Serving a World in Need

Today is graduation day at All Saints’ Episcopal Day School.  Below is the letter I wrote to our 2017 graduates that is published in this year’s yearbook.  I suggest that the circumstances in the world remain as daunting as when this reflection was written.

 

Dear Members of the Class of 2017,

Because of deadlines necessary for publication of our yearbook in a timely fashion, I write this annual message to graduates months before graduation.  In fact, I am composing this letter on a peaceful morning on a quiet campus during the Christmas break on one of the last days of 2016.  I bring that up because of the many expressions I have seen recently on social media that this year cannot end soon enough.  In a sense that is certainly understandable in light of the events of the year: unspeakable violence at home and abroad, an emotionally tumultuous election season, and the deaths of an unusually high number of iconic figures.

2016 will be a memory by the time you read this, and the rest of your lives will await you.  Whether or not you were in the “good riddance” segment of the population when 2016 ended, I urge each of you to resist such a temptation going forward no matter the circumstances of any particular year, month, day, or hour.  We reject the gift of time at our peril, and- may I suggest in light of our mission statement- at the world’s peril.  Especially in light of rather than in spite of the disturbing events in our world, it is all the more important that you embrace our fond hope for you “to lead fruitful lives and to serve a world in need.”  We best not reject or attempt to escape a world in need (which will always be the case until the end of time), but rather we do well to serve that world in any way that is true to our best selves.

So I encourage you to continue to move forward and to love and embrace the world.  Resist the temptation to disengage in the face of challenges, difficulties, and tragic events.  My wish for you is one that Jonathan Swift expressed many years ago:

May you live all the days of your life.

Until next time,
Leo

Letter From Mr. Dressel

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
-Mary Oliver

Dear Members of the Class of 2016,

The words above from award-winning American poet Mary Oliver have served as a particular guidepost for me this year.  Students and educators alike need to add a bit of renewed inspiration and energy every year to make certain that our passion matches the possibilities that await us in school – and in life.

Graduations are traditional moments when graduates can expect (and perhaps dread) advice from their elders.  The words above from the poet follow that structure, and I suggest that her advice can be embraced.  Mary Oliver’s world view is that nature and the ordinary in life provide pathways to profundity, meaning and inspiration.  Implied in her words is her recognition of our tendency to overcomplicate life and to miss the blessings in the everyday.

So I urge you to keep it simple as you move to the next stage of your lives and your education.  Holding fast to those seven unadorned words can work wonders for you.

Pay attention.
Mary Oliver’s words carry much different significance and intent than an identical admonition from a teacher.  Consciously open your senses to the world in which you wake each day, and each day will bring blessing, consolation and opportunity to you.

Be astonished.
Resist the temptation to become jaded, guarded, and – even worse- cynical.  Find joy in the routine, the familiar, the ordinary, the unassuming.  Every day will bring much to savor if we are prepared to be amazed.

Tell about it.
Share your blessings so others can be blessed.  Embrace the world with gratitude and share that gratitude with others.   Don’t be shy about sharing your joy of living with family, friends, and strangers alike.

Keeping things simple can make an amazing positive difference in your life.  Hall of Fame Yankee catcher and accidental philosopher Yogi Berra died early in your eighth grade year.  He was not eloquent in the manner of Mary Oliver, but his nuggets of wisdom echo some of her own.  As Yogi reminded us: You can observe a lot by just watching.

With great affection and appreciation,

Leo P. Dressel
Head of School

Group

All Saints’ Class of 2016