Love and Compassion: A Principal’s Address at Grad

Members of the Platform Party, Faculty of John Oliver, Parents, Family, Friends … and Graduates:

I am honoured by this opportunity to address all of you.  I offer you these words in the official position of Principal.  I do so also as a teacher, colleague, parent, learner and fellow citizen.

Over the past five years you have been bound together on a daily journey that has required patience and commitment. You have come to realize that living shared experiences is the absolute DNA of full citizenship within any community. You have learned that the relationship between each of you and your school community is reciprocal – simultaneously shaping John Oliver and in turn being shaped by it.

When I start to think about all of this, a deeper message begins to emerge.  It is the need to find something greater than ourselves, a meaning grounded in community, a meaning that has at the core two moral precepts: compassion and love.

You see it matters far less that we know what time class starts than that we know why we gather and how we are changed because we do.  It is not solely your abilities, your talents or your knowledge that matter:  it is also, and above all else, your being.

It’s the message I’ve arrived at and we as a community have tried to convey to you these past five years.  I believe it is the most important message I can offer you today, on behalf of John Oliver, within a society that cares about its future and is gradually entrusting that future to you.

So, I’m going to ask you to spend these few minutes with me on this occasion of your graduation, if you will, thinking about the capacity for compassion and love.

First, let’s look at love in relation to family.

As each of you entered the Chan Centre this evening, something strange happened to your moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers and all others you know as family.  An odd pressure pushed down on their chests, cranked up their heart rate and brimmed their tear ducts, all in the space of a millisecond.  They looked at you and saw the five year old who took their first steps out of their homes and started school way back in 1998.  Now and forever they will see that beautiful child that you were and will always be in their eyes.

This joy and happiness are the symptoms of an unavoidable, overwhelming sense of connection with you and with what is happening for you.  It is a culminating moment and it strikes from the very heart of the phenomenon we call family.  Without it we couldn’t have humanity, we wouldn’t have society, we wouldn’t have you. This is driven by love.

Next, I would ask you to think of the love of friends, some of whom may be sitting near you right now; others who are here with you in spirit.  You can probably tell stories more eloquently than I about love embedded in friendship.  It is this friendship, this compassion for one another that characterizes the incredible turbulence of life in a high school.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, there is the love of self.

My guess is the people on this stage and in the audience, closer to my own age or older, would tell you it’s just about now in their life that they’re beginning to actually understand the importance of loving others as they love themselves.  It is only now that in loving others within a supportive community that they’re beginning to actually understand the importance of loving themselves – ourselves – for who we are, as opposed to the image others have for who we should be; the positions we hold, what we wear, how we look, what we own.

If you accomplish nothing more in your life than a sense of love of and compassion for your self, therefore love in relation to others, I believe you will have accomplished the ultimate.

Well, there it is – a message on behalf of the school.  But no message from John Oliver would be complete without a story.  This one I pass along to you from my father-in-law who got it from the writer Lee Bolman and shared it with me in Italian prior to passing away last year.

There is a story about a stream that flowed around many obstacles until it arrived at a desert.  The stream tried to cross, but its waters disappeared into the sand.

As the stream became increasingly frustrated with the situation, it heard a voice.

The voice said, ‘The wind crosses the desert.  So can the stream.’

The stream protested, ‘The wind can fly but I cannot.’

The voice responded, ‘Let yourself be absorbed by the wind.’

The stream rebelled. ‘I want to remain the same stream I am today.’

‘Not possible,’ said the voice.  ‘But your essence can be carried away and become a stream again.  You’ve forgotten your essence.’  The stream remembered dimly that she had once been held in the wind.  She let her vapor rise into the arms of the wind, which carried it across the desert and then let it fall in the mountains.  There it again became a stream.

Grads of 2011, never forget that your essence is your fundamental sense of compassion and love – this is what you are now the carriers of as you cross this stage – this threshold – into what your life will be.

On behalf of John Oliver, of family and community, we are saying “congratulations” for all you have accomplished.   Our hope is that you go forward and share with others what you have discovered and developed here at JO: that strength and fortitude can only come though meaningful and shared emotions; that loving and compassionate relationships are the primary medium for success.

I look at you now as I did for the first time three years ago and, as always, I give you my heart and we give you our love.  Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.  

Thank you

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