Dear Katie and Jason (and the Westfield Academy Class of 2020),
Congratulations and thank you! You have achieved an important milestone in life and, thanks to the innumerable lessons and examples of your teachers, you have developed habits of thoughtful curiosity and critical thinking that will take your far and reveal opportunities you haven’t yet imagined. It’s an exciting time and cause for tremendous optimism, both for you and for us, your parents. Therein lies the “thank you” for you have remined us that the American experience is a journey shaped by opportunities and guided by the collective wisdom and encouragement of others. As you revel in the praises and good wishes of your teachers, coaches, friends and all the other people who have played a role in getting you to this milestone, take a moment to be inspired by their selfless kindness and hard work in guiding you to this milestone in a lifetime of learning. You are the product of an entire community – be grateful for the efforts of so many people and return their many kindnesses any chance you have.
It is all too easy in these trying times to lose sight of life’s opportunities: we’re constantly bombarded with reminders of life’s risks and immersed in herd mentality that tends toward risk avoidance and preservation of the status quo. There is a tendency to fixate on flaws in our society and give voice to the oracles of despair and decay. But that isn’t where you’re from and I certainly hope that is not the direction that you are headed. Your future is bright because of the strength of character, goodwill and wisdom that your teachers and others have imparted to you. So, as you charge forth to pursue your dreams and venture off to college or other great unknowns, take a look around to reflect on where you’re from; and recognize that most people are a lot like you; in search of opportunities and relationships that will give purpose and value to your lives. Along the way, be alert to the injustices and obstacles that that give rise to the resentment and despair and make it a part of your nature to confront and right those injustices.
Unchecked, life-long pursuit of knowledge inspired by the promise of new opportunities and rewarded by the gratitude and shared joy of success with your peers; these are also tools you’ve been developing under the careful tutelage of your teachers and coaches . Those people who taught you how to apply yourself and how to unlock your many talents aren’t going to be reminding you of assignments coming due or diagraming plays guaranteed to score points. Now it is your turn to recognize the importance of practice and preparation and pushing yourself to exceed your comfort zone. These are things you’ve learned almost by accident while you were struggling to pass English and economics and math, and chorus and…. Although you’ll be leaving those teachers and coaches behind, remember the lessons of perseverance, collaboration, teamwork and the pure joy of accomplishing something meaningful.
A few other things to remember as you look in the rearview mirror on your way out of town:
It’s not safe out there, never was, probably never will be. This year’s threats to our well-being and comfort have been dominated by COVID19 and by social convulsions in the struggle to rid our culture of the scourge of racism and prejudice. These dangers, like most, are not to be avoided, more often than not, the crisis of the day is simply a problem that, when solved, will make us stronger, smarter, more tolerant and more compassionate in the sharing of our resources and abilities. Don’t hesitate to join in the quest and help to slay the dragons and demons. We all have abilities and a duty to each other to confront the things that diminish the quality of life and compromise human dignity.
Hero is not a profession; it is a consequence of learned behavior and a cognizant recognition of our shared struggle. We very few exceptions, heroes don’t earn their cape or discover their superpower in the heat of battle. Perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges and the vision and tenacity to confront big problems while others are distracted or become discourage; these are behaviors that will earn the respect of your peers and will prepare you for that moment when the situation demands your unique superpower. Habitually hone your skills and knowledge so that you are ready and able to jump into the fray and have a positive impact at a critical moment; this is the substance of heroism. And heroism rarely pays well. But the greatest reward is in the gratitude of people who are most vulnerable and least able to compensate you for your deeds. You don’t have to wear a uniform or be the center of attention to be a hero; but you do have to work really hard to discover and hone your superpower and go out into the world determine to help others and do the right thing when no one else is even noticing.
Go to the sound of the fight. Which is not to say you should be looking for trouble and meddling in others’ affairs. You will know when you need to go into the fray because you have been shown how to distinguish right from wrong and recognized when someone truly needs help. Don’t be complacent in taking direction from designated leaders and don’t run with the crowd if their cause doesn’t resonate deeply within you. When silence, complacency, fear of reprisal or ignorance prevent others from acting against crime or injustice or human suffering, that is the fight you should join. Go into those fights armed with your best weapons: common sense, empathy for the victims and the courage of your convictions. … and if in doubt, don’t hesitate to call home for advice!
Well done. Don’t stop learning and be sure to recognize and thank the people who help you along the way.