Last Friday’s graduation ceremony at Grace Church in Silver Spring was sunny, moving, and as special as each one of our Grade 5 graduates. Congratulations to the Class of 2017, their families, and all of the friends who have supported them throughout their time in elementary school.
We know that they will all be going on to do great things and, most important, to spread grace wherever they go.
And just in case you missed it, read our Grade 5 students’ final chapel prayers and reflections on their time at Grace here.
Grace Episcopal Day School Graduation Speech
Head of School Jennifer Danish
June 9, 2017
Good morning parents, faculty, clergy, guests and the Grace class of 2017. I am honored to speak to you on this special day. This has been an especially exciting year for me as your Head of School – my first as a Grace Gryphon. Of course, while it was my first, it was your last, the seniors of Grace – so well-versed in all things Gryphon. I want to thank you this morning for showing me the way this year. Whether it was the first day of school, a soccer or basketball or kickball game, recess, Christmas Chapel, Founders Day, or Field Day – I have appreciated your modeling “how it’s done” in our very special community. I know that I will always remember your class with extreme fondness. While I know you have felt the impact of all of your teachers at Grace, I want to thank you for being my teacher this year. In your absence next fall, I will draw on what you taught me about how to live life to its fullest each day at Grace.
So – before you go – off to the next wonderful adventure ahead of you – I wanted to impart a little of my own wisdom. It’s not mine really. It comes from people in my life who have modeled for me what I think it means to live a life of significance. The first person I can think of who taught me this lesson is my Dad. You may remember seeing him at my installation this fall. My dear Dad, who turns 80 years old this summer, taught me a very important way to be in the world. When I was young, I lived in rural Vermont. Whenever I would go somewhere with my Dad, often all over the countryside around our small town, he would always shower people with kindness and love. He would ask about their day, he would thank them for their assistance, he would be kind. I loved watching my Dad offer encouragement and a piece of himself to these friends and neighbors. As I grew up, my Dad insisted that I learn the value of a firm handshake while looking someone in the eye. Yes, this is polite, he taught me. But it is also kind and it shows people that you respect them.
Recently, I read an article by a former Dartmouth College Admission Officer. The article talks about the sea of applications she reads each year from students applying to the school. In her piece, she shares the story of one application that really stood out. In it was a recommendation from the school’s custodian. The author of the piece writes:
The custodian wrote that he was compelled to support this student’s candidacy because of his thoughtfulness. This young man was the only person in the school who knew the names of every member of the janitorial staff. He turned off lights in empty rooms, consistently thanked the hallway monitor each morning and tidied up after his peers even if nobody was watching. This student, the custodian wrote, had a refreshing respect for every person at the school, regardless of position, popularity or clout.
In a world where we are often rewarded for winning something, for getting good grades, for achieving things, I was very moved by this piece. By the impact this student had on others. This admission director wanted her readers to know that despite the competitive landscape in college admissions, being kind matters. This student was accepted to a great college, but more than that he made an impact on someone in his community by sharing his love and kindness.
You might ask, what does being kind do for us, besides maybe getting us into a good college? Kindness broadens our perspective. In order to be kind, we have to pay attention to what is happening around us. As we notice more things and help others, we get a glimpse of other ways of looking at things. One morning this spring when I was driving in downtown DC, I went to make a left turn onto a side street. I noticed a pedestrian who was trying to cross, so I slowed to a stop to let him pass. As I made eye contact with him, he smiled the warmest smile I have ever seen and motioned for me to make my turn. We acknowledged one another and I swear we both had better days because of the shared kindness that passed between us – two perfect strangers. It was a small and a very big moment at the same time. We have the tendency to get caught up in our daily lives and forget that we live amongst people – many of them wonderful. If we decide to be tuned in to what is around us – it will help connect us to this wider world. We can be ready and appreciative when someone offers us a kindness.
Next year, you will all be in new schools. Only a few of you will attend the same school together again. It will be a transition – something new. It might feel a little scary at the same time that it is exciting. So what is my advice to you? How can you make that move to a new school easier? Do you remember earlier this year when we had a kindness bucket at school and Grade 3 taught us about how we can fill someone else’s bucket or have our own filled? It was so wonderful to read the notes of students who offered kindness or were given some by a classmate or teacher. Today, I want to urge you to find ways to fill the buckets of people around you in your new school. You won’t know a lot of students or the teachers on day one. But try to be kind to them. Smile, offer to help hand out papers, or carry a heavy book bag for someone who looks like they could use a hand. I think you will find that pretty quickly, you will be connecting to your new community.
The thing is, Class of 2017, you come from a school called Grace. The word translated to “grace” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word charis, which means “favor, blessing, or kindness.” It is also the name of one of your beloved classmates! And in the Christian tradition, Grace is defined as the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it. As you leave this school that has embraced you all of these years, may you be moved to share your loving kindness, your Grace with the wider world. May you always share your Grace with the world – because it will come back to you. It will open you up to your life and its beauty, and it will connect you to your world in ways you cannot imagine.
And one last thing. If the road gets tough, if it feels like it is not a kind place out there, you must know that you will always have a home at Grace Episcopal Day School. Your loving school that has seen you grow and change in such profound ways –it will always offer a place to come back to. We will always have your back. After all, we have seen you face adversity and come through. We have watched you become stronger students and friends over these years. And we will always want to know how you are faring. We will be glad to welcome you home. So knowing that – go boldly into the world my friends, as Grade 6 students, and shower it with kindness and grace. It will be an amazing thing! I promise.