On Friday morning in a drenching rain at a school that experienced the kind of tragedy just a few months ago that most institutions would shun mentioning at a celebration, Concord Academy held its commencement exercises.
As the festivities began, we were all holding our breath, I'm sure, because of the death of one of the students' classmates in February at a party (dozens of tributes here).
I would guess that many institutions would have mentioned this only in passing at graduation but from the very first speaker on (the chair of the Concord Academy board) the awfulness was acknowledged. When horrible things are met at the front door, it allows everyone to come in. Jake Dresden, retiring head of Concord (we're all going to miss you and Pat, Jake), continued, also talking frankly about what happened ...and so it went until the commencement speaker, Eric Lander, came to the podium. His son was graduating too.
Need I mention the anticipation of ho-hums that always accompanies the moment before the graduation speaker begins? More platitudes in the offing, we all think, worried that the person might have read all the other commencement speeches online and threaded them together, thinking that would be new.
But Eric did something different. He talked about the future for these kids against a measure that they could perceive. His refrain:
It was a beautiful speech, delivered with passion, drawing on his own experience as a very accomplished scientist -- and a parent.
Here are some notes from my little notebook that's always in my purse:
What is 50 years?
It's the time it takes to change the world.
In 1953, Crick and Watson published their first ONE PAGE paper on the double helix.
Fifty years later, the Human Genome project was completed.
A lifetime is enough to change the world.
What is 50 years?
It was approximately 50 years from the time Vannevar Bush first proposed the idea for memex, the precusor to hypertext, aka what we now know as the web.
About 50 years passed between the Montgomery bus boycotts and the election of Barack Obama.
And only 40 years have passed since the Stonewall riots, arguably the night the fight began for equal rights regardless of sexual orientation, and when the first same-sex marriage rights bills were passed in state legislatures.
It's not entirely an accident that it takes a lifetime to change the world.
And he also offered this very sage advice:
Your life cannot be planned in advance but will be assembled from pieces of your passion.
The projects of a lifetime come in all sizes.
The single greatest project of a lifetime is having children.
And...it's utterly impossible to plan in advance how it will all play out.
Well said, Eric. And good luck to the godchild.
(Tiny itty bitty disclosure: Daughter #2 graduated from Concord Academy, providing her with an unparalleled education during her last two years of high school and launching her on her career as an artist.)