Graduation speeches 2017

Graduation speeches 2017

All the speeches from 2017’s Graduation and Baccalaureate services, including from Valedictorian and Salutatorian Shar and Shanti Mathias, pictured above.


Valedictorian Speech – Shar Mathias

Good morning Woodstock students, staff, friends, family, and the Class of 2017, Ad Maiora.

We’ve gone through a fair few name changes, and to be honest, I wasn’t a big or even medium fan of Ad Maiora. It means ‘towards greater things’ but to me it meant ‘we can’t wait to get out of here’.  Maybe, though, Ad Maiora can have a third meaning, which I’m going to talk about. It’s got to do with the Woodstock Bubble.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Woodstock Bubble, a phrase that always floats around here, it’s not an object, it’s a state of mind.  It’s the way Woodstock students and staff get so caught up in a stream of events, work, and life that we lose sight of the outside world. I’m not saying everybody here always experiences the Bubble, but I certainly have.

This bubble magnifies the things around me at this wonderful school… yet diminishes the rest. It doesn’t matter who Uttarakhand’s new Chief Minister is (Do you know? I don’t), yet I know who’s dating who. The Woodstock Bubble has meant I’ve lost perspective about my grades on tiny assignments that will not affect my further life at all, and wasted hours caring about my classmate’s opinions, seeking validation only inside the bubble.  Maybe this is something we’ve all experienced.

Bubbles can distort your vision, and the Woodstock Bubble has distorted my vision of what’s important plenty of times. In these beautiful cool green Himalayas, it’s easy to lose sight of the heat and dust down on the plains that most people don’t have the chance to escape. Surrounded by people just as privileged as us, we can’t see poverty in Mussoorie, inequality in Uttarakhand, injustice in India, and violence in the world. With access to an incredible international education, we can take it for granted, forgetting that most people everywhere don’t get to learn like we do. It’s not that for all my years here, I haven’t known these things, rather that, floating in this bubble, I’ve ignored it.

Ad Maiora, today is the day we break out of this bubble, and go towards Greater Things. From now on, whether we want it to or not, Woodstock will be a past experience, not a present blur that takes us in, swirls us until we are dizzy and forget.

To Greater Things. I honestly believe we are all capable of greatness in some form or another.  I hope that, out of the bubble, we will be able to truly see what lies around us and beyond us: the good, bad and the hopeful. Disentangled from Woodstock life, maybe we’ll each be able to find a way to use our gifts and talents  honed here to act on what we couldn’t see before. Whether it’s poverty or discrimination or violence or injustice, I hope that without a bubble to protect us, we won’t be able to ignore our privilege, the world’s problems, and our capacity contribute to solutions. If Woodstock has truly made us global citizens, we’ll be able to live that now. I’m excited to see what we’ll do.

At this point, you’re probably wondering how this applies to you. Many of you—students and staff—will still be in the Woodstock bubble next year. And others were probably never stuck in the Woodstock Bubble at all.

But maybe you’re in another bubble.

I have this theory that I have no basis for. I’m only an inexperienced high school student, after all. It’s that for privileged people like us, there’s always another bubble. They might feel great—the good university, high-earning job, the nice house… but they’re a trap. We’ll have this option to retreat, escape from the world’s issues—escape from our calling.

It’s a human tendency to stick to one group, one life, all the while managing to ignore uncomfortable truths. If I did that, I’d know I’m not living my fullest life. making the idealistic things I just said null and void— leaving a bubble isn’t as simple as graduating, because there are other bubbles out there waiting. We have to take the good things we’ve learned from them and dare to leave.

Whether it’s by signing a petition, going to a protest, reducing my carbon footprint, talking to a homeless person or beggar, or just reading and engaging with the news, we can leave our bubbles. We can choose the job that helps more people, not makes more money, or the house in a poorer part of town. We can. It’s hard, though. It’s not a default option.

I think I need to leave bubbles behind. Only by stepping out of the comfort of just a college, just a job, just a life, can I fulfill my place in the world and truly become myself.

