2020 Commencement Remarks From Head of School Jay Rainey

Head of School Jay Rainey gave a moving and heartfelt speech at the Class of 2020 Commencement. He celebrated this important milestone and encouraged graduates to give and live out the MICDS Mission to its fullest. Here are his remarks.

Congratulations to the graduates of the Class of 2020, and to the parents and guardians of the graduates of the Class of 2020, and to all of you who are tuning in and cheering on from home—siblings and grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles and all other manners of diehard fans of these fine young men and women as they celebrate this long-awaited milestone in their lives. How wonderful it is to be gathered together, near and far, on this special day!

As the Head of Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School, it is my pleasure first to inform you that…the St. Louis Blues are still the reigning Stanley Cup champions of the National Hockey League!

And while that information is particularly important—and, as I’m sure you appreciate here in June’s midday heat, particularly relevant to this ceremony—it is not so important as the one word that I have to leave you with today—you graduates of the MICDS Class of Two Thousand Twenty—as you depart your School, and as you build on the foundation of your experiences and education and growth here and commence your lives going forward. That one very important word is a very simple one: give.

Adam Grant, a bestselling writer who has also been the top-rated professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business for the last seven years, begins his book Give and Take by acknowledging the perils of giving. He cites a study of California engineers that found those with the lowest productivity scores and the highest rates of error in their work were also “those who gave more than they received” on the job. He cites a similar study of Belgian medical students that found those “with the lowest grades had unusually high scores on statements like ‘I love to help others.’”

But Grant also notes that in these same studies, engineers with the highest job performance scores and medical students with the highest grades also consistently gave more to their colleagues and their fellow students than they got. The same pattern held true in a study of salespeople. “The top performers were givers,” Grant writes, “and they averaged 50% more annual revenue” than their non-giver colleagues.

Grant’s research reveals that givers tend to succeed either at very low or at very high rates, and the difference in their behavior is a simple one: unsuccessful givers tend to give first and ask questions later; successful givers tend to ask questions first and then give. Our Mission at MICDS, the Mission that I hope you will carry with you throughout your lives ahead, is consistent with this latter formula for success: “think critically” it says—ask questions—but also commit yourselves to “lives of service”—give.

Seniors, one of the highlights of this first year for me at MICDS was the playlist—the “mixtape”—of songs from my own senior year of high school that I shared with you—inflicted on you—over the course of the spring as we all quarantined together. I have a final song to add to our mixtape today. In 1973, Pink Floyd released “Dark Side of the Moon,” a record that reached #1 on the Billboard album chart almost immediately after it came out and, incredibly, remained on that chart for 736 consecutive weeks before finally dropping off in July of 1988.

So technically, since I graduated in June of 1988, “Dark Side of the Moon” was an album from my senior year of high school. The song I am adding to our playlist from that album is “Us and Them,” which includes this lyric: “With, without, / And who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about?”

We need a more ubiquitous and unrelenting culture of giving in our world. The two defining and ongoing phenomena of this milestone year of your lives—the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests of persistent biases and inequities endured by black Americans—both reveal our collective need for greater generosity of spirit and action.

Those who are with good health are too often unsympathetic to those without it, and they resist protective measures against COVID-19 contagion. Conversely, those who are with economic security are too often unsympathetic to those without it, and they resist measures to reopen businesses and energize the economy. And those who live with freedom from racial prejudice are too often unsympathetic to those who live without that freedom, and they resist protests for its eradication from American life. “With, without, / And who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about?”

So as you conclude your education at MICDS, I would encourage you not to ask what you can get from that education; I would encourage you to ask instead what you can give from it. Give reasonably, asking questions first and then investing yourself all the more confidently. Give compassionately, putting the needs of others ahead of your own. And give courageously, offering your time and resources even when you think you can’t afford to. As Adam Grant’s research reveals, people who focus on giving in these ways are more likely to be happy and successful in their lives and careers than those who focus primarily on getting—and they make the world a better place along the way.

Seniors—forgive me—graduates: be givers, and be well.

Please join me in congratulating the MICDS Class of 2020!