Head of School Noni Thomas López at Commencement 2020

if the video embedded above does not play, please go directly to YouTube

The letter to the community Dr. Thomas López mentioned in her remarks link
The moment of singing on the bus link
The moment of Bohemian Rhapsody at Odessa's Blessing link

The full text of Dr. Thomas López's remarks are below.

More on the entire event at www.gordonschool.org/commencement2020

 

We are living in a transformational moment in history. 

Which places a lot of pressure on someone attempting to compose a commencement speech to the Class 2020. 

I mean the former President of the United States Barack Hussein Obama gave a commencement speech to all the graduates. Of the world. 

How do I follow that? 

Well, it’s actually a little easier than I thought because while there are countless Classes of 2020 there is no class like the Gordon Class of 2020.

Here is how I know:

Last week the world erupted in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands (or more accurately) the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, and I found myself completely unmoored from what I believe are my gifts and my responsibilities as a leader of a school community during a time of crisis. 

Words of comfort and hope for Gordon were hard to find. 

Probably because I was in need of comfort and hope myself. 

But the thing that got me out of bed at 6am, and those who know me know how hard it is to get me out of bed at 6am the thing that got me out of bed, and inspired me to find my words, were the voices of the Class of 2020. 

It was the memory of you singing the song “All Good People” as we traveled the route of the Voting Rights March of 1965 on the eighth grade Civil Rights Trip right before this pandemic took hold -- your voices are what brought me back to myself.

When I shared this moment in my letter to the community, I noted that the eighth grade knew what was needed in the moment. 

Miraculously, what was needed in that moment on that bus in February would be what was needed (at least for me) months later. 

And that, Class of 2020, is your superpower. 

That is why I believe there is no other graduating class like you. 

This class has the beautiful and inspiring ability to tune into the higher frequencies of our broken world. 

For those of us of a certain age, the word frequency conjures up studying wavelengths in physics class and memories of tuning into AM and FM radio, like some of you are doing today.

For you music folks out there, a tuning fork may come to mind. 

But broken down into its simplest terms, a frequency is simply a repeated sequence. 

And if we can agree the frequencies of racism, bigotry, and ignorance are some of the most repeated sequences of our collective history, I am thankful for this group of thirty-two young people who have consistently demonstrated that you are tuned into the frequencies of kindness, empathy, appreciation, reflection, service, justice, and action.

The spontaneous moment on the bus was seriously something out of a movie. If Mr. Griffin hadn’t recorded it, I don’t know if anyone would have believed it, even from a class as amazing as you. So, I’ll share another, perhaps more believable moment from our trip that I believe reflects your ability to intuitively operate in the higher frequencies. 

After we were finishing up dinner at the incredible Odessa’s Blessings in Montgomery, Alabama, some students started to get on a piano that was set up in the dining room, informally playing a bit of a song here and another bit there. 

Then, a movement started to get one person to play. 

I won’t name him because I understand he’s not fond of the spotlight, so I’ll just say his name rhymes with Myler Gamenzie. 

He clearly was not comfortable getting on the keys in front of the class, so the rest of you respected his vibe and just moved on. 

But then, a low cheer started to rise as this student made his way to the piano, placed his hands on the keys and perfectly played the iconic opening of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. 

While the class was not tuned in very well to the lyrics of the song, this moment, for me, is a lovely example of the magic that can happen when a group of young people create space for each person to operate at their own frequency. 

And not just tolerate that frequency, but embrace it, integrate it, celebrate it. 

This was a moment where a repeated sequence was interrupted. 

A group of young people muting the frequency of peer pressure and exclusion and tuning into the higher frequency encouragement, laughter, belonging, and, dare I say, love. 

You are supposed to give advice in commencement speeches, but I think we adults may have more to learn from you than you from us right now. 

So rather than giving advice, I will just thank you, thank you for your example of who we should be and what our world should be. 

So... while I won’t give advice. 

I will make an observation. 

The Class of 2020 hasn’t always been able to tune out some of the lower frequencies of human nature. 

I feel I cannot leave this podium without sharing that this class has a really unhealthy obsession with not only defeating but humiliating the Gordon faculty at any kind of competitive event. 

With this class there is no such thing as a friendly soccer game or a harmless game of trivia. When Mr. Burnstein had the audacity to suggest that we have mixed faculty and student teams for a Zoom trivia night, I believe the word that one of your Class Presidents used to respond to this audacious idea was “gross.”  

So, I’m gonna need you to continue to work on that. 

Otherwise, I think the Class of 2020 is going to be alright. 

In the spirit of following your example of tuning into higher frequencies, I’d like to end my remarks with a poem by Susan Van de Bittner called “The Dam Has Broken” and it was written in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
‘The Dam Has Broken!’
The dam of holding back my words.
The dam holding back my thoughts,
The dam of resistance,
The dam that I placed.
The dam that was my excuse,
The dam to allow focus on daily activities,
dam of other projects,
The dam of excuses.
The dam has broken and now the words of so many subjects flows freely,
Of its own accord,
my new job is to capture the flow, in words, by voice or writing.
To create new Rivers,
New streams and
New Joy!

Thank you.