I hope you are enjoying your week and excited for the weeks ahead. I can’t believe the summer is already upon us. I am looking forward to the slower pace of the season. While I’ll still spend a good deal of time at Dawson, there is usually time and opportunity to take a step back, reflect, and make plans for making the school even greater than it already is – always a fun activity!
As always, the end of the year brought the opportunity to celebrate our students, particularly those moving on from their divisions. In one day, we had the Eighth Grade Moving Up Ceremony, as well as the Fourth Grade Closing Ceremony. Both events provided opportunities to honor students in all grades for their hard work and citizenship. Most importantly, though, each “graduating” student had the chance to shine and be recognized.
For the ceremony in the Lower School, fourth grade teachers helped prepare for the event by asking students about their memories from their time in Lower School. Each student stood at the microphone to share a memory. At the end of the ceremony, students continued the longstanding tradition of singing “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music, something that easily brings a tear to many eyes!
For the Moving Up Ceremony in Middle School, we gave out some individual awards for academics, citizenship, and leadership. But more importantly, as eighth graders were called up to receive their certificates, an accolade was read, reminding students of the individual contributions they have each made to our middle school community. This is my favorite part of the ceremony, and something I love doing in the weeks leading up to it. First, I cannot thank enough the middle school faculty, who take the time to write me notes about each student and what makes them unique. Learning how different student are viewed from multiple perspectives is always fun. And then I love taking those notes, along with my own observations, and putting them together into accolades. It’s a lovely experience to get to take the time to really think about how each student has made a difference, and it’s hard not to tear up when I read these at the Moving Up Day.
I also enjoy figuring out what I want to say to our eighth graders as they embark on the next stage of their lives. This year, we had had quite a lot of conversation about both Hamilton and Moana, and so it only made sense that I went there for material. If you’d like to read what I said, the text of the speech is below.
Finally, we have a tradition of honoring our eighth graders at the talent show which takes place the day before Moving Up Day. This year, we did a live performance, taking the song “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, and changing the lyrics to be about the eighth grade class. As a lead-in to the performance, we made a short movie that used songs from Hamilton and Moana. While I don’t have the live performance to show you, I thought you might enjoy seeing the video.
I hope you have a fantastic summer!
Link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_I6KQu6U24&t=2s
Text of Moving Up Day speech:
I’d like to thank all of you for being here today: parents, faculty, and, students. Most importantly, I want to honor the students sitting in front of me: the Class of 2021.
Where to begin? I’ve been thinking a lot about the most appropriate way to honor you all and how best to prepare you to go off to the Upper School. And when I’m thinking, I like to listen to music. As many of you know, my musical choices of late involve a certain person named Lin-Manuel Miranda. For those of you who don’t know who that is, he is the writer of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton, as well as the originator of the title role. While the show has been on Broadway for close to two years, securing tickets is next to impossible without laying down a tidy sum. But Miranda hasn’t sat on his laurels with the success of Hamilton. Somehow, while he was in the process of putting Hamilton on Broadway, he found the time to write the music and lyrics for the animated Disney film that came out in the fall, Moana. Meanwhile, I’ve somehow found the time in the last year to listen to Hamilton so frequently that I could probably sing the entire musical, start to finish, right here, right now.
Okay, just kidding, I would never put you through that. But in listening to Hamilton and Moana while thinking about you eighth graders, I began to notice similarities between the title characters, and I realized that both the musical and the film are filled with multiple lessons that are really quite lovely, and, therefore, I plan to impart these upon you today.
First of all, let’s look at how these characters are alike. Both Alexander Hamilton and Moana are born on tropical islands. And both of them know, in their heart of hearts, that in order to truly be their authentic selves, they need to leave their island behind. An orphan at age thirteen, Hamilton proved himself to be a talented writer, and this talent turned out to be his ticket out. For Moana, despite her father’s entreaties to remain on the island, she eventually listens to her heart (and to her grandmother) and takes to the seas in an effort to save her island from eventual destruction.
