Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome once again to Commencement, 2016 – the 6th in Pacific Ridge School’s history and our chance to welcome members of the Class of 2016 into the next stage of their lives.
Today, I want to talk with you about construction, about building something, about the value of working on something for a long time. And, I want to start by talking about the Cathedral of Milan.
The Cathedral of Milan is the second largest Gothic cathedral in the world. But even more impressively, it took more than five hundred years to construct. From 1386 to 1887 thousands of people helped to ensure that the cathedral would open its doors.
That’s right, the Cathedral of Milan took more than five hundred years to construct – and, to some degree, it will never be finished.
If you think about that for minute, you realize - in 500 years of construction - how many people must have contributed to its creation. And, if you think further about beginnings and endings, you realize how many of the people who gave of themselves to the cathedral’s construction never witnessed the first brick being laid or saw when the doors were opened for the first time.
No, the vast majority of the people who helped create the Cathedral of Milan were not founders, and they never saw the cathedral finished. Yet, those people, 500 of years of them, contributed greatly to its mission.
So many of the issues facing the world today are like the building of cathedrals. Poverty, food insecurity, national debt, climate change, taxes, health care, understanding those who practice a different religion, violence against humanity, respecting those who come from a different background or orientation, cancer, AIDS, peace, even building a school. All of these issues, all of these opportunities – we probably will not see them resolved in the next five, ten, even fifteen years. Yet, we work on them constantly. These are the issues of our day.
Like the cathedral builders of the past, young people today face issues that are akin to building cathedrals. The issues are complicated, and the goals are beautiful. The solution processes are vast and deep. The work is long-running. And, despite our best efforts, we may never see these issues solved – not in our lifetimes. We may never see the cathedral doors opened. However, if we want our community to evolve positively, we must look to contribute to solutions – even though we may never see the result.
Remarkably -- the long-running work necessary to find solutions to these issues come at a time when the long-term has never been less valued. In an age where we can get all the information we want in an instant from the device in our pocket, slow work is incredibly undervalued. If we can’t fix something in a minute, an hour, a day, or even a month -- these days, working on a task feels futile. Because of our penchant for quick information and quick results, working on the issues of our time can feel unsatisfying. However, for better or worse, the issues of our day are solved like cathedrals are built – through the dedication of generations of people over long periods of time.
So, why am I talking about cathedrals today?
Because of the young people who sit to my left -- the class of 2016. This group has made a habit of building cathedrals themselves. Since the moment they arrived at Pacific Ridge School the Class of 2016, has taken on the biggest issues they can find.
They have worked to solve climate change, eating disorders, anxiety, homelessness, food insecurity, breast cancer, and bridging the divide between people from very different backgrounds. They have even worked on world peace.
A group of students in this class developed programs to sell coffee with proceeds benefiting rainforest preservation in the South America. Another group developed a sleeping pod for the local homeless population. This class maintained a cross-cultural magazine with contributions from Pacific Ridge, a school in Africa, and another school here in San Diego. They have lectured the student body on the dangers of political correctness and a potential recurrence of the 2008 mortgage crisis and created photomontages of the homeless. They have championed the causes of gender awareness, food insecurity, the rights of those with disabilities, and given talks on the social emotional issues that plague some teenagers today. Large groups of this class have worked with the elderly, animals, special needs teenagers, and so many more in our local community.
I went looking for specific instances of this class working on long-running, monumental tasks with little immediate impact but huge long-term contributions, and I found many examples. Here are two.
Two members of this class spent last summer in a lab testing why certain dyes were not doing their job in biotech work. The work was arduous. They did comparison after comparison, day after day, trying every variation they could think of, questioning, and trying again and again. Long, painstaking work with little profound results. But they did find a result – and it may very well be a piece of a solution that could lead to someone else’s breakthrough -- someday.
A handful of students from this class spent big chunks of their summer vacations working with “Hands of Peace”
-- a program designed to lead to peace, someday, by bringing Israeli and Palestinian youth together to hear, first-hand, about their differences and similarities. Yes, members of the class of 2016 gave of themselves to bring Peace to the Middle East.
