Dear Lawrenceville Parents,
The busy opening events of the 2015-16 school year culminated with Head Master Installation ceremonies last Friday. I don’t have the words to express the degree of gratitude I feel for the countless administrators, faculty, staff, and parent volunteers who moved heaven and earth to avoid torrential rain, accommodate a huge crowd in the Lavino Field House, put on a remarkable dinner for several hundred under a tent, and then stage a wonderful performing arts showcase in Kirby Arts Center. The celebration of student talent was truly a highlight for me.
In the end, it was a happy affair (at least I thoroughly enjoyed myself!), and I was delighted to have the chance to introduce so many dear friends and members of my family to the Lawrenceville community.
At the actual installation, we heard thoughtful remarks from Board President Tom Carter ’70 P’01 ’05, Student Council President James Stevenson ’16, English Master Champ Atlee ’62 H’74 ’75 ’83 ’84, Alumni Council President Jen Ridley Staikos ’91, and Lawrenceville Parent Association Co-President Ashley Lyu P’13 ’17. In my message to the community following the opening remarks, I tried to celebrate the importance of hope and optimism, remind the community of the enduring legacy of Lawrenceville, and celebrate the work of the faculty, work that is based on love, trust, and compassion. I spoke of poet “bellwethers,” visionaries, who, for better or for worse, warn us of calamitous trends and yet also remind us that there is hope in the world. I include here an excerpt from my talk that sums up a guiding philosophy in my life:
When we resort to optimism naively, thoughtlessly, hastily, like a child grasping a handful of sea spray, it will slip through our fingers and disappoint us.
The optimism and hope that endures, that serves us well, must be groomed in thoughtful ways in a purposeful setting; it does not ward off tragedy, but helps us to understand it, to avoid, perhaps, repeating it.
We are here in a school, one of the very great schools, and I see this as our purpose. To equip our young people to go off into the world with a clear-eyed sense of hope, and the tools of empathy and compassion and understanding required in order to make it a better place.
Lawrenceville, in all its idyllic beauty, does not exist as a bulwark against disappointment, a source of false hope that the world can be a utopia, that every problem can be solved. Lawrenceville is preserved as a place of enduring beauty and strength because what we do here is important, it is important for the world. We practice a certain hope and optimism each and every day in our approach to educating and preparing our students to launch, to go out and make a difference. . . .
The world, we know, is full of turns and deceptions, and there are no guarantees. But for all the cruelties and disappointments we encounter, understanding and compassion are powerful forces, situations can be improved, problems can be thoughtfully solved.
If you have spent time in this beautiful setting, at this wonderful school, you know that what is truly impressive, what gives us a hope, is the work that our teachers, mentors, coaches, and Housemasters do each day, with great care, love, and dedication. This careful work has been going on for a very long time here, and the charge to us is to see that it endures for a long time to come.
Even if certain poet bellwethers continue to worry and fret about the human condition, I am confident that you students leave here recognizing the privilege of being associated with a school untouched by cynicism, where good character matters deeply, where lessons learned around a Harkness table will guide you in life as you seek to make a difference.
As for me, with all due respect to Mathew Arnold and William Butler Yeats, I prefer an altogether different poet bellwether, the Irish poet Peter Fallon, who, focused less on cataclysmic human failures, and more on our capacity to love as a source of hope. At the end of his epic poem, “Strength of Heart,” he enjoins us to: “Be worthy of this life. And, Love the world.”
Stephen S. Murray H’55 ’65 P’16
The Shelby Cullom Davis ’26 Head Master