Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Pine Cone for the Class of 2012

There’s a moment in one of my favorite novels that comes to mind this time of year. Just before Holden Caulfield leaves Pencey Prep, he stands on a hill, looking down at a football game on the field below. He says that he is “trying to feel some kind of a good-bye,” but he feels empty, having made no strong connections either to the school or the people he is leaving. To me, leaving a place feeling nothing is one of the saddest fates I can imagine. But everything I have seen and heard tells me that for most of you, the end of high school is unlike Holden’s experience. Where he left without being able to take anything of value with him as he departed, you have told me and each other of the many valuable memories, connections, and experiences that go with you as you leave school. You did so in many of your senior speeches, in my class the last day, and, I assume, during the Pine Cone ceremony last week. In many important ways, then, your experiences with PCDS and with each other have differed significantly from Holden’s as you feel your good-byes from the school.

            As you contemplate your future, therefore, I hope you also feel the importance of reflecting on all you’ve done the last few years to build those many connections. Remember the hard work, yes, and the preparation you have made for success in college, but also remember the friendships you've made, all the small moments you’ve shared with your classmates, your teachers, and your families while you were in high school. 

For now that you are saying—and feeling—your good-byes to PCDS, you take with you several powerful gifts. The first is the academic preparation you’ve made. Perhaps you already know what a rare gift you’ve been given by attending a school that pushed you as much as PCDS did. As you continue your studies over the next years, I think you will realize more and more that your intellect, your creativity, and your self-discipline are important tools for your future. Use them; they will take you far in life.

The second gift is the gift of memory. Once any experience is behind us, its importance is measured largely in terms of all the ways we remember it. Even though I missed the final campfire, I’m told many of you shared important memories with each other. Some of your memories are happy, some are sad, some are funny, all are more precious than you may realize. Cherish them and keep them strong.

The third gift you take with you is that of friendship, for nothing in life is more important than our connections to others. You’ve made some remarkable friendships with each other and with your teachers. It’s up to you what you do with those friendships from here on. I’m still in touch via Facebook and e-mail with my best friend from high school and with several friends from college, even though the daily contact of those friendships ended many years ago. My younger son, who graduated from PCDS twenty years ago, still maintains several friendships with his classmates. I hope each of you has a handful of friends with whom you keep close contact for many years.

Finally, I hope many of you will maintain and build on the friendships with teachers you have formed the last few years. Several of my most prized friendships are with former students with whom I’ve stayed in touch over the years, and it is my strong wish that I may add some of you to that list of good friends.

It’s been my pleasure to teach you, talk to you in the quad, listen to your speeches, read your journals, sit beside a campfire with you, hear your singing, see your art, watch your acting and your games. This letter is my pine cone to your class. Best wishes for happy, healthy, productive, loving lives.