There have been some interesting reflections about the nature of time expressed during the senior theses, and it is incredible to think that this year is nearly over. If you have not had the opportunity to attend a senior thesis, I would strongly encourage you to do so.
Our school is healthy and vibrant, but if there is one aspect that is difficult to make students appreciate, it is this: the harder you work for your school, the harder your school can work for you. While there is a neat parallelism to that sentence, there is actually much that makes it a complicated truth.
First, most of us do not think that we are working for our school. After all, it is for our education that we work. In part, of course, this is true, but the very nature of a Socratic education, regardless of the subject being studied at any particular point in time, is inherently social. Our contributions to class discussions are exactly that – contributions. The ideas we have contemplated, the revelations we have stumbled into during private study, the epiphanies we have had, can be shared and used to help edify others. If we are open, honest with ourselves, and submit with humility to the possibility that others may have meaningful contributions, it seems much more obvious that we are not here only to take, but to give. There is a beautiful harmony in this if we take it seriously. The harder you work for yourself, the harder you will in turn work for your school because all will benefit by your exertions.
For students, it may not be obvious how your school works for you, or rather, it may be the case that the obvious ways in which it works for you are not in fact the most important. Certainly, a school provides a place to study, it provides you with books, and it employs teachers to give talks and explain examples, but it would be a poor school if this were all it did. When you work hard, your teachers are inspired to do more for you. They go home, they read more deeply, they have better conversations with their colleagues, they bring more of themselves to class to share with you because you have shown that you are worthy of sharing with. When you are excited and exhibit some measure of intellectual curiosity or sincerity, they teach with greater passion, and your classes are better for it. It is also the case that you raise the overall intellectual quality of the community to which you belong, and that these improvements become known to the broader community comprised of prospective families and students, colleges and businesses. By working hard, you make our school better known, better respected, and increase the value of your degree to those whom you seek to impress.
The record at the end of this last quarter shows quite clearly that you are working hard. Fifty-three percent of the freshmen, 69% of the sophomores, 66% of the juniors, and 73% of the seniors are on honor roll. While the middle-school years are an undoubtedly difficult transitionary period, 44% of seventh graders and 50% of 8thgraders are on the honor roll. The longer one remains at Ridgeview, the more likely it is that they will do well. Moreover, the juniors have significantly improved their ACT scores – by an average three points per student. This type of improvement, which may sound small, can mean the difference in the schools students are admitted to and the amount of financial aid that they receive. Because we are in the midst of these state standardized tests, which I realize are both frustrating and tedious, it behooves us to do the best that we can on these as well. Doing well here, like working hard elsewhere, improves the standing of our school, and makes Ridgeview better able to serve you in all of your endeavors.
These are the successes, and all successes are comprised at least partially by learning from failures. There is unsurprisingly no failure assembly, in which we celebrate all our glorious personal disasters and how we learned to overcome them. Perhaps there should be. What we frequently hear about in the senior theses is the topic of overcoming. Sometimes those challenges are academic, sometimes emotional, and sometimes they involve overcoming a deprivation of character.
While we are here today to celebrate accomplishments, many of those accomplishments are predicated on having triumphed over challenges that define our lives. I was thinking about this topic several weeks ago when I came across a story about a CEO who decided to “redecorate” one of the walls in his company’s office. After everyone had gone home one evening, he and his assistant took a handful of markers and began writing out quotations on a wall from famous personalities on the topic of failure. When his assistant left, the CEO wrote out some of his own failures. The next morning, the wall was met with mixed reaction. Some employees loved the idea and others were uncertain of whether it was the right thing to do. The wall remained, and eventually, other employees began to write down some of their own failures, and soon enough people began to recognize a few common lessons this wall could teach.
First, big results came about as the result of one simple act. The CEO was the first to admit some of his failures, but soon others felt comfortable doing the same. Second, past failures are not permanent. Most of the failures had been overcome by the time they had been added to the wall, and the ones that hadn’t would soon be because they had now been acknowledged. Third, none of these failures meant the end of the world. Some failures were funny and some were serious, but the wall became a safe place where employees could communicate about the lessons learned and the ways in which they had pursued personal growth. Finally, failure had a huge impact on developing and promoting a positive culture within the company.
Our company is our school, and ours is a school that fosters self-examination, which means self-examination of our failures every bit as much as self-examination of our successes. Unlike that company, we do not need a wall – we have classrooms, we have a small school, we have an abundance of opportunities to speak with one another. All of this is to say, if you are not getting what you hoped to get out of your experience at Ridgeview, dig deep and do the sort of self-examination that while difficult is the only thing that will yield real answers. Commit to working hard and working for one another. While academic work may seem like a solitary endeavor, it is not.
With all of this said, I would like to talk about our students of the quarter, not because I believe that they are examples of perfection, but because I believe that they are good examples of some of the qualities I have just discussed.
Our middle school student of the quarter is a young lady who first came to my attention when she won the Young Aristotle award. In the years that have since passed, my every interaction with her has seemed genuine. She has been genuinely polite, genuinely earnest, genuinely interested. There is nothing about her demeanor that says, “This is an act that I have polished and honed in order to win your approval.” I think that the faculty would concur – there is nothing pretentious or affected about this young lady. She works hard because she has habituated herself to hard work. She does her work in good cheer and is never so absorbed in herself to behave as if she is above helping others. It is an honor for us to have her, and we think she is someone worth knowing. She is, of course, Theresa Zugish.
Our high school student of the quarter has routinely impressed the faculty, and has more than once been considered for this award. In fact, there is a mild controversy that occurs anytime a junior wins this award rather than a senior, and so the hurdle can be said to have been set somewhat higher in order for this young man to have won the award. I have had the opportunity to get to know him over the past couple of years, and I have even helped clean up the grounds around R2 with him. In a rather backhanded gesture that was meant as nothing but kind, he told me that perhaps I ought to hold the bag we were dumping pine needles and garbage into while he picked the refuse up off the ground since he “had the younger back.” I had never considered that my back was old before. He has been good natured while being a good man – deliberative, thoughtful, generous, kind. The type of young man one trusts with the vote and with others for whom they care. He has certainly been an exemplary student, but I think I accurately represent the faculty when I say that it has been character that has most attracted our attention. Our high school student of the quarter is George Smith.