2017 Commencement Address

Mr. Ranger, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, parents, grandparents, alumni, friends, and most importantly, seniors – welcome. We gather each year at this time to reflect on the academic year just completed and to honor and say farewell to the graduating class. This is a time for looking forward and for celebrating all that you – Class of 2017 – have accomplished. 

My remarks will be brief. This year, the focus has been on our students and we have let their voices set the tone from the podium. As you have heard, we can learn a lot from our students when we take the time to listen.

However, Mr. Ranger,  I can’t let the moment of your last commencement here as a Board member pass without recognizing the inspirational leadership and vision that marked your tenure.

Mike has been on the Board since 2004. 

During that time, he and his wife, Virginia, have been instrumental in the growth of MBS and are largely responsible for the strength of reputation that we enjoy today.

He has been a mentor and friend to my wife, Darcy, and to me.

As President of the Board, he has steered us through the beginning stages of a very successful campaign. 

Most importantly, he and Virginia sent their two children, Maggie and Alex, to MBS. His vision and goal was to help MBS develop into a school where the young men and women who sit before you today are proud to say that they attended and graduated from MBS, and for that, we all thank you. 

In his honor, we will have an annual award, starting next year, that will be given to the senior who shows extraordinary leadership during his or her time at MBS.

Now, to the graduates. As I am apt to do every year, I would like to impart some advice on how to have a fulfilling college experience to our departing seniors and to their parents one last time. 

Get involved in activities beyond the classroom. You never know what is going to hook you or what is going to fail you, and the outside-of-the-classroom opportunities in college are beyond your imagination - by engaging, you are contributing.

Harvard statistician Richard Light spent ten years gathering statistics on college students, and he found that students involved in outside-of-classroom activities are far happier with their college experience than those who focus solely on academics.  His findings revealed that a substantial commitment to one or two activities – including volunteer work--has no adverse relationship on grades and has a strong relationship to overall satisfaction with college life. Needless to say, these skills will serve you in the work place as well.

Take the risk of signing up for classes that have frequent assessments.  Yes, frequent assessments. Although it may be scary, go for classes that are highly structured and have frequent quizzes and short assignments.  Richard Light also found that students in highly structured classes tend to be happier and more engaged than students in less structured classes that have only a midterm and a final.  

Treat office hours like gold.  Go see your professors during office hours. This simple act could profoundly change your college experience and your life after college.   When your professors hand out their syllabi, memorize their office hours, and for the first three weeks of class, get in the habit of seizing the opportunity for one-on-one time with your professors.

Finally,  Don’t forget your family.  Call often—and not just when you need money.

Now – for the parents:

Michael Thompson has a term that he calls “childsickness,” which is the parental version of homesickness for children.  As parents, we have all experienced “childsickness,” and we will probably continue to have various versions of it throughout our lives even as our children move away and become increasingly independent.  With that in mind, I have some advice for parents. 

Remember that when they unload their troubles to you on the phone, they often feel better, and you usually feel worse.  It’s funny how sometimes those long distance calls can focus on the hard things and leave out all the fun they are having.  

Embrace your child’s mixed signals as part of the college process.  Sometimes within the same time frame our children may signal to us the need for independence and in the very next minute signal they would like some nurturing.  You are not crazy, and neither are they.  This is called growing towards independence.  It can be confusing and hard for both our children and for us, but it’s all part of the college process.

Find a way to participate in your child’s college experience without going overboard.  You are making sacrifices to allow your child to go to college, and you deserve to know what is going on in college.  But the fact is, the school doesn’t send you their grades; the infirmary will not give you information about them, and you are completely boxed out of steady communications from the school regarding your child despite the fact that you are most likely footing the bill!

You are sacrificing a great deal without much of a say of what’s going on.  Make sure you get to join in the fun now and then!

That is enough advice for today.

Finally, I have a specific question for the graduates of Morristown-Beard School:  What do I want you, as students, to remember from your time at MBS?  When you think back on your years here, what will you take with you?

I hope you will take with you from MBS, from this place, your clear sense of self that your teachers foster in you every day.

I hope you will take with you an appreciation for the value of hard work in and of itself.  I know you will do this because I have seen you happily roll up your sleeves and stretch yourselves in the classroom, on the athletic fields and on this stage.  Additionally, I have faith that you will continue to value hard work because you witness every day the extraordinary hard work of your parents.  I have never seen such a hardworking community of parents who offer tremendous support, time, and energy to allow you to be here.

I hope you will continue to nurture a passion for giving to the greater good, and this starts with giving to each other in the small moments of every day. 

As has been so eloquently stated by our brilliant students, my ultimate hope for what you students will take with you is the ability to cherish the present.  While it is the past that shapes us, we need to remember and celebrate the here and now. The past is fixed and unchanging, but the present offers us the ability to create.  The present is malleable.  It is here with us now.  Seize it and shape it.  

So to the graduates – go forth and continue the work that you began here - continue to work for the greater good. Congratulations to the Class of 2017.  We are all very proud of you.


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