(This week’s letter is adapted from my address to the MICDS Upper School following the remarks of Governor Pete Wilson ’51 on January 28.)
The overwhelming theme of our gathering today is service to others. Two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to speak to the Middle School at their annual Ram Impact Summit day, which is dedicated to modeling and instilling habits of kindness, courage and forgiveness as we live, work and learn in community with one another at MICDS. I shared with those students – just as I shared with our Lower School students a few days later – a secret to happiness that I have learned over the course of my life that I will share with you now in turn:
I believe that every person whom I encounter in my life is more important than I am. I believe that each one of you is more important than I am. This is the place where I begin each day. This is the place where service to others begins – the kind of service to which Governor Wilson has dedicated his life. This is also the place where, I am convinced, happiness begins.
“Important” in this sense does not mean “better” or “superior.” It means “worthy of respect,” “deserving of dignity.” It means “listening to” more than “talking at.” It means feeling fortunate to spend time with, to learn from, and to help other people.
Do you all happen to know that Mr. Small won his 300th game last night as our girls basketball coach? How about a round of applause for Coach Small? When I texted Mr. Small to congratulate him last night, he wrote me back immediately in all caps: “300 WINS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING! I WILL CONTINUE TO WIN GAME AFTER GAME TO PROVE THAT I AM THE GREATEST COACH IN MICDS HISTORY AND THE GREATEST COACH IN THE HISTORY OF ALL SPORTS!” Wow! The ego on this guy!
No, of course that’s not what he wrote. This is what he actually texted back to me: “Thanks. It has been an honor to coach this program. I have worked with some incredible young women, and [assistant coaches] Erica and Bill have been along for much of this ride as well! Great memories and relationships!!!” I believe that Coach Small believes that every other person he meets is more important than he is, and this is one of the reasons that I feel so fortunate to work alongside him every day.
When our Athletic Director Josh Smith told me about Mr. Small’s milestone, I asked him what other current MICDS coaches had realized such sustained levels of success. He reminded me that, in addition to celebrating her 20th season as head coach of our field hockey program and winning the Midwest championship, Lynn Mittler also won her 300th game this past fall.
Somehow this achievement had escaped my attention, so I texted Coach Mittler a belated congratulatory note this morning. Like Mr. Small, she made our exchange about everyone but herself and directed my attention back to basketball: “It was fun to celebrate with Scott last night. The girls were really excited.” How about a round of applause for Coach Mittler as well?
I wish for you today the earnest and persistent belief in your heart that every person you meet is more important than you – the person to your left and to your right in this room, the people in your classes and in your ensembles and on your teams, peers and adults, friends and strangers, people here at MICDS and people everywhere else you go. I know that I am only repeating myself when I say to you – but I will say to you again nevertheless – that belief in the importance of others is the beginning of service to others, which is the beginning of happiness.
There is a figure of speech called chiasmus that reverses grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses for rhetorical effect. President Kennedy’s inaugural address is famous for one: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Within the context of our gathering today, I will share another one that appeared in a bestselling book from 2002 called The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, a California pastor who spoke at President Obama’s first inauguration. It goes like this: “True humility is not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less.”
So here is your moment of reflection as we conclude our time together: What are you going to do today to be the least important person in your world?
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. Seniors, please rise.
Head of School