A Life of Service -- Honors Assembly Speech 12-17-03

Posted April 13, 2006


"A Life of Service" Honors Assembly Speech 12-17-03

Good morning. Welcome students, faculty and staff, and parents to our honors assembly, at which we recognize students who have earned places on our achievement and effort honor roll and high honor roll.

I applaud each of you who have earned honors, and look forward to seeing you come up front in a few minutes to receive our applause. I know that you enjoy the praise of your parents and teachers and classmates. But in these few minutes, I’d like to pose a question for you to consider: Why did you really work so hard last trimester? It seems a shallow question with many obvious answers: I worked hard to make honor roll, or to feel proud of myself, or to please my parents, or to impress college admissions offices. Those are all decent answers, especially if they motivate you to do your best in school. I’ve been motivated by each of those answers myself at various times.

But I’ve come to believe that none of these answers is the right one, especially as you near adulthood. Each of these answers assumes that your achievements in school are primarily for your own benefit, that your own desires and abilities are the highest purpose of education. I reject that philosophy of education. It’s not all about you, or me, or any one person. The ultimate purpose of education should not be to make you as individuals happier or more successful, but rather to convince you and prepare you to serve others happily and well. The knowledge and skills and values that you are learning at St. Andrew’s are meant to make you instruments of good: caring and capable leaders and servants who will minister to a world that so desperately needs your attention.

26 years ago, a group of visionary educators, called by just such a sense of ministry, founded St. Andrew’s for the good of their children and those generations of children who would follow. 10 years ago another generation of leaders purchased this campus so that you and your successors would benefit from state-of-the-art facilities. For a quarter-century faculty and staff and trustees and parents have devoted their lives to St. Andrew’s not for their own self-interests, but to serve children and to prepare those children to serve others.

Why the history lesson? To drive home the point that we all reap what others have sown. We all depend and thrive on the generosity of others, and we are in turn called to contribute to making the world better. You are being raised in love by parents or other caregivers who send you to St. Andrew’s; making the honor roll and getting into college are wonderful achievements, but neither comes close to returning the investment of love and time that other have made on your behalf. Indeed, I doubt that your parents or your teachers have done so much for you because they expect you to pay them back directly. Nor are the love and education you are now receiving meant to fill some bank account from which only you can draw.

Instead, as our school philosophy says, you are being prepared and encouraged to live lives of "responsibility to each other and to the larger community." You are being prepared for true greatness, to spend freely all the love that you have been given and all the knowledge you have learned, to serve your children and loved ones and neighbors and fellow human beings with all your hearts and with all your minds. That is our school’s faith, and the true purpose of education.

And now the good news: A life of service is not grimly depressing, but intensely joyful. When you look beyond your own desires to the needs of others, you will find meaning in your work and in your lives. You will get out of the trap of measuring your success and happiness by your possessions, or wealth, or titles (all measures that you can’t control and that—since there are bound to be people who are richer or more powerful than you—are bound to cause you envy and dissatisfaction). Instead, you will measure your life by the sincerity of your efforts and the dignity of your relationships, by what you contribute rather than what you acquire. You will know that your life is rich with love and purpose. You will experience joy.

So today I congratulate you not on a mission accomplished, but on a step taken. I applaud your efforts, and urge you to redouble them as you ready yourself for lives of service. And during the difficult times, when you ask yourself why there’s so much to learn at St. Andrew’s, remember your blessings, and how much the world needs you. I look forward to true greatness for each of you.

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