by Bernie Noe, head of school
Following is an excerpt from Head of School Bernie Noe’s speech at Commencement 2019.
… Class of 2019, you have learned a lot from your amazing teachers, coaches, and staff members while at Lakeside. And of course there is so much more you will learn over the course of your lives, as has been and is the case with all of us assembled here today. In my final set of remarks to you, I want to recommend three areas for your continued growth.
First, continue to develop your sense of reverence, your capacity to see mystery in the world, to feel awe and deep respect. I believe we have done an exceptionally good job of teaching you all how to apply reason in life, how to think critically, how to solve myriad problems, but I do not think we talked to you enough about reverence. In the words of author Paul Woodruff, “Without reverence things fall apart.” Without reverence, a house is not a home, forests are just cash and lumber, a family dinner is just food. Without reverence, we may think that any project that did not get immediate results was irrational and a waste of time, energy, and money. Without reverence, everything becomes for us the return on our investment. Without reverence, your education at Lakeside is just a means to an end. Without reverence, all of us here today miss the very essence of life. I believe we all understand that it is those moments of reverence that give life its meaning and joy: viewing a stunning landscape; the birth of a child; voting, yes voting out of the deep respect – the reverence – we have for life in a democratic society. Class of 2019, I hope this graduation day inspires reverence in you: reverence for all the love and support it has taken to get you to this point in your lives. Reverence for what you have learned, the friendships you have formed. And deep respect, even awe, for your teachers.
Class of 2019, and all of us, we have to cultivate our capacity for reverence throughout our lives, which means taking the time to notice beauty that is right in front of us, taking the time to develop a deep respect for truth in all of its many forms, taking the time to contemplate the mystery of. Class of 2019, you will have to work at this. You will all have to put down your phones and pay attention to the moment you are in. You graduate into a world that values fame, wealth, power, and achievement. Being a reverential person is countercultural.
For 34 years Tom Doelger has taught Lakeside students with reverence for the beauty of literature, for clear and lucid writing, and for the wonder of the natural world through the many trips he has led to the Utah Badlands. He has embodied reverence in his life at this school: reverence for you, his students; reverence for the profession of teaching; and reverence for a life well lived. So, class of 2019, you have a role model for reverence in Tom, and in so many others at Lakeside who have taught you during your time at this school.
So, continue to cultivate your sense of mystery, awe, and respect.
The second area for your continued growth is somewhat related to the first. Live your lives as simply as you can, keeping your needs and wants to a minimum. If you can do this you will have more time for people you love, causes you believe in, work that you find meaningful and of, course, for reverence.
To live a simple life will mean placing some limits on your material needs, not increasing your needs throughout your life just because you can. I suggest that at some point in the near future, maybe a few years out of college, you figure out what you need to make yourself happy and then cap your needs. Sure, set a high cap – not a ridiculous one, but high – but cap your needs. If you find yourselves always buying a bigger and better model of something you already own, you are not living as simply as you want. You grew up in a wealth- and prestige-obsessed era, so you will really have to work at not getting taken in by the notion that more is always better. It is not. We all want our basic needs met. But beyond a certain point, your possessions will end up owning you rather than the other way around.
Also limit your choices in other areas. How many clothing options do you want to think about each day, how many news sources? How much social media? The tyranny of too much choice will definitely complicate your lives and make you feel overwhelmed and even miserable.
Consider your time as the one resource that you cannot produce more of and know that to live simply, you will have to learn to spend your time as wisely as possible, doing those things in life that align with your deepest values. If you commit to too many things in life, you will end up doing none of them well. You will find this personally frustrating, as will others who depend on your commitment, and you will never really put your weight down in any one area and make a difference. Remember, to be overcommitted is really to be under-committed.
Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Emperor of All Maladies” and The Gene,” who spoke at Lakeside this year, recently wrote an article on professional burnout, concluding that the person who burns out is not the one who works the hardest or even the longest hours, but the one whose values do not align with how they are spending their time. Align your values with your time, and know that you cannot do it all.
For 35 years Chip Mehring has led the Outdoor Program at Lakeside School. Chip loves what he does. His values are deeply aligned with how he spends his time, and generations of Lakeside students have benefitted from his amazing commitment. In fact, the Outdoor Program that Chip has built is the program of the school most often cited by Lakeside alumni as having been transformative for them. Especially transformed were those who thought they did not like outdoor life. Chip brought an elegant simplicity to the Outdoor Program that has made it a wonderful and safe program for generations of Lakesiders. All of you who have gone on an outdoor trip have experienced the simplicity of life pared down to the basics and I hope also experienced a sense of reverence for where you were and what you were seeing. We all have a model of elegant simplicity in action with Chip.
So, class of 2019, of course make money, live a comfortable life, but cap your needs and align your time with your values.
Finally, continue to remember that life is not all about you, that you have a responsibility to leave this world a better place for others than you found it. Whatever your stage in life, whatever your personal resources of time, energy, and money, wherever you live in the world, be involved in some activity or cause that benefits others. It does not have to be grand; often it won’t be. You do not have to be recognized for what you have done and often you won’t be. It may not look great on your resume and often it won’t. And, of course, none of that matters because life is not all about you.
Remember that everyone on this planet is just like you. Everyone wants a decent standard of living for their family and hopes for a bright future. Immigrants at the border hoping to enter this country want this, unemployed factory workers throughout the country want this, people in the red states and blue states want this. Everyone is just like you and you are just like them. And do not listen to any individual, any political party, any ideology that tells you that you are different, better, or somehow superior, that wants to divide you into them and us. Everyone across this country, and around the globe, wants what you want: a decent standard of living and a bright future. I hope, Class of 2019, that all of you will work to create a more just and equitable America and more just and equitable world.
I have tremendous respect for your class not because of your grades, or college acceptances, or club and team leadership, or internships, or awards that you have won. In my estimation you are a great class because so many of you in hundreds of ways, both big and small, year in and year out during your time at this school, have demonstrated what it means to support fellow class members and underclassmen. You set a tone of caring, kindness, and love for this entire community and it made a huge difference.
Bob Henry is retiring from Lakeside this year. I have worked with Bob for 20 years and every year of those two decades he has devoted his time, love, and energy into being a great classroom teacher, into doing all that he could to make us a truly inclusive community, into using his disc jockey skills to make sure you have had music to listen to as you arrive at school every Friday morning. Bob extended himself to so many students he knew were struggling, meeting them where they were and walking along side those students for countless hours until they were back on track. And it was never about Bob. You couldn’t find him when the thank yous and praise and awards were happening. It’s the Bobs of this world that make life better for all of us. We all want to work with them and have them for friends. Because of Bob, we are a more just and equitable school.
So, let’s all go into the summer and off into life internalizing that life is not all about us but rather about what we are doing to create a more just and equitable world for others.
Class of 2019, you leave this school today with our love and respect. Go out from here living lives of reverence, simplicity, and service to others. It has been a privilege to know and work with all of you. My love and congratulations to each and every one of you.