Finishing the Race: A Valediction for 2018

by David Hickey

In the distance race of the academic year, May marks the beginning of the end — the last 100 meter sprint and emptying of our tanks toward respite and celebration on the other side of the finish line. Over the last few weeks there has been a flurry of activity with studying and taking AP exams, class luncheons and parties, and anxious planning of end of year festivities. Along with the warmer temperatures and the flowering magnolia and crabapple trees, I always greet the rush of the month with excitement for the anticipated climax of graduation week. Yet amid the joys of this season and the anticipation of summer break, May has a bittersweetness in being the month of endings. Books are closed, last grades submitted, rooms packed up, lockers emptied, the final period affixed in the annal of 2017-2018. For the seniors, this marks the closing of a significant chapter. Similarly, it is the end of chapters for colleagues moving on or retiring.  Perhaps the most joyous day at Stony Brook is shared with the saddest as friends and teachers say goodbyes and come 6:00 pm the campus — that was teeming with activity just a few hours earlier — lies still.

What makes these separations hard is the nature of our community. It is tight-knit. We know each other. We know each other’s strengths and each other’s faults, both faculty and student. We live and eat and study in close proximity to each other. Community can be uncomfortable in sometimes feeling invasive, tiresome, claustrophobic. Yet in this environment — what some call a “bubble” — bonds are forged as we learn and grow together over the course of several years. Each member is part of the common fabric, a patchwork of formerly disparate parts cut, shaped, and stitched together. There is great goodness and value to being known for this is how we sharpen each other. In community lies the work of character building and the outworking of love.

As important as my work is inside the classroom, what is special about Stony Brook and has equally lasting impact is the work beyond the classroom. Teaching is relational. In the ancient world, philosophers and scholars had disciples who would closely learn from and live with their mentors in the same way that sons were sent off to live and learn as apprentices with master craftsmen. Residential community provides the medium for which students are molded through the opportunity for deeper relationship.

When I consider the members of the senior class, I am overwhelmed with gratitude at this point in the year. I have seen many of them grow from middle school to become men and women of character. I think of the former freshman with an inquiring spirit for faith and history in his quest for knowledge and truth. I remember the early morning village runs taken with my cross country captain — in the same way that I ran with my coaches — and our conversations during long car rides back from the state meet. I remember the after-dinner meetings with my prefect and head captains sorting out the details of special events. I smile reading articles and laugh at memes sent to me by students long after our final class last spring. What a privilege to know and fellowship with these many individuals who have become good friends. I am grateful for the collective investment of my colleagues in loving these students by imparting themselves into them. Likewise, I am grateful for the joy and challenge these students have given me in my work and recreation with them. I am deepened and enriched by their curiosity, scholarship, and service. It was when I was a student at SBS that I had great admiration for my teachers. They were not only masters of their disciplines; they offered themselves as living sacrifices in the work of their calling. It was in seeing their living legacy in touching the lives of students that I too knew I wanted to partner in this consequential mission. I am reminded of Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” in which the challenge is to take notice of and live in the everyday moments and relationships that we seem to take for granted amid the transience of life. The narrating character of the Stage Manager observes,

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars…everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. …There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

As a Christian community, we know what that something is. Each of us are image bearers of God with an eternal soul. It is our mission in not only educating the mind, but also the soul that has lasting and exponential significance for our world. As another academic year concludes in ninety-five year history of this place, I am humbled to be part of this heritage, joining in the work of the saints who came before me.      

Though May marks closure, it also represents the hope and excitement of new beginnings. Commencement, the term given to graduation ceremonies, is a beginning of promise for our seniors as they move on to university. The moving-up exercises mark a new beginning for each class with all the opportunities and challenges the new year offers. Leaders transitioning into new positions take on the mantles of responsibility of their predecessors. It has also become a tradition this time of year to baptize students at Sand Street Beach, again symbolizing renewal and new beginnings. It is a joy each year to witness some seniors who take this culminating step before concluding their SBS journey with the receipt of their diplomas. So, it is with some heaviness but also with great satisfaction and thanksgiving that we will say goodbye to the Class of 2018. They are ready. They have sown well and they have reaped well as a result. They have been challenged and equipped to advance as servants and individuals of character for our world. They have been poured into and blessed with the hope that they too will pour out themselves as vessels of blessing. For the Class of 2019, having received the baton, we look forward with anticipation to their final race.

Thanks be to God for His goodness, for this place we call The Stony Brook School, and the opportunity of life together.

seanrileysbs

Sean A. Riley earned his Ph.D in philosophy from Baylor University in 2011. He has chaired the history department, taught English, Humanities, AP European History and two philosophy courses, coached football, tennis, and the Ethics Bowl team, and served as a dorm dad at The Stony Brook School on Long Island. He has also led summer travel courses to Greece, Turkey, and China. Prior to teaching at The Stony Brook School, he taught courses at Baylor University, McLennan Community College, and Live Oak Classical School in Waco, Texas. Sean is the author of Recovering the Saints from Modern Moral Theory, available on Kindle. He lives in Stony Brook with his wife, Emily, and his four children, Aidan, Liam, Honora, and Quinn.

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