Thank you Chaney, Fay, members of the board, Rick, faculty, staff, parents, alums, friends, all of those gathered to celebrate the class of 2019, and … soon-to-be graduates!

As Chaney just said, this is my last year at Concord Academy. Turns out New Hampshire was looking for a new old man in the mountain, and I figured it might be a good gig. And, well, #thecoldneverbotheredmeanyway.

In a collection of essays called Staying Put, Scott Russell Sanders shares this thought on having a sense of place:

As we walk our own ground, on foot or in mind, we need to be able to recite stories about hills and trees and animals, stories that root us in this place and keep it alive. The sounds we make, the patterns we draw, the plots we trace may be as native to the land as deer trails or bird songs. The more fully we belong to our place, the more likely that our place will survive without damage. We cannot create myth from scratch, but we can recover or fashion stories that help us see where we are, how others have lived here, how we ourselves should live.

As I thought about what I might say today, as I get ready to do my own version of commencing with the class of 2019, I thought about how teaching at CA reinforced Sanders’ idea of rootedness. Nature writers often consider the notion that learning a place well reintroduces us to the earth around us.

I want to make the case that being awake to your surroundings is essential. You and the world both need that attention and connection. Bearing witness to your experience makes it less likely that others will tell your story.

Many of the paths that lead from a school like this are routes encouraging movement, a nomadic existence sometimes shaped by the temptation to believe that each landing spot is only temporary, that there is some next step necessary to allow you to arrive at some eventual conclusion that is good and worthy.

You don’t have to live that way.

It’s not the moving that is necessarily the problem, but the risk of not caring about the places where we land. In the extreme, I’ve been interested in the ways that disparate authors come to the same conclusion on this score. Wallace Stegner warns us against the Boomers, Ta-Nehisi Coates the Dreamers, Daniel Quinn the Takers. Each presents a model of those who extract from a landscape or community without understanding the consequences of that extraction, those who are disconnected from place, those who can’t see beyond themselves, “to the incalculable disadvantage,” as Wendell Berry says, “of the world and every living thing in it.”

Concord Academy was the first place I’ve worked where I didn’t almost immediately imagine a next step, or some reason that I would no doubt need to move on. Parenthood, moving closer to family, a great school with wonderful colleagues in a great part of the country all contributed to a sense that this was a place where I would hunker down.

As the days of school at CA and runs, walks and paddles around town accumulated patterns began to emerge. Some early days in each school year bring chapels where sun streams through the windows in a way that elevates whatever message that’s shared at the podium. Nearly every step of Walden and Estabrook Woods, from the Lorax to Kimball’s, almost every paddle stroke from Fairhaven Bay to North Bridge is now familiar.

Fall afternoons at Moriarty are favored with golden light that makes the small bank of bleachers cast a shadow halfway across the field. On the walk to my office in late autumn, the frost shadow the SHAC casts on upper field reminds me I need to wear another layer. I wait each year for cedar waxwings to come and pick berries off of the two trees outside my office on the Stu-Fac patio, typically in a late winter snowstorm when there is little else to eat. Around that time, some gray days cause our postures to sag as we trudge silently into announcements, hoping for spring break to come soon. A few weeks later, I begin to anticipate the first warm rain of spring, when I will hear the first peepers signal that winter is nearly over. Ground bees hover over the grass at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in April. Blooms on the trees outside the MAC bring honeybees in May. Right before graduation, when a Frisbee hits the big pines on the quad a cloud of pollen in the shape of the disturbed branches sends many of us to the health center for allergy medicine. Soon after graduation, summer performances on the lawn of the Concord Public Library come unbidden into the windows of Lee House.

And not that I don’t love a Christmas Revel as much as the next guy, but there’s nothing quite like the third encore of a Morris Dance performance to make you choose to close the window on a warm summer evening. But I digress!

These details meld into my sense of this place, appreciation morphing into a level of care that makes me protective of those

experiences. When you are in a town, or an apartment, or in a job where soon after you arrive you’re already looking to the next step you risk missing the present, missing things that lead you to care — for people, for places, for ideas.

Even or especially if you know you’ll leave soon, get to know people who have settled in that place. Find a spot or two that may become meaningful to you. Notice differences between places you know and your new setting. Be open.

What I most appreciate about the time, seniors, that we’ve shared together at CA is that you have done a remarkable amount of caring for this place. In a time you didn’t choose, with more than enough distraction forced on you by technology and world events, you’ve made stands of various sizes, each of which is important. You’ve chosen to care enough to want to share what you value. Sustained devotion, whether for reasons profound or less so, is something I’ve admired in you. You’ve spoken up for things that matter to you, and made the continuing effort over time to make connections across groups. I’ll probably repeat some groups that have already been mentioned today, but the Sunrise movement, Student Action for Social Justice, LAN parties, PACrats, affinity groups, Star Wars club, DEMONs, big data and clubs, teams, ensembles and informal groups too numerous to mention are all things about which you’ve cared enough to preserve and improve, and to pass on to others now

that you’re moving on. Caring enough to share, to look outward instead of inward, to make connection rather than seek isolation, is something to take away from CA, a wonderful response to this moment, and behavior that you’ve taken to new levels this year.

So, soon-to-be graduates, celebrate what you’ve done here, and sometime this summer begin to consider what you want to take away from here. You’ve established some good habits that can become through lines that will connect you with each other, and with the larger group of CA alums who will welcome you into the world.

To close, I want to share a couple of thoughts of Terry Tempest Williams.

This is what we can promise the future: a legacy of care. That we will be good stewards and not take too much or give back too little. [1]

Our survival, the vitality of the planet depends on mental flexibility and emotional acuity. Hands raised. Hands put to work. We can improvise. We can create without a map. And we don’t have to live in isolation. The gift of an attentive life is the ability to recognize patterns and find our way toward a unity built on empathy. Empathy becomes the path that leads us from the margins to the center of concern…

Finding beauty in a broken world becomes more than the art of assemblage. It is the work of daring contemplation that inspires action. [2]

I am so grateful to have found Concord Academy to be a place that nurtures contemplation that inspires action. Class of 2019, let’s take these ideas on the road and share them with others. And let’s return to this place that has meant so much to us.

Best, best luck, and thank you!

1. Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land
2. Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World

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Read our story about Commencement 2019 for more details about the ceremony.

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