The Dash

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Today, advisory groups began.  As I looked around, there was so much activity, so much conversation, so much excitement.  It was a wonderful scene.  Then I grabbed my lunch and walked over to the eight girls in my group.  We chatted about their week, their hopes for the year.  Then I handed each girl an inspirational quote that I hoped would give them exactly that, inspiration.  One quote in particular really resonated with me:  “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”  

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow.
It empties today of its strength.

As I looked around the table into the faces of  the seniors facing college applications, I could already see the worry.  But I encouraged them, as a chronic worrier myself, to think about being counter-cultural, to think differently.  I encouraged them to be present in each moment of this, their final year of high school.  It’s far too easy to think only about college this year, but I really hoped that they would.

This was also my hope as I stood before new students and parents at Orientation this year.  Let me share with you the message I shared with them:

As a society, we face a great temptation.  That temptation is to look at the end.  As people, we are by nature, outcome-oriented.  Input should equal output.  We want to know where we’re going.

But what makes The Stony Brook School unique is that we value the journey.  We believe that the process is as important as the product.  The drive, as critical as the destination.  The obvious end at a school like ours is college.  If you drive down Chapman Parkway, you’ll see the sign that says “The Stony Brook School.  A College Preparatory School.”  If we take the sign at its face value, we know that we’re an institution that gets kids into college.  

But is that all we do, get kids into college?  I’d like to give fuller meaning to the sign on our lawn.  Yes, we do get kids into college and almost 100% of them will go on to four-year institutions.  Every year, many will go to the most competitive schools in this country.  In fact, almost 70% of our senior class generally get into  the most or highly competitive colleges. But lots of college preparatory schools can boast about their college admission statistics.  If that’s all that happened here at SBS, then I wouldn’t be here.

If you’ve ever looked at a headstone, you’ll see two dates.  Those dates indicate the date of birth and the date of death; essentially, the beginning and the end.  But have you ever noticed what’s between the dates?  That’s right.  It’s the dash.  At first glance, it looks insignificant.  The dates stand out more.  But when you think about it, what matters most is the dash.  Because that’s when life happened.

But when you think about it, what matters most is the dash.  Because that’s when life happens.

Here at SBS, each student will also have a beginning and an end.  Today, you begin.  Graduation is when you will end your time. And yes, it’s important that students begin and end their time with us.  If you are an incoming 9th grader today, your time at SBS will look like this:  2017-2021. For some of you today, you are most concerned about that end date, 2021 and the answer to that all-important question: Where will I go to college?  And yes, the answer to that is important not only to you, but to us as a school.   But let me say again, what matters most is the dash.  We are a school focused on the dash.  Because that’s when life happens. The questions we’re concerned about are these:  How will you live your time here at SBS?  Will you live well?  Maybe more importantly, will you love well? Will you grow into a young man or woman of character?  How will you live out the dash?

You’ve heard of the 40-yard dash.  You could say that we’re a school that trains students for the 4, sometimes 3, 2 or 1-year dash.  And we’re well equipped to help students not only be educated, but be transformed. The Stony Brook School is committed to helping students change in the best way possible.  

What are the changes that we see in students as they prepare to leave The Stony Brook School?  Let me share three with you today.  Remarkably, these characteristics align themselves to the things that colleges are looking for in students.  I hear this over and over from college admissions representatives from the most competitive schools.

Students at SBS become authentic learners:  It’s easy to be a grade chaser in high school.  The increasing pressure of getting into college tempts students to simply get the high grade, not to care about what they’re really learning.  But students here are encouraged to love learning, both in and out of the classroom.  Teachers are intentional about engaging students, both in and out of the classroom.  Small classes are places where students can’t hide, but are strongly encouraged rather are encouraged to participate.   

Secondly, they become risk takers: We want students to take risks.  And risk looks different to each student here.  For some, it is the encouragement to take part in public speaking through our annual declamation contest.  For others, it’s the push to have friends of a different culture.  Still for others, it’s finding the courage to say I’m sorry or I was wrong.  Whatever it is, the adults here know our students.  And we want to push them (just a little bit) to do things that are slightly outside of their comfort zone.

Finally, they become boundary crossers:  SBS presents the perfect opportunity to develop students who are boundary crossers.  That is, they move easily from group to group.  They become students who don’t see the cliques, the lines that seemingly divide us.  They see each person as a potential friend, someone from whom they can learn from.  Our country and our world need students like this.  

I can tell you that in the time I’ve been here, I’ve had the enormous privilege of seeing this kind of transformation in students.  Sometimes, it’s literally remarkable.  Other times,  it’s more incremental.  But however large or small, it’s always noticeable.  And we applaud it.  

As I end, is like to share a few stories with you of students who have been transformed in their time here with us.   

Thomas (not their real names) came to The Stony Brook School four years ago.  He was quiet and yes, if I was completely honest, he was awkward.  Today,  you would not recognize him.   In fact, everyone who knows him has said that he is not the same person.  He is everyone’s friend.  He loves to strike up conversations with anyone about anything, especially philosophy and faith.   In the last three years, he has changed and become one of our strongest student leaders. His relationships with faculty who truly cared about him has made the difference in his life.

Sam is one of our best students.  But even a year ago, it was his aim to get the highest grade possible in every class and to attain every academic achievement that he could.  However, in my last conversation with him, he expressed to me that he now sees how amazing learning is and that it’s not all about the grade.  As he enters his senior year, he is taking classes that he loves and looking forward to pursuing his other love: photography.  His beautiful pictures have been a gift to our entire student body.  

Tina shared with me recently how she’s changed.  She wrote these words:  The biggest obstacle that I have overcome is to find my purpose of living and what I am passionate for. I used to think my best interest is to find an easy way to earn money, but I learn that life is not only about money or fame. I think life is about how I influence and impact people around me and the joy that people and I obtain through my work. I have also learned to give all my burdens to God and to have faith in Him.

In being here today, you have made a significant decision in your child’s life: where he or she will attend high school. Today, I want to affirm the decision you’ve made and tell you that you’ve made an excellent choice.  The Stony Brook School is true to not only its mission as a college preparatory school, but to its motto: Character Before Career.  We will prepare your child for college, academically, socially, personally.  Our four-year college program will ensure that your child has the best opportunity to get into the college that is the best fit for him or her.  But we are also in this to prepare your child for life.  We are building the foundation for every student here to live out the dash between their years in the best way possible.

But we are also in this to prepare your child for life.  We are building the foundation for every student here to live out the dash between their years in the best way possible.

As another year begins of preparations for college, I’m filled with anticipation.  In a year, these seniors will have moved through applications, the waiting period, the decision making and then will actually be somewhere else.  And as much as I know that for many, it’s all about knowing where they’ll be going to college, I hope that they’ll reflect on what it’s meant for each of them, that they spent their years at The Stony Brook School, a college preparatory school in the truest sense of what that means.  Here at SBS, we have journeyed with students to prepare them not only for college, but for life.  Here’s to a great year!

2 comments

  1. Wonderful words. As an alum and former faculty member, I believe you have captured SBS. But more importantly, you have presented a message every high school student should hear.

    Like

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