I’m going to go to university in New Zealand. I could get a good job, spend time with my equally lucky friends, and have the choice not to engage with this beautiful, ugly, wild, amazing planet. I’m not responsible for the world’s problems, really. Yet my education’s given me the capability and knowledge to do something. I don’t want to stay in the safe bubble of my citizenship and birth. I want to do greater things.

We’re all faced with bubbles we need courage to step out of. All of us, especially Ad Maiora, here’s to our greater things.  *pops bubble*

Shar Mathias, Valedictorian 2017


Salutatorian Speech – Shanti Mathias

Good morning everyone. My name is Shanti, and I’m here because I was compared to others. By that imperfect measure of success—grades—I am relatively successful. So today, I turn my attention to that staple human institution of comparison.

There’s nothing like the impending possibility of a speech to make you start looking for inspiration. Last week, I found it in the mountain festival. There was this film about two climbers—most of you probably remember it—who are breaking world records and being amazing. Both of them were the same age or younger than me. I walked out of Parker Hall, thinking “I’m so unexceptional.”

I’ve never wanted to be a climber. I’ve climbed, once or twice, for fun. But somehow, being presented with these prodigies made me feel incapable. This doesn’t really make sense, but it speaks to the power of comparison.

I have not broken world records. It’s very unlikely that there will ever be a documentary about my life. This makes me like most of the people on the planet. But these facts don’t become a problem until I see people who I can somehow relate to, compare myself, and don’t match up.

The internet, of course, exarcerbates these sensations. I might feel happy and accomplished with my writing, then read the profile of another teenager who is not just writing, but also reporting for a local newspaper and doing leukemia research in her spare time. I compared myself to her, and felt painfully unworthy and unproductive. But of course, that person—and anyone else—has things that they’re not good at. They just don’t tell the world about it. Comparison just makes me, thoroughly ordinary, seem, well, even more ordinary.

The effect is further intensified by having a twin sister. The fact that Shar and I look very similar means that other people are always figuring out who we are based on who we are not. “you have shorter hair, so you’re Shanti” I’m told, and I nod wearily, ready for the inevitable “Yes, I got it right” or “Who’s better at maths, you or Shar?”

Of course, I am keenly aware of the differences between my sister and myself. I’m a slower runner, and taller, and I wear earrings, and she doesn’t. All year, we’ve waged a war of comparison in Psychology, arguing over who got more points on a quiz or Free Response Question or whatever. I know who I am because of who Shar is, because of what we share and what we do not. Comparisons, even in jest, can hurt.

Comparing ourselves to others is an easy way to figure out where we are, even who we are. My brother once came back from a summer camp brimming with superlatives. “I’m the fastest runner,” he told me, “but Rory is the best at armpit farts, and Nathan can eat the most cereal.” His was an experience defined by comparison, as our lives often are.

Ad Maiora, we’re about to start university where grades—and comparing grades—will still matter. For everyone else, there are plenty of other things to compare. When you get married. How you raise your children. Your position in a job. Even within friendships, it’s easy to compare wealth or popularity.

When I compare myself to others, I often end up feeling not good enough. It’s a strange feeling, one that is nebulous and upsetting, a little ouch with each thought—and it really doesn’t help me to function better. Of course, I can compare myself to people who are less capable at whatever skill or natural predisposition I’m feeling insecure about—but that just makes me feel smug and prideful, and I don’t want that either.

I’m not advocating for us to completely ignore who we are relative to other people. That’s impossible. We all exist as members of society, and our role in that society, relative to others, makes a difference. I am a daughter and a sister and a friend. One day, I may be a mother. Those roles are part of my identity, and I don’t want to lose them. Knowing who other people are helps me to find my own identity. Comparison is second nature, and I won’t blame you if you leave this room comparing my speech to the valedictorian’s speech.

