Listen. Learn. Apologize. Love. Never Turn Away.
At Milton’s Commencement ceremony on June 9, 2017, Head of School Todd Bland delivered this welcome address to the hundreds of family and friends celebrating Milton’s newest alumni.
I have a conflicted relationship with this day, and perhaps I’m not alone. This is one of the most joyous days of the year and also one of the saddest—a moment to celebrate an amazing class while also saying farewell. I want to use these precious minutes to effectively honor—and appropriately thank—the 190 individuals sitting on either side of me.
I have shared with many of you an internal struggle that is certainly not mine alone: I wonder, is this world … Is Milton … Am I getting worse or better with the passage of time? Depending on the day or the moment, I can be absolutely convinced of either.
Never has this question felt more poignant than two weeks ago, when the Upper School came to a standstill of pain, frustration, anger, confusion and need. For me, and for many others, it was one of the most difficult weeks in memory, and also one of the most important. We were forced to confront some realities about the Milton experi- ence that we must change. Because we are such an incredibly diverse place, we have to care for that diversity and support it in meaningful ways, and that requires hard work. I am sorry that the situation reached such a boiling point, but it was an awakening for which I am grateful.
How does a community resolve such deep emotion and challenge? Not easily, not neatly, and certainly not separately. In committing to this work, we must be in it together. Meaningful change requires awareness and understanding, resolve and resilience. These qualities, these skills, are alive and well in Milton students, and certainly in the members of this graduating class.
Twenty-five years ago this month, Mrs. Bland and I were married. Just prior to that, someone I respect shared with me his “cornerstones” of a healthy marriage. I believe they are the cornerstones of all productive relationships. They’re simple, elemental. This morning, I share them as lessons that the Class of 2017 has demonstrated for us— in moments big and small.
First, listen. Listen, particularly to those with whom you vehemently disagree. Listen to see each other. Listen to understand, and to learn. Listen to know one another.
Apologize, and forgive. People have hurt you, and will hurt you, and you have done the same. This is a reality of life. Apology and forgiveness are hard—and critically important. You have done it for each other, and I urge you to keep doing it for the rest of your lives.
Never turn away. Do the work. Stay the course in your relationships, even (and especially) during the bumpy parts. Resist what you see happening in the world today— people turning away from each other. Dig in, and do the work, particularly when it gets hard.
Finally, love. Love with everything in you. Love when you feel it in your heart, but more importantly, love when you sense love’s absence.
To the Class of 2017, you have learned so much and still (like all of us!) have so much to learn. We all know, as sure as you are standing before us today, that you will take the best of what you are and the best of what you have to make your relationships, your communities, your colleges, your country, your world better. You’re prepared, and you’re willing—you have proven that. You have inspired all of us, and Milton will be better because of your example.
And so, family and friends: I present to you the 190 extraordinary candidates to receive their Milton Academy diplomas: the loving, listening, learning, apologizing, forgiving, never turning away, Class of 2017.