Welcome. I hope that everyone enjoyed a wonderful and restful Christmas break and is now settling back into a comfortable routine. In preparing for today’s assembly, I have spent a portion of my time thinking about our previous awards assembly in which I questioned what was meant by honor when we call these honors assemblies or refer to the honor roll. There has been some resistance to their being so called, and even greater resistance to some of the choices the faculty have made in their nominations. As I have oftentimes noted, any human institution is prone to error. As a faculty, we are trapped between what we should know and knowing too much. While our students are entitled to their privacy, they are not entitled to being false, but detection of such a thing is a difficult thing. While some have suggested that students should be nominated by their peers, predicating who should be named student of the quarter based upon a student vote seems more appropriate in electing Student Council members since popularity and merit always co-mingle in matters political.
Nearly every Ridgeview student who has passed through the elementary will recall Aesop’s fable about the fox walking through the vineyard. The fox, who was famished, could not reach the grapes despite his best and cleverest efforts. Defeated, the fox sulks away, pouting that the grapes were likely sour anyway, and that he would not deign to eat them even if they were served to him on a silver platter. In one translation of this by Phaedrus, the final line reads: “People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.”
It has been disheartening to hear those who achieved some measure of success disparaged by those who have not been similarly recognized. In speaking with the alumni of classes long past, it has often been said that our community was intimate enough that, where the achievements of others might be belittled elsewhere, they were celebrated here. There was and still is some way for everyone to find their own path to distinction, and another’s recognition does not lessen their own. This has been a notable cultural attribute, but I sometimes fear that it is at risk today. Our orientation as it relates to our peers, even when they fail to rise to the level of deep and abiding friendship, ought to be one of encouragement and support. The opposite of this inducement goes by many names: jealousy, envy, covetousness, desire, resentment, bitterness. Each does harm to both he who is animated by it and he towards whom it is directed.
There is another story about a famous Greek athlete named Theagenes who achieved such fame that a statue was built of him by the people of Thasos. One inhabitant, so infuriated that his own achievements were paltry in comparison with Theagenes’, would nightly express his hatred by whipping and beating the statue until he was exhausted by his rage. One night, with the intention of toppling the statue, the man was killed when it fell on top of him. While we say that our envy harms others, it is not infrequently the case that we are the principal victims of our angst. The victim in this case often mistakes intemperance for rightful indignance. So it is as Seneca said that, “It is the practice of the multitude to bark at eminent men as little dogs do at strangers.” The targets of our wrath are little bothered, and it is we who are most disturbed.
This moral tale is hardly one that only has relevance in youth. Academics are rarely better. Oxford was famously described as the “city of dreaming spires” by Matthew Arnold, but rivalries and fits among its faculty were so intense and so common that a later professor lampooned this line by calling it the “city of scheming ires.” There is also the story, perhaps apocryphal, of Oscar Wilde relating the following conversation to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about a hermit in the desert.
“The devil,’ said Wilde, ‘was once crossing the Libyan Desert, and he came upon a spot where a number of small fiends were tormenting a holy hermit. The sainted man easily shook off their evil suggestions. The devil watched their failure and then he stepped forward to give them a lesson. “What you do is too crude,” said he. “Permit me for one moment.” With that he whispered to the holy man, “Your brother has just been made Bishop of Alexandria.” A scowl of malignant jealousy at once clouded the serene face of the hermit. “That,” said the devil to his imps, “is the sort of thing which I should recommend.”
If we abide by such motivations uncritically and uncharitably, we will find our own lives more impoverished not least because we will be a less certain friend. We should want to do more than appear good. We should wish to be good. Joyfully, it is a season for resolutions, and if we should find ourselves wanting in this regard, we have opportunity now to rectify that and wish those well who have done well. If we are envious of their achievements, in addition to celebrating them, we should study them in hopes of improving ourselves. Not for the baseness of awards or recognition, but because we wish to lead better and fuller lives – to be content within ourselves. I will stop short of asking you to all stand and “show one another the sign of peace,” but I would ask that you take the time to recognize your place in this community and congratulate your peers for the good work they have done and appreciate at least some small part of the great and normal human drama that they may have withstood to have done any good at all.
Our middle school student of the quarter has come a long way since I first interviewed her for the Student Ambassadors. A colleague recently described her as mature, composed, intelligent, and friendly. Her friendliness is something upon which all faculty who know her were in agreement. Most importantly, it was not the sort of friendliness that fades once she had completed a class or an academic year. While she was very meek in that first interview, she has developed into a much more confident and assertive young lady, and I am happy to name Sophia Schuemann as our middle school student of the quarter.
Our high school student of the quarter is well-spoken and a deep thinker who does not take herself so seriously as to be immune to the concept of humility. She articulates important truths and defends her positions ably. She is intense in her desire to understand what makes for a moral life, and is someone with whom a conversation may be had without worry over who will win. She appears, in all instances, to enjoy the intellectual tussle of a good and genuine conversation. For these reasons, Audrey Tsoi is the high school student of the quarter.