I’m very good at defining myself with the words other people give me. “Smart” and “bossy” and “Indian” and “short”. But identity is not so simplistic. I’m still in the process of figuring out who I am. We all are. Call me optimistic, but I think I am who I am not just because of who other people are. At least, I want my identity, self esteem, all the fragile pieces that add up to Shanti, to be independent of others.

Compared to other people in this class that I’ve had the privilege of being part of for seven years, I’m a useless gamer, a mediocre swimmer, a fast talker, and a voracious reader. But that isn’t all of who I am, it’s just part of it. And compared to other classes, our one is loud, or bright, or well behaved. But regardless of other classes, this one is my favourite. Ad Maiora, as we travel wide eyed and wondering into the world, let us be sure of ourselves—not in comparison, but in those qualities which defy comparison, like contemplation and kindness

I am seventeen years old. Compared to many other people in this room, I am not at all wise. But I have the rest of my life to be compared. Today, I am myself—finished with high school, very glad, very happy, very proud to be part of the class of 2017, and no matter what other people say or do I’m going to let that be enough. 

Shanti Mathias, Salutatorian 2017 


Principal’s Speech

Good morning everybody it’s my pleasure to say a few parting words to our graduating students today. Some words which I doubt any of you will remember but if one little slither of all of today remains in your memories, then I hope in some way it will build on the remarkable experience that has been yours here no matter how long you spent in this extraordinary place.

I’ve already been beaten to it as far as visual aids go today. I’m going to start with a story. The story is told of an eagle’s egg which rolled down a mountain side. I couldn’t find an eagle’s egg… chicken egg. The eagle’s egg rolled down the mountain side and ended up in a farmer’s chicken coup. The eagle’s egg hatched and a glorious eagle was born but all its life the magnificent creature lived amongst chickens. It pecked at the ground, it struggled to fly more than a few inches above the soil, it spoke like a chicken, it walked like a chicken, it even ate like a chicken. Many many years later when that glorious eagle, thinking it was a chicken looked up into the sky it caught sight of a magnificent golden eagle. Majestic, soaring on the thermals, hardly beating its wings. The chicken eagle looked at its chicken friends and said “Wow! Who’s that?” “Oh. That’s the magnificent golden eagle. But don’t you worry about it, and that chicken eagle never did. It went back to living its life as a chicken. Just like that eagle we all have beliefs about ourselves, who we are, how to behave, what others think of us. These are the agreements we make with ourselves. The beliefs that shape our lives and just like that eagle some of those beliefs can rob us of our happiness. They can cause us pain and suffering. They can limit our potential.

Many years ago, I read a book which had a very powerful impact on me and my assumptions. The beliefs that shape my life. The book was written by a Mexican writer called Don Miguel Ruiz. The book is simply called the four agreements. It’s a very simple code of conduct. It’s a book which describes how by following four simple agreements our lives can be lives which release our potential. Allow us to find the happiness and fulfilment that human beings seek for. I find these simple agreements in the teachings of Jesus, I find them in the great spiritual traditions of the world, and I find them in the men and women I admire.  Very simply this morning in just a few minutes I want to leave these four agreements with you. If you remember only one and could even begin to put it into practice, I believe it could have a powerful impact on the shape and direction of our lives.

Here is the first agreement: Be impeccable with your word. The word impeccable means in accordance with the highest standards. Benjamin Sander is one of the world’s great classical musicians. He tells a story of meeting a lady one day who had survived the Nazi death camps. She was only fifteen years old at the time travelling on a train to Auschwitz with her eight-year-old brother. As they were bundled off the train, she saw that her brother-eight years old- had lost his shoes. She was angry, “You’re so stupid! Why can’t you keep your things together?” And suddenly her brother was lost in the crowd. She never saw him again. He never survived the death camps, but years later when she left Auschwitz she made a vow to herself and this was the vow: “I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever said.” I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever said. Our words can create. Our words can destroy. Our words can express our positive energy. Our words can also express hatred and anger. When you really use our words only in the direction of truth and love we rid ourselves of a debilitating poison. The Christian group the Quakers have a wonderful formula to help us with this. They say, “Don’t say anything unless you can say yes to the following three questions: “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it Necessary?” The first agreement: Be impeccable with your words. Be impeccable with your words.

