Welcome back to those of you returning to Ridgeview. This is one of our largest upper school classes in Ridgeview’s history, and for those of you who are beginning at Ridgeview for the first time this year, this speech will be especially important.
You are embarking on an extraordinary journey regardless of whether you are aware of it or even capable of appreciating it. You, as a result of what happens here, will one day be able to live better – more fully and more deeply. Depending on your life experiences to date, that may or may not mean anything to you. It is not merely a matter of what you will learn here. It is a matter of how you will apply what you know to how you live.
For perhaps the last time in your lives, people are being made available to you who are of genuine good will, and who want to help you and make you more than you are. They are, through different means, different courses of study, and different avenues, preparing you to answer the big questions: What will justify your life and what will provide for the good life? Do not forget that whatever else your time here might be about, it is first and foremost about becoming capable of answering these questions.
That being said, we do many things here that are directed towards this larger and more complete end. We give you a broad exposure to ideas and information that have the shaped the world you have inherited and the world you will create.
We want someone who wants to be here. If you are here for someone else, this is going to be a tough road. You have to develop maturity through a force of will and begin making positive decisions that will shape your life. You cannot wait for this to happen of its own accord. The time for hiding behind your parents and expecting that poor choices will be excused because of your youth is rapidly coming to an end. If you wish for people to take you seriously, you must give them cause to do so. You must disprove the common view the public has of you and your generation as weak willed, weak minded, coddled, and emotionally devastated by every bump in the road of life. You must demonstrate real initiative, genuine and sustained dedication, and a commitment to excellence. It means, ultimately, that you must be progressing towards a capability to live out what you have taken from your Ridgeview education. Several things will count here: How you are seen, how you are heard, how you are understood, and how you are perceived.
Contrary to the public view, you are deeper than a trend and you are capable of holding yourself upright. The point of the dress code or the uniform for instance is not to make you the same. If it were capable of doing that, you would be among the weakest sorts of people imaginable, and you are not. Instead, the purpose of it is to refocus you on those expressions of individuality which are meaningful reflections of who you are. If you want or need a t-shirt or a pair of running shoes to express who you are and what you stand for, then you have a great deal of work to do in becoming someone of substance. Additionally, you must learn to speak articulately and not fall into the relativistic and nihilistic void we all find ourselves surrounded by. Ours is an age of defeatists – you must be resolute. You must become a people who believe in something and who are willing and able to defend it with words when possible and by other means when no other recourse is left to you.
The education being provided here is about more than preparing you to go to college. However adept Ridgeview may be or become at that, we do not wish to train you in the art of sophistry or the art of being a shallow, ticket punching fool who goes through the motions of testing well, parroting your teachers, and misses all of the deeper lessons. What the world should know of a Ridgeview student, they should be capable of perceiving in a five-minute conversation. They should know that you care about your presentation, that you are a person of character who knows and values your history, traditions, and inheritances; who believes in something greater than themselves, and who is capable of holding a conversation rather than standing idly and apathetically by waiting to be used or dismissed depending on the will of another. You are to be a people capable of hard work and sacrifice, a people yearning for a prosperous future, and a people capable of living a thoughtful and self-examined life, who, utilizing your leisure intelligently, will answer and re-answer the questions about what will justify your lives and what will provide for the good life. You will be a people capable of forming and sustaining rewarding relationships with others not only because you value camaraderie, but because you know how to act with charity and kindness, justice and mercy, magnanimity and benevolence toward your fellows, and because you have learned and taken to heart the deeper lesson that none of us should use another as a means to our own ends.
In order for any of this to be true, you must want it and be willing to work for it. There is a chance that sitting here today there are a great many people who do not know what that means because they have not had to truly work for anything in their lives yet, and because no one has ever spoken to them this plainly before. It is also true that not every person here will be interested in this challenge or capable of meeting it. Many of you will quit and follow a path that requires little of you and makes correspondingly little of you. For those who are already counting themselves among the many in this camp, consider carefully the fact that life presents few opportunities to do again what we have passed over, and that the decisions you make each and every day decide what your tomorrow will look like. Character is destiny. Decide to make your lives better, to change who you are, to make a claim to your cultural inheritance and your natural right to liberty, and remain here to become one of the proud few who graduate a Ridgeview student alongside people who will have become your brothers and sisters in an endeavor that will challenge you, question you, and in which you will share experiences that bond you together. If you wanted ordinary, you have chosen poorly, because the experience you have undertaken here is extraordinary because it is much more than simply an education.
Here are some tips to help you accomplish all of this: Ask for help when and where you need it – do not wait until you are in trouble. Remember that the lessons are about more than grades – they are lessons in living well. Take care of your school – keep it clean, look after one another, temper the typical teenage drama with a bit of humanity. Demonstrate the best possible character and expect it from your peers – hold each other to a high standard. Be aware of the drama involved in attending school and spurn it.
A few notes about bullies. First, they are all cowards. There may be different types, but they are all pathetic and they all need to be confronted. That takes courage, but that is what is expected of you. Do not choose to be a victim. If you are made uncomfortable by someone else, regardless of who they are, bring it to a teacher or staff member. Every one of you is expected to be much better than simply “not a bully,” you are expected to confront this behavior and end it. This is not a prison culture, and the weak and the meek amongst us deserve better from us. If you are the bully, count on the fact that you are going to be found out and that you will find yourself facing a force bigger than you, and that we will NOT tolerate this type of behavior. There is no room for bullies at our school.
The senior thesis is changing. The question will remain the same, but you will have the opportunity in early November to choose your thesis advisor from among any of the faculty at Ridgeview. Each student will select a primary and alternate choice. A second faculty member will be assigned to each student’s thesis after they choose their topic and texts, and the principal will be the final member of this committee. Students will receive a grade for their senior thesis independent of their senior literature class.
Be involved – remember that you want this to be the school you were proud to have attended in 20 years. The maturity bit is extremely important here. It is time to leave the insecurities of middle school behind you, which means that you must stop judging yourselves in relation to the guy or girl sitting next to you. You are going to figure out who you are in time. You are going to find out that you are unique and that you have something to offer, and that you are in a place where these things can be given expression and where you will be acknowledged regardless of whether you are or are not the star athlete or the star student. The question for each of you is, “What do you want to be? What will justify your life?” Those are big questions, and you do not want to be sitting on a couch watching television ten years from now encountering them for the first time and realizing that you have got nothing – not even a semblance of an answer to those questions. We are going to talk more about those questions throughout the year, but for now, it is enough to begin thinking about them.