And now here you all are, having spent the last few years on the island of Middle School. On this island, you have made great friends, developed effective study habits, made mistakes, learned from your mistakes (hopefully), and discovered a great deal about who you are and what you believe. It’s not a coincidence that the final assignment in your English class is the This I Believe essay. Your middle school years are a time to reflect on your experiences thus far and to formulate ideas and beliefs that come from these experiences. You are truly finding your voices, and while that journey is by no means finished (I don’t think it ever is, really), you have really come into your own. And so, you are ready to leave our Middle School world and go out into the world. Whether you are moving across the ocean, across the country, across town, or just across the walkway to Henderson Hall, you are poised to experience new adventures in the years ahead.
There are many parts of Hamilton that resonate with me, but one that I’d like to focus on takes place when Hamilton moves to New York and meets his contemporaries. After hearing Aaron Burr talk about his plan to see which way the wind blows before taking a stand himself, Hamilton says, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?” Then, when his peers ask him who he is, he goes on to sing, “I am not throwing away my shot.” In this song, he explains who he is, why he’s great (Hamilton was not modest), and what he plans to do. He knows that he has been given an amazing opportunity by being sent to New York for an education, and he plans to take full advantage and make a difference in the world. Hamilton knew over two hundred years ago what psychologists have confirmed through extensive research: there is a direct link between living with purpose and leading a fulfilling, happy life. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but somehow we all still get wrapped up in the material aspects of our lives. If I only had that new pair of shoes, or if I could only go on that European vacation, I’d be happy. But we all know plenty of people who have lots of money and still seem very unhappy, and of course the inverse is true. My advice to you would be to figure out what it is you stand for, to find your purpose, to figure out how you can make a difference.
Moana does just this by leaving the island where she’s grown up, despite her father’s warnings that their people are meant to stay on the island. Even though she is told that her purpose is to stay, she listens to the voice inside of her that calls her to the sea, for this is her true purpose. Just like Hamilton, Moana knows that this is her shot – her chance to make a difference not just for herself but for the world around her. And so, as I send you off to new adventures in the upper school and beyond, I ask you, please to not throw away your shot. Look at every new situation as an opportunity – a chance to grow, to learn more about yourself and to discover who you truly are. Like Alexander Hamilton, you, too, are “young, scrappy, and hungry,” and these qualities will empower you to go after your dreams.
Those qualities – being “young, scrappy, and hungry” are what set Hamilton and Moana apart from their contemporaries, and they are what will set you apart as well. In our current society, it is very easy to spend the majority of our time consuming – whether that means consuming junk food, consuming through binge watching Netflix, or consuming social media. And this consumer culture encourages you to expect things from others and to point fingers when things don’t go your way. You may claim that you’re not good at math because your parents weren’t either, or that you made a mean comment to a classmate because they said something first. But, like Aaron Burr says, “I am the one thing in life I can control.” There is so much of your life that truly is out of your control – it might rain during a picnic, or someone might be unkind to you, or someone you love might get sick; you can’t control any of these curveballs that may come your way. But what you absolutely can control is how you respond. You can choose to complain and blame others for your troubles, or you can look at each pitfall as some sort of opportunity – a way to learn more about yourself or about the world around you. And you can choose to be the kind of person who, rather than complain about things going wrong, find a solution.
In other words, you have the power to write your own story, and you shouldn’t let anyone else write it for you. It would be easy to look back at your life with “what if” questions: Moana could have stayed on the island and constantly wondered what if she had actually listened to the voice inside her. Or Alexander Hamilton could have remained a student rather than being a part of the American Revolution and wondered what if he had accepted the position as George Washington’s right hand man. Instead, they chose to follow their hearts, to forge their own paths, and to write their own stories.
As you look ahead to the next chapter of your lives, I hope you will venture forth into uncharted waters with optimism and resilience. I hope you will not throw away your shot and will instead seek out your own purpose in life. And I hope, more than anything, that you will write your own stories. Knowing each of you, those are some stories that I can’t wait to read. Thank you.