Number two: Don’t take anything personally. I want you to imagine two people. One wakes up in the morning, it’s a glorious sunny day. They are cheerful, they had a good night’s sleep, they eat a magnificent breakfast, everyone they see smiles and greets them with a cheery greeting. Everything is bright and wonderful and the world, the birds are singing, they have study hall first period. Everything is just glorious. And then imagine a second person. They fall out of bed, they bump their nose, they stump their toes, there is no hot water left in the shower, breakfast is finished, they have an EMD and it’s already past 7:30. Now imagine you bumped into these two people in the course of the day. The first one who had a positive start is kind and compassionate and loving, says lovely things about you. The other one is grumpy, they’re rude and insulting. And time and again, we take things personally when we agree what others say about us, forgetting that many of the things that people say to us have nothing to do with you at all. They are projections of their own reality. If you have the same DNA, the same background, the same upbringing, the same experiences as Mr. Grumpy, you would be that person. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t allow other people’s opinions to inhabit your mind as if they belong there. So many of the opinions of others are projections of their own story and they evict ours. Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally.

Thirdly: don’t make assumptions. I’m going to ask our two new student presidents to help me out here. They’re going to come and take a seat right here and I want you to imagine for a moment that you have walked into an empty room and when you walk in you see two people sitting in the room sitting just like this. Right now, you’re all making assumptions. ‘Are they tired? Are the grumpy? Are they impressed? Are they sick? Are they drunk?’

“What are you guys doing?”

“You asked us to be here”


“Yeah, I just asked them to come and sit here like that.”

When we make assumptions about what is going on in other peoples’ heads we are assuming that we know what they are thinking, what they are feelings, what their dreams are, what their view of life is. These assumptions that people make have caused conflict and war and suffering and pain. Not only between nations but within families, within friendships. Don’t make assumptions is the third agreement.  Ask questions, say what you mean, don’t assume you know what is going on in someone else’s head. No matter how they are treating you, no matter what they say ask them, interrogate them, gently, compassionately, to find out what is the dream, what is the vision, what is the view inside your head. I cannot see it, I cannot read your mind. I must not make assumptions. Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions.

Fourthly and finally: always do your best. A carpenter had worked for many years for his boss building dozens of houses and the boss said, “It’s time for you to retire. I have one more project for you. I want you to build one more house, make it your best.” The carpenter was tired he’d spent years hard at work, with saws and chisels. And he decided to cut corners. He bought inferior wood, he saved a little bit of money, he didn’t use good nails, he didn’t bother to varnish the wood very well. The whole house was a little bit shaky, and he knew it wouldn’t last very long because he was retiring. After a few weeks, he finished the project, he was a little bit disappointed, but what the heck the boss would never know. And he handed over the front door key to his boss. The boss took the key and said, “Thank you very much. You’ve been such a faithful carpenter all your life. I have one final gift for you, for your retirement: it’s your own house.”

The house we build with our lives is the one we have to live in. Your best will change from moment to moment. Your best will be different when you’re healthy compared to when you’re sick. Our best is different when we’re happy from when we’re sad. Our moods change, our challenges change, our circumstances change, but if we always commit to do our best no matter what’s in front of us, we will not judge ourselves and we will inhabit a house we can be proud of. The four agreements: Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, always do your best. Final story:

A mother took her son and daughter into the forest and said to them, “Inside each of you are two wolves: one is the wolf of love and compassion, the other is the wolf of hatred and anger.

“Mum” said the two children, “If- if-if we ask them to fight who will win?” The mum said, “Listen, they both live within you now they both exist this very moment.”

“Yes, but-but if they fight who will win?”

The mother paused and said, “Yes, whichever one you feed.”

