Class of 2018 Graduation Remarks by Head of School Tom Gibian

The following text is excerpted from remarks made by Head of School at the SSFS Class of 2018 Graduation ceremony at Sandy Spring Friends School on June 9. 2018. You can view video of the entire graduation ceremony on our YouTube Channel here.   

Tom Gibian, Head of School

Tom Gibian, SSFS Head of School

Welcome everyone to our celebration for, of, and by our students, our children, our grandchildren, our brothers and sisters and our friends. This is their day as they continue their journey to the time, closer now than ever before, when it will be their world. Their world to heal, to understand, to appreciate, to explore, to lead and to love.

Will they be able to make heads or tails of it? Is their world welcoming, safe, full of opportunities, gorgeous, reasonably fair and moving in the right direction? Or is it troubled, dark, inequitable, warming, dangerous and in decline?

It depends. If you look at the data, the historical record generated over the past few thousand years, from the time we began to store grain, build cities, leave a written record of our accomplishments, approach rather than flee from strangers, make art, and embellish epic poems, we can trace a choppy line with a clear upward trajectory. So yes, compared to any other time over the past four or five millennia, we live longer, more peaceful lives. We are less likely to die in childbirth, on the battlefield, as a result of violence or bugs than any other time. We disinfect our hands with Purell; unlike your parents or grandparents you probably do not bathe in the same bath water as your siblings, and it is always hot. We can brush our teeth with toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth and without a trace of non-organically derived materials before exercising using a protocol we downloaded from the internet (unless we rely on a personal trainer). Smart phones and cable TV with 800 channels are ubiquitous. We have never had it so good.

The data also reveals some cracks. Income inequality is on the rise, and we don’t need history to tell us this is not a good thing. We continue to burn fossil fuels while we rebuild our twice-flooded homes. We consider legislation to make schools safer while promoting ownership of weapons designed for combat. Lately, our concept of intergenerational equity is to reduce taxes to the immediate benefit of those who have contributed the most money, often anonymously, to the political campaigns of our representatives while we borrow trillions of dollars to be conveniently repaid by future generations at a time well after our elected officials have retired and are no longer in office.

I remember visiting Tunisia and going to see a Roman archeological site. As you approach it, you can see how some of the beautifully carved stones that had been part of ancient temples had been repurposed by shepherds to build hovels for their goats. I think about this when our political elites can’t summon the will to repair our infrastructure, let alone adequately fund public education.

I will not lie; we have left a lot for you to do, more than we intended. But we have seen to it that you have acquired a set of skills that are and will always be in great demand. You are respectful, you collaborate, you listen, you take turns, you lead, you support one another, you are likable and, not surprisingly, you like one another. You have brought joy to those who know you and others, not yet met, are destined to become your great friends.

So there you have it Class of 2018. Your parents and the other angels that have been looking after you have done much for you–not the least of which was to guide you to and through Sandy Spring Friends School. Here, you have been surrounded by adults who care about you, are interested in what you think, and have encouraged you to wonder, to daydream, to question, to debate, and to seek a higher truth. We do this knowing that you will be restless, audacious, questioning, and brave. You will let your lives speak, and you will make us proud.

Graduates, I am going to turn to your parents and to your younger siblings and the others who are here today and who love you and, therefore, are anticipating the day in the not too distant future when you are going to get in cars, trains, and planes and leave them, and you will be excited and a little sad, and they will be excited and inconsolably sad. This is good and as it should be, biologically speaking. These are our young, and it is imperative that they separate, and it can no longer be postponed. Sandy Spring graduates: please show some compassion; it is not easy for them and, truth be told, it is not easy for me either.

Parents: you have done well. You have had opportunities to watch as your children have walked their paths and you have, mostly, resisted the urge to clear the way of obstacles and challenges. Now, because you did not prepare the path for your child but, instead, prepared your child for the path, the Class of 2018 is ready for the future.

Graduates: I have already mentioned that our world is complex and mysterious as it co-exists full of both the sacred and the profane. Darkness and Light. So I want to give you some final words, a light saber really, to help you along the way. It is a koan. Never quit and learn to let go. Apply this by pursuing your passion with reckless abandon while practicing moderation in all things. It is a Quaker thing, but we got it from Socrates so it has survived the test of time.

Robert Frost described home as “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” This place is also your home. We will miss you, we will think of you often and you will be always welcomed. We will keep the porch light on for you.

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