The Art Of Minimalism

As the current headmaster of Robert Land Academy, I would like to welcome all of you to this first in our history, a virtual graduation ceremony.  The last few months have seen many challenges for all of us.  We have relied upon extraordinary efforts by staff to convert our academic program to distance learning.  In seven working days we were able to make available virtual classrooms in real time, reach out to support students and parents at home while meeting the needs of boys who remained on campus under the auspices of providing an essential service.  While teachers taught from home, operational and administrative staff came to work each day and did whatever was necessary to keep things working.  I am proud of what the staff here were able to accomplish under great pressure and the most difficult of circumstances.   The level of selfless dedication to this school and its students has been inspiring.  But so too has been the active participation of members of the Board of Governors who have and continue to volunteer their time to provide guidance and support to the school.  We are honoured to have both men and women on the Board who habitually go above and beyond in their efforts to provide leadership and expertise in service of the Academy.

What you may ask is the reason for this level of co-operation and dedication? The answer is simple.  The tie that binds all of us is a belief in what we are doing.  This is a belief that has come about as a result of the direct experience of witnessing year after year of successes, not given to boys, but earned by their effort, resolve and latent ability.   Unlike programs that treat adolescent males as children, we approach them as young men and adults in the making.  Success can only be meaningful when accompanied by the possibility of failure.  As one author put it “Rewarding merit implies treating people as adults, whereas magicking away the sense of failure is motivated by the desire to treat them as children.”

Nurtured and directed within a unique program by unique individuals, Robert Land Academy has provided an opportunity for young men that stands alone within the range of educational alternatives.  As such, there is a shared belief that the world is richer through its existence and that in its absence there would be nothing of its equal to take its place.  Private schools always have been and continue to be the true pioneers in education and educational reform.  The fragility of human existence is mirrored by an equal fragility of unique schools and programs.  Their continuation, if taken for granted, results in extinction and their existence, if it is to be sustained, requires skilled husbandry and dedication.

Support from within has also been met with support from without and so it is that parents and students were and remain our greatest advocates.  Graduates and ex-students realized at the time or came to realize in time, the benefits they had derived from being at the Academy.  Although most of them are now convinced that the program here is now much softer than it used to be, the majority of boys currently enroled believe that it is much harder than it should be.  No doubt they too will complain about the future softening of the program.  However, there is consistency in this if you look for it.  And so thank you to all for your participation in this ongoing experiment that is Robert Land Academy and congratulations to all for the shared responsibility in making possible the successes celebrated today.

I would like to now address the graduating class with a short presentation entitled “Rymes” for reasons that I hope will become obvious through its delivery.

For those of you who are graduating today, it is a day in your life that you will long remember not so much as the end of high school but rather as the true beginning of your entry into adulthood.   All of your past memories and work has now come together to form this moment in the present which, like all of our present moments have moved from the future to now and will shortly pass into the past. Beyond the events of your personal history, there are those current events around you that qualify for the history books and about which your children will read.  As we speak, hundreds of thousands of people are dead from the Covid19 virus with many more to follow in the coming weeks and months.   Tens of thousands of people are staging mass demonstrations throughout the United States and the world demanding an end to racism.  These are the times in which you are now living and in which your personal history is taking place.

Most of you never liked history much, especially anything that dealt with events before you were born.  Henry Ford announced that “History is more or less Bunk”.  The German philosopher Hegel remarked that “What we learn from history is that we do not learn from history” and Mark Twain concluded that “History never repeats itself but it does rhyme”.  In the same manner that each year’s graduation is much the same, the players are always different.  Each year rhymes with the previous year but each is distinctive in its uniqueness.  And so it is with each of you, bound together by an event in common but separated inexorably by virtue of your own individual identity,that you rhyme with the past 41 years of graduating classes.

When you think back at this year, it will be impossible to do so without remembering how the world changed overnight and how a small invisible virus originating thousands of miles away would transform the world around you in a matter of a few short weeks and months.  Something like this happened in 1918 to my grandparents.   After suffering through the death and destruction of world war one on the battlefields of Europe, they were part of a generation who experienced the Spanish Flu.  That pandemic that saw some 500 million people infected and between 50 and 100 million deaths before it passed into the history books.  The same history books that most of you found to be totally uninteresting.  However, that was because in your experience, it had nothing to rhyme with —-until now.

As this most recent pandemic has unfolded, what has been instructive is to compare how individual countries, cultures and leaders have responded to the challenges.  In comparing countries like South Korea and New Zealand with other countries like Brazil and the United States glaring contrasts emerge.  The results have shown themselves as laying bare the inherent weaknesses intellectual, emotional and moral that characterize the responses that have inevitably lead to the predictable results.  First, the inability to think through and clearly identify the nature of a problem.  Secondly, the emotional tendency to suppress, ignore and even falsify facts in the service of supporting beliefs that we wish to retain and denying a reality that we refuse to confront.  Thirdly, adherence to false priorities giving rise to the tendency to minimize the pain and suffering of others in the interests of our own material comfort and gain.  So the trilogy of blindness, stupidity and self-absorption combine to bring about failure, ignorance and suffering.

What is true in the macrocosm is also true in the microcosm.   The changes about you and within you will require (a) the ability to think clearly (b) the possession of the facts and knowledge upon which to make sound conclusions (c) the self-control and inner discipline to follow through with decisions and (d) the emotional depth to be able to provide meaning and direction in life.  The ability to respond quickly and appropriately to change is essential to the survival of the individual as it is to the survival of the species.  Of equal importance is the quality of that survival since for life to be lived well it must also be worth living.

The world you now leave after high school is a changed world that will require you to also change to meet its demands. The world is not only changed but also constantly changing varying only in the speed of those changes.  Time may appear to stand still and circumstances remain unchanged but this is an illusion.  More than five hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus remarked that you can never walk into the same river twice.  A world constantly in flux requires a mind constantly able to adapt.  Failure to do so will spell disaster.  With skill and resolve, you will learn to be able to steer your ship.  You cannot however direct the current.  Most importantly, being able to utilize the force of the current to guide you should never give way to the belief that you indeed control it.

The mass demonstrations and protests that are now taking place demanding change are bringing attention to the barriers that exist between people.   This is a result of focusing on differences that divide us at the expense of commonalities that unite us.  Given the diversity of nationality, race and religions that you have experienced at this school, you have come to a better understanding of each other through the sharing of common experiences.  This is a growth that once started subsequent experience must needs build upon.  Just as history never repeats itself exactly but rhymes, so humanity never duplicate itself exactly but rhymes.  This resonates with a fundamental dialectic of human experience in the form of unity and diversity.  Both form polarities of the same dynamic.  It is important that while celebrating your uniqueness that you never forget the communal brotherhood that defines your humanity.

So what I want to leave you with on this day is to stress the importance of change as a theme in life, change as a fact in life and indeed change as itself being life.  Our response to it defines us and in the end becomes us.  To embrace change is to embrace life and you are embarking today on the rest of the voyage that will be uniquely yours while rhyming with those around you.  Go out into the history that surrounds us and is in the making and become a part of it.  Winston Churchill remarked after the success of the Battle of Britain that this was not the end, nor the beginning of the end but rather the end of the beginning.  Today marks your end of the beginning.  There is more to come.  Embrace the challenge and may you find happiness and fulfillment through your own distinctive rhyme.

Thank you.

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