We are always what we feed. Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, always do your best. May God bless you all no matter where life takes you. Whatever opportunities, challenges, the ups and downs, the good and the bad. Make agreements with yourself that will create a house that you will love living in. One that you could be proud of, one you know can stand the test of time. All the very best.

Dr Jonathan Long, Principal, Woodstock School


Baccalaureate Address

It’s sort of ironic for a teacher to be dispensing life advice to a group of WS students. After all, not many WS graduates become teachers themselves. Most students aspire to far more lucrative and prestigious careers. One of the questions I’ve been asked repeatedly during my time at WS has been, “Why did you become a teacher?” Followed by, “You could have made a lot more money doing something else!” True. Very true. But believe it or not, there’s more to life than making money. There’s even more to life than getting into a good college (but don’t tell your parents I said so).

Why did I choose this particular path in life?

To answer that question, I’ll need to refer to the words of one of my favorite teachers, one who has a lot in common with a typical WS staff member. Although he did not teach in a traditional classroom, he did often deliver his lessons on a hillside. In fact, most of his lessons were Outdoor Learning Activities. He had a small group of students who shared meals and hung out with him between lessons, kind of like an advisor group. And just like any good WS teacher, he had a set of Desired Learning Outcomes for his students. Oh, and yes, there was even a bit of controversy over the grading scale he wanted to use!

You see, the religious leaders of his day had a particular definition of success, but this teacher had a completely different approach, one that is still pretty radical, even 2,000 years later.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, the teacher I’m talking about is Jesus. As a very imperfect follower of Christ’s teachings, I am very aware that there are many people who claim to follow him but few who truly live by his words. However, I believe there is wisdom to be found in his teaching, and I want to share what I consider to be some of his most important words as recorded in the Christian Bible. The Scripture that Ayaan read earlier (Matthew 5:3-12) contains guiding principles that have shaped me, and I hope they may provide some useful advice for the next stage of your life.

Like any good English teacher, I’ll be bringing my analytical eye to this passage and trying to understand the deeper meaning behind the text. Yes, I’m talking about doing a close reading. But don’t worry, this time I’ve done all the work for you!

So the first thing you might notice is that every verse in this reading begins with the same word: blessed. Unfortunately, this word has become so hackneyed that it hardly has any meaning left. If you look at social media hashtags alone, you might think that the word refers to the feeling you get when you buy a pair of sunglasses or drink a unicorn frappuccino from Starbucks for the first time. But the way Jesus is using this word, it means quite a bit more than that. It describes both a state of mind: that of being filled with an inner sense of joy and peace and a state of being: a self-contained happiness that doesn’t depend on material belongings or the circumstances of life. Who wouldn’t want that kind of life?

Based on the words of a radical hillside teacher, how can we find this elusive inner joy, peace and happiness? Once again, you’ll be glad to know that I have analyzed the passage on your behalf, and I’ve selected three main ideas, just like any good author of a 5-paragraph essay would do.

The answer may be counter-intuitive. According to this passage, fundamental happiness doesn’t come from chasing after wealth, prestige, or power. Instead, he emphasizes humility, justice, and peace:

  1. A blessed life requires humility. Cultivate a posture of teachability. Whether you are in a classroom or not, look for opportunities to learn from those around you. Be willing to admit when you don’t know something or when you need help. Hone the ability to realize when you’re in the wrong and don’t be too proud to say it out loud. Whether it’s admitting that, yes, I did deserve that EMD or apologizing to a future co-worker or employee, you will learn to appreciate the great sense of relief that comes from putting the needs of others ahead of your own ego.
  2. A blessed life requires a hunger and thirst for justice. Based on my experience (and based on the way you all attacked the appetizers at the Long’s house the other night), WS students are very familiar with the concepts of hunger and thirst, and you know how to overcome them. As a highly-privileged group of young people, how can you apply that same level of determination to stamping out injustice in the world? As you pursue higher education and future careers, consider how you can use your influence to lift up those who are oppressed, impoverished, or marginalized. Many of you were involved with Community Engagement projects during your time at Woodstock. Don’t let those endeavors be merely a line item on your transcripts. Instead, let them be the beginning of a life characterized by service.
  3. A blessed life promotes peace. Life is filled with conflict, both personal and political. As residents of the WS bubble, we have all experienced both the blessings and the challenges of living in community with others, and we have probably all seen both positive and negative examples of conflict resolution. As you go forward, consider how you can become a peacemaker. For some of you, this may involve making peace with your own classmates before you leave campus tomorrow. For others of you, this may become a career path, as you work to broker peace on a global scale. For all of you, the ability to promote empathy and reconciliation will hopefully be skills that you carry from your time at WS into the future.