Did they succeed? No. Are the issues to which this class gave of themselves solved? Of course not. These are the issues of our lifetime – they are cathedrals that need to be toiled over again and again, by more and more people – people who care enough about what happens to understand that any time dedicated to these tasks is important.
The Class of 2016 has learned, from the very beginning of their time at Pacific Ridge School, the importance of time spent on the issues that take us only a step or two closer to solutions. They understand that we must try – even if our efforts will never land us in a place where we can hold our hands up and declare victory. This class has distinguished itself by going after those the victories we may never attain. And go for them they have -- again and again.
So, where did this metaphor of “cathedral building” come from? Am I an architectural scholar who studied 19th century cathedrals? No. Absolutely not. Like so many good ideas, the idea of cathedral building came to me through a friend who gave me a book. A book called The Cathedral Within
by Bill Shore. In it, Mr. Shore details all kinds of “cathedrals” that have been built or are being built – and he talks about the principles of devoting oneself to long-running tasks.
In the book, he writes that there are a number of fundamentals we can learn from ancient cathedral builders that can give meaning to our lives now. According to Mr. Shore, some the principles of cathedral building are:
- Devoting yourself to a cause you will never see completed must not diminish from your care, your craftsmanship.
- Cathedral building requires the sharing of strength, the contribution of not just the artisans and experts, but of everyone in the community.
- The great cathedrals are built, literally, upon the foundations of earlier efforts.
And, interestingly enough, Mr. Shore says that these principles make our communities stronger and our lives purposeful – phrases right out of the Pacific Ridge School mission statement. All of these principles apply to the work of the Class of 2016 and to Pacific Ridge School. All of them.
Now, before I conclude – I want us to hear from another group of cathedral builders -- our faculty and staff. Some of them literally laid the first bricks of this institution and all of them are still working to develop our programs and mission. They recognize what has come before us and the constant work we have in front of us now. They know that the work of a school is never done – and that each class leaves its own, unique mark on the place. And, they too, have words and thoughts for the class of 2016.
*** Video of Messages from Faculty and Staff for the Graduates ***
Class of 2016, it is time for you to move on from this place. As you do, I want you to remember the earnestness with which you have approached the last two, four, or six years. I want you to recognize how much you have given to Pacific Ridge School and to the world around you – and I want you to keep giving.
Remember, there are huge challenges and great opportunities before you – and if you approach them with the dedication of cathedral builders you will find joy, excitement, even purpose.
Remember that the long-view you have taken during high school is the approach that will lead you most to meaningful, purposeful lives. While everything in our culture may pull towards quick results, quick solutions, it is the long-view that has the most meaning. The things in your life that you will want the most -- relationships, professional and personal achievements, connections, family -- they all take the patience, skill, and dedication of cathedral building. All the things that matter… they take time.
Remember to dedicate yourself to that which you believe in – even if you will not see it resolved.
Remember that anything worthwhile takes a community to build.
Remember that all successes come as a result of the work that has come before, and after you.
Remember to tell stories of your past and future.
Your most important contributions to the world may be akin to the laying of a single brick in the 250th year of a cathedral that took 500 years to build, but your dedication to a mission, your willingness to give of yourself, will always bring meaning and purpose to your life.
Finally, remember that a lot of people – your teachers, your coaches, your directors and conductors, an entire school community, and mostly… your parents and family – have made you their cathedrals for the last 18 years and now we all get to celebrate as the doors are opened to you for the next stage of your lives.
Class of 2016… Pacific Ridge School is so much stronger today due to the time you spent on our campus – we are more aware of ourselves, more ready to act, more capable to take on issues with a long-view.
Because of you, we are, quite simply, better. Now, it is time for you to go out and find your purpose, your mission.
May your life be full of cathedrals to which you can dedicate yourself, and may you be lucky enough to see the doors of at least a few of them thrown open someday.
You are ready. Congratulations.
June 16, 2016