What Gifts They Have
by Anne-Martine Moore
Address to the 2011 graduates of Diablo Valley School
Perhaps you notice something else about this quotation. It is very “Sudbury” if you will, in its point that different people have different gifts. The fish should be judged on its ability to be a fish, not its ability to be a monkey or a squirrel. In making the point that one does not judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, Mr. Einstein goes against the idea expressed so frequently at graduations, perhaps even in some of the graduation cards you perused for this occasion, the idea that anything is possible. While it would be patently ridiculous to say to a graduating school of fish, “You’ve worked hard to get to this point; the world is your oyster. Go out there and be a monkey or a cheetah or a three-toed sloth or even a platypus,” we do say something similar to that to graduating schools of students as if perhaps we can mask regret at some of our own choices by pretending that the next generation is pure potential.
Both Rose and Micaela have been valued members of our Admissions Committee and both have heard me warn incoming families that boredom can be expected as a stage one goes through on the way to growth and learning. I frequently liken it to hunger – hunger drives you to find food; boredom drives you to find brain food. While these stages – hunger, boredom – are not to be feared and run from at all costs, neither are they to be embraced as stopping points in life’s journey. If you continually eat to avoid the pain of ever feeling hunger you will damage your health, and if you stop forever at the stage of hunger and never choose something to eat you will also damage your health.
Likewise – while high school graduation is a time of high potential, you cannot equally actualize all potentials – there simply are not enough hours in the day, even if you do give up all sleep. Think about the people you admire – those you know personally or those you hear about. You do not admire them for their “potential,” in fact, when people speak of someone “having potential” they generally mean someone who has a chance of turning into a worthwhile human if they get off their duff and actually do something. When you admire someone it is for something they have done. Doing anything means NOT DOING a great many other things, many of them worthwhile in their own right. Some things you cannot do and among the things you can, it is still your job to do some and not others. I had a good college friend who was a wonderful dancer. He found his vocation as a priest and currently lives a happy and fulfilling life that does not include dancing.
Part of what Sudbury schooling gives people is that chance to learn what gifts they have, and it has been my privilege to see Micaela and Rose become more and more themselves as they grew here at DVS. I urge you both to continue that as you move on in life. Continue to make thoughtful choices, using your gifts to grow as decent human beings, giving thought to where you are, what is around you, who you are with rather than to some vague potential in the sky.
The other thing about the genius of being a fish is that a fish doesn’t exercise that genius by gazing at its navel – not an actual possibility if you are a fish. A fish has to direct itself toward the activities of being a fish. It is in the tasks of trying to be a decent human and using ones gifts for a good end that one develops potential into an actual that is worth having. When we work hard at something that is worth doing right, when we lose ourselves in something that is bigger than we are, when we care for someone else more than ourselves, that is when we have the best chance of becoming our best selves. It is an old truth to say that we must lose ourselves to find ourselves and it is that kind of genius I wish for both of you, each in her own way. You each have something to give the world that no one else – and I do mean that – NO ONE ELSE can give to our world. Moreover what you have to give can make the world a better place, whether you ever see your name in a newspaper headline or not. You will find that it is giving that you receive. Go out there with your eyes wide open to see what you are to do with your gifts.
Thank you for your gifts to us during your time here. Take with you the gift of our love as you go.