All three of these principles align very nicely with WS’s Desired Learning Outcomes. But there is a catch: If you choose to pursue a life of humility, justice, and peace, your path may not be easy. In a world that glorifies wealth, prestige, and power, you may be seen as odd, unsuccessful, or just plain foolish. Humility is a difficult character trait to hold onto in a time of endless self-promotion and carefully-curated social media profiles. Justice and peace often seem like unattainable pipe dreams, whether on a personal or global scale. And yes, you may see others with less noble aspirations pass you by on the road to conventional success.

This brings me back to my original question. Why me? Why did I become a teacher? Why am I speaking to you today? And why did I choose to speak about this particular topic? I’ll answer this question by sharing what I’ve learned from you, my students:

From WS students, I have learned to embrace humility. Working with you has forced me to question my assumptions and acknowledge my many mistakes. Some of you are probably thinking of specific examples right now! In my weakest moments, when I have found myself needing to apologize to a very understanding group of students, you have taught me the power of a supportive community that has moved me away from my tendency toward being overly self-reliant.

Working with you has also developed my understanding of justice. WS students have a strong sense of justice/injustice, and while staff and students don’t always agree, hearing your point of view has often caused me to shift my own thinking. You have stretched my capacity for empathy, and many of you have modeled it by advocating for yourselves, your peers, and members of the community beyond WS. You have taught me to think of justice from a more compassionate perspective.

Lastly, teaching at WS has showed me the importance of being a peacemaker. Living and working in such close quarters, it’s inevitable that we will get on each other’s nerves from time to time. And some people even seem to enjoy stirring up conflict. But I have seen the power that comes from pursuing peace. I have watched and listened as some of you grappled with personal conflict and have found myself in awe of your dedication to resolving those conflicts peacefully. We haven’t been perfect in this area, but I admire the self-control I’ve seen from many of you; it pushes me to pursue peace in my own relationships.

So why am I here? The answer is simple: all of you. As I strive to follow the example of humility, justice, and peace set by my own teacher, Jesus, I am daily challenged and encouraged by each of you. As I have watched you grow up before my very eyes from the tiny kids in that Sunday School classroom to the young men and women sitting here tonight, I have seen the power of these traits to transform relationships and build a strong community. And although I have loved being your teacher, it is you who have taught me how to be more empathetic, slower to judge, and quicker to make peace. As we send you out of this place and into the world, may you embrace a definition of success that goes beyond wealth, power, or prestige. May you continue to embrace teachable humility. May you passionately strive for justice. May you pursue peace in all your relationships. And may you be #blessed.

Meredith Dyson, Upper Years English Teacher and Grade 12 Homeroom Head 2017


Address by the President of the Woodstock School Board

Dr. Jonathan Long, principal of Woodstock School, Mrs. Long, Faculty, members of the administration, parents: who I constantly remind that without your biological and financial input none of this would have been possible.

Welcome to the twenty seventeen graduation ceremony, the class of twenty seventeen. On behalf of the board of directors at Woodstock School it is my great privaledge and honor to welcome all of you, especially the parents who are here from many parts of the world, grandparents, siblings, brothers, sisters, Dr. Phillip and Mrs. Phillip who at one time have served at Woodstock School and now are gracing the ceremony. Members of the board of directors: Dr. Kaaren Mathias whose daughters are graduating in this class. As is customary I’d not only like to say welcome to all of you who are here, but also to say welcome in a way to you the class of twenty seventeen it’s my tradition to say something depending upon the motto that you have chosen and so this portion of my welcome is a welcome address to you.

