear them, help them grow and celebrate them even when they are quiet ones. There are moments when your voices rose in ways public and not so public that were simply so true to who you are and what you care about that they will forever stick with me, with all of us,
- Peter paying tribute to his prefectees in his senior speech.
- Jill always cheering on her softball teammates.
- Dennis teaching us about love and loss through a simply drawn cartoon elephant and the narration of Mr. Bob Brandwood.
- Corrine – virtually anytime you sang but especially for me when you sang one of the most haunting and beautiful renditions of the national anthem when we honored the anniversary of 9/11.
- Bre and Elijah – your words keeping your teammates focused and together even in tough moments.
- Luke – whether through your music or your words, on stage and in the classroom, showing what it is to live a life of the mind with love for others and without pretension.
- Salley and Caleb – giving a platform unabashedly for those who at times have felt silenced or marginalized even when it was uncomfortable.
- Pheobe – capturing your classes’ gratitude for one another.
- Sean and Tyler – giving one command performance after another, and Kendall and Shea showing us how one can effectively steal the show.
- Elinor – never hesitating to come to my office and advocate for what you feel is right.
- Chaz, Elizabeth, Spencer, Casey and all prefects sacrificing your time and giving great advice so your prefectees could find their own voices.
I could go on and on. I am grateful to all of you personally as well, for as I have spent the last two years discovering Blair, you have taught me about this community, our culture, what we must always preserve and what things new we might explore. You’ve helped me develop my own voice, no doubt a work in progress, as your head of school.
As you look ahead, change is all around you. It will in fact be one of the few constants in your life, in all of our lives. But I have also discovered and wish to share with you another observation, if not a piece of advice – the greater the frequency and speed of change, the more important it becomes to recognize and hold on to those things that must remain steady and true. One such thing is this:
- Your principles define who you are and they can never be taken away from you. They impact every decision you will make. You will filter every challenge, opportunity, relationship, conversation, through those values. So as you march through life, please keep asking yourself – what matters most to me, what are the things for which I stand. Do this often, so you can know yourself and help others know the real you. Don’t steer away from this exploration of your values, of who you are and who you are NOT, even if others judge you or don’t understand, even if it at times it frightens you, even if you change your mind. And you will change your mind, which is entirely OK. It is part of growing up. Some people might fault you for being inconsistent or impermanent – I will however honor you for your trying to find your way, your true north.
- There is something I also know to be true. The Blair bubble we so often talk about. People have been talking about it since long before you or I stepped foot on this campus. It endures and always will but the best thing about the Blair bubble has never been what it keeps out but rather what it keeps in, what it keeps close and what it nurtures – curiosity, resilience and most importantly friendship. And here’s the thing. The real Blair bubble, the one that really matters is not the one you leave behind as you leave campus. In fact, it’s the one you take with you. Inside it is the best of what you’ve experienced and what you’ve become, and it lives in the good work you’ll do and in the people whose lives you’ll enter. Spread the bubble beyond this campus and go out and make the world more like the best of what you’ve experienced here.
- Finally, throughout your time at Blair, you have heard the following and I want it to be the words with which you close your time with us. Life is about love. Don’t ever forget that. It’s about love. Love of learning, of living, of family and friends. It is the reason ultimately that most of us do what we do, to strive to be successful, to make a difference and do things that are important. It’s the reason we push ourselves past our limits, take risks and dare to share our stories. And you are indeed loved by the people here today – your parents, relatives, friends and faculty and your headmaster. Carry that with you in times of joy and hardship. And share it. That’s the real secret. Discover what you love in the world and share your world with those you love.
Blair Academy Class of 2015, we honor all that you’ve achieved and congratulate you!
(Copyright 2015 Chris Fortunato) (Cover Photo Credit: Sarah Field)