The following is the Benediction delivered at Dana Hall Family Weekend Convocation on October 25, 2019.
I am an art teacher, and although they say a picture is worth a thousand words, convocation speeches generally require language, and anyway, I forgot my paintings this morning, so you will have to put up with just a few more words; don’t’ worry, I’ll keep it to four or five hundred. (This is a benediction, not a TED Talk.)
Each day up in the Art Studio we teach our students a variety of lessons, from how to paint a self-portrait and throw clay on the potter’s wheel, to how to take an interesting photograph or design a building. The projects that the girls take on throughout the year are a wonderful balance to their vigorous academic program, and if you ask your daughters, many of them look forward to those quiet (or not-so-quiet) moments in the studio when they can be creative, express their ideas, tell their stories, and make beautiful things with their hands. We say that they are in the process of training their eyes, their hands, and their minds to work together. But we also teach that these lessons go beyond the studio, and if I were to sum up the common thread, I’d say it would be this: to really look around at the world; to make connections between things; and to always put in the right amount of effort.
I’d like to think that this is a good strategy for building community as well; to really look around us at the people we share this school with, to make connections with people we may not know well, who we may not look like or think like, even for a moment. And like a great drawing or painting, it takes some effort.
It doesn’t happen overnight, but with a lot of little moments, like little brush strokes or marks with a pencil, some bold, some you’re not quite sure of, some are wrong, but then you learn from those mistakes and move on. It’s the same whether you’re practicing for a sport, writing an essay, learning to sing or dance, or doing an experiment in science: we get better at the things we put our attention to, little by little, moment by moment.
For the past few years I’ve been telling students as they leave my classroom, “Look your teachers in the eye: it makes you look smarter.” And I think it helps makes them a little kinder as well (lord knows we need a little more kindness in this world today) and the practice of kindness certainly helps to make connections between people. As we leave this event, I challenge all of us, as we go out into our day, to look around at this diverse community of ours and to make those connections, to share those stories, and in doing so help to make this little corner of the world a better place.