Ad Maoira is the latin that you have chosen to identify yourselves. It can losely be translated on to greateness but like every other language the words take its meaning from its context. And so the context of this onward to greatness which is a greeting and a well wishing phrase takes it context of meaning of its area which it is excersied. And when it talks about greatness, when asked, “What is it that contributes to greatness?”, it must have a contex.

Aristotle looking at what it meant to have greatness in society talked about the achievement of greatness in modern statesman, scholars, generals, and the like; and he said greatness if it was to be achieved must always based on character. And without character the embodying in the practice of which needed to be integral, the pursuit of greatness would be to emptiness. So he profounded the motion in western philosophy and practice that character must be the foundation stone of greatness. He went on further to say that along with character-it must be in order to be developed- must be found in the practice of virtue. And virtue he said was based on values, what he called the cardinal values from the word ‘cargo’, which means the in- the in of all of character which is based on virtues on these four virtues that we annunciated. Virtues of courage, of justice, of prudence, and of temperance. And he said if you form your character on these cardinal virtues then the pursuit of greatess and the achievement of greatness would be well attainable.

And if is to this mix that the chirstian message came very earlier on, the terms a.c., b.c., a.d. timeframe, when the chirstian church talked also about additional virtues. Virtues of love, of kindess, of humility, and forgiveness. But you see in the world of its day these were not considered to be virturues, they were considered to be weaknesses. For after all the Greeks knew about filet o’ love, they knew about erose love, but they had a scant understanding of agape love. The love which the church propogated as self giving- not focused on self- but always focused on the well being of the other. Forgiveness, kindness, humility. Humility especially seen as a weakness but it was these transformational virtues and values that combined with great the tradition of what had started profounded as the character basis of greatness would ultimately become the cornerstone of western civilization and other civilizations as well not that it was there.

And we look around us, and as you as a class entering to a world where just a few days ago in Manchester, England we saw the snuffing out of tewnty two innocent lives. Youngsters such as you who were guilty of nothing more than attending a rock concert. Pictures of a little boy covered in dust and blood as he sat on a chair waiting for medical treament because his home had been bombed should remind us of the tradgedy of war. Wasn’t but recently that a photo went viral in our country, of a little baby sucking milk from a dead mother’s breast who had fallen off of a train and died by the road tracks. The world should not have these images to remind us that character and greatness must always be contextualized. And as you go into this world I really do wish for you Ad Maoira, onto greater things. But I ask you to base this on character. On character development that believes that virtue is essetntial.

In the April magazine of Time  that said, “Is truth dead?”  and one of the greatest words that was introduced to the dictionary was ‘post truth’ : where even truth appears to be a matter of choice. That can’t be the basis of greatness.

A diminutive little lady that came from Albania, and chose to make her home in India gave us the simple phrase, “ We may not all be called to do great things but we must all learn to do small things with great love. And I leave you with this final story that I hope you will carry with you:

A sage was once asked of his disciples, ‘When will you know that the sun has risen?’, ‘ when will you know that greatness has arrived?’.

And one of the students said, ‘When the cock crows.’ And he said, ‘No’.

Another student said, ‘When I-I’m able to see the first break of sunlight over the horizon.’ And he said, ‘No’.

And another student said, ‘ When I can decipher the tree tops. That’s when I know the morning has broken.’ And the Sage said, ‘no’.

And they asked, ‘what then will we know that morning has broken?’ He says ‘When you can look to the side on either left and right and by the light of morning you can see that the person standing on either side is your brother, and your sister. That is when morning has broken.

And so to this new morning I invite you to achieve greatness. Greatness in character, greatness that comes from understanding that truth is not an option, and that character is based on values and that greatness must always be founded on character.

Rajan S Matthews, President of the Woodstock School Board

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