Les Frost Remarks
Closing Exercises Remarks - June 15, 2011
In a season of “last times” that “Good Morning Mr. Frost” is one worth noting. The ineffable combination of recent events, Closing Exercises and the awareness of time coming to a close has at last caught up with me. This morning, gathered here on the Meadow, surrounded by all of you, I not only know – but also feel – how much I will miss this place and everyone here. I am fully aware that to many here, the words I’m about to say will be my last.
Last words. I have wondered for some time, what those last words should be. I sought inspiration and ideas from other sources to see if someone else’s last words might fit. Somehow “Et tu, Brutus” didn’t seem at all right, nor did Douglas MacArthur’s proclamation, “I shall return.” I turned to popular culture and thought of the closing of every Looney Tune cartoon, when Porky Pig says, “That’s all folks” but it seems too trite. As a boy one of my favorite TV shows was the Lone Ranger. I liked it mainly because at the close of every episode, after the Lone Ranger and his friend Tonto had saved some poor rancher’s home, the masked man would leave behind a silver bullet. When found, a local townsperson would remark, “Who was that masked man?” With that there would be a quick cut to a view of the Lone Ranger astride his white horse, Silver. The horse would rear up and the Lone Ranger would shout, “Hi Ho Silver, away!” and ride off to the stirring sounds of the William Tell Overture. Now that’s an exit and tempting as copying such a dramatic and impressive exit might be, with the price of silver being what it is, I couldn’t afford a silver bullet for each of you, plus I fear that if I tried departing on a galloping stallion, I would fall off the horse only to be carted away rather ingloriously by the paramedics.
So I aim for loftier, and at the same time for a simpler, more apt way to end. Over the years I have tried on several occasions to read James Joyce’s Ulysses, named by a group of literary critics, the “greatest English language novel” of the 20th Century. Set on just one day, June 16, 1904, it is a long, convoluted, opaque book, which challenges the reader in every way. As example, the last chapter contains eight enormous sentences in the entire, long chapter. The last sentence is the longest in English literature, 4,391 words with only one punctuation mark – a period at the end. (Now that’s a run-on sentence!) It is the rambling thoughts by one of the novel’s central characters, Molly Bloom. At the end, she must make a profound, life-altering decision. Her answer forms the last words of the novel, when she says: “. . . yes I said yes I will Yes.”
Eighth Graders, there are plenty of situations in life where you have been taught that the right answer will always be “no”: No to envy, to inferiority, to false pride, no to anger, lies, jealousy, no to regret, greed, arrogance, and self-pity, no to prejudice, cruelty, and injustice.
Yet it is equally true that when challenges arise and reasons for saying “no” are so readily available, no matter how difficult, I hope we will, like Molly Bloom, answer “yes” to the obvious: joy, peace, love, hope; but also yes to I can, yes to humility, empathy, generosity, yes to truth, compassion and faith.
On the first day of school at our opening chapel, little did I know that my talk that day would somehow reduce to its essence, encapsulate and sum up what I had been trying to say in all the previous 800 Monday morning chapel. I told you that doctors determine the rhythm and health of the heart by an electrocardiogram – an EKG. At St. Matthew’s we use our own – different EKG – to determine whether our hearts are the way they should be. Here, I suggested, our EKG stands for Effort, Kindness and Gratitude. In the simplest way I know how to say it, it is to these as much as any other lessons, that I urge you – 8th graders, younger students, parents and alums - to say yes!
When a student in school, from elementary to graduate school, I can never recall entering a class on the first day when I did not believe that there were others in this class who were smarter than I was. Being the competitive person I am, I knew that since others were much smarter, there was only one way to compete: to work harder than anyone in the class. Over the years, this mindset has stayed with me. One wouldn’t have to drive far to find headmasters of other schools that have more talent, intelligence and skills than I will ever have. Yet I know by putting forth a bit more effort - with the help and support of those around me - I do my job well. So, I urge you to say yes to hard work. Even when it’s tempting to do otherwise, pick the hard way, do the hardest math problems, take the hardest classes, stretch yourself in sports and Arts - do it joyfully - and be the hardest working person in the room.
If you have listened at all during your time here to my chapel talks, lectures, or speeches, you know how much I value your being kind: Kind to family, to friends, to classmates, to casual acquaintances, to strangers; kind to those who share your beliefs and interests and to those with whom you have little in common. Saying “yes” to kindness is always right. In case you don’t believe me, here’s what some experts – our 1st Grader Community Helpers – offer in response to: “What is kindness?”
- Kindness is great because it helps people have a better day.
- Kindness is being nice to your friends and respecting yourself.
- Kindness helps many people. I love it so much!
- Kindness is when you are feeling sad and a friend walks up and asks you to play.
- Kindness is when people include others. How would you feel if you were left out?
- Kindness means it doesn’t matter if someone is big or small, you should still help them.
Before I close, I’d like to give each of you here a parting gift: the gift of a few seconds to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some may no longer be with us. But wherever they are, if they loved you, encouraged you and wanted what was best in life for you, they are right inside you, a vital part of you – continuing to shape you into your very best self. They deserve your thanks, so right now take just a second to think of those who have cared about you along the way.
Whoever you thought about, imagine how grateful they would be, knowing that during this time you remember how important they are to you. Try in the coming days to tell them this. Because, Class of 2011 and classes from years before and graduates yet to come, it’s not the grades, awards, popularity, money and fancy outsides that matter. Ultimately what nourishes our souls and brings us happiness is a healthy heart filled with effort, kindness and gratitude. It’s knowing that we can be trusted and relied upon to say yes to life’s toughest challenges: yes to love that conquers hate, yes to peace that triumphs over war, yes to justice more powerful than self-interest and greed. “. . . yes I said yes I will, Yes.”
And as for me, how should I respond to the questions of this moment? Is it true that I have been blessed to have the best job on the planet for 27 years? Has it been so because of the love, support and admiration of students, parents, trustees and teachers each and every one of these years? And while looking forward to the next chapter of my life, will I miss St. Matthew’s and you, more than you can possibly know? And, do I long for more time with my loving family - Marilyn, Matthew, Anna, Jenna, Daryl, Holden, Lexi and Josephine, not yet born? “. . . yes I said yes I will Yes.”
Remarks at Celebration Dinner on May 21, 2011
Thank you for being here and special thanks to all who worked to make this evening so memorable. I am truly overwhelmed.
William Faulkner, on the occasion of accepting his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, began his remarks by saying:
“I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work . . . “
I am certainly not deluding myself into believing that I’m a Nobel Prize winning novelist; but like Faulkner I feel this evening and these kind words of praise are not just for me, an individual, but rather a celebration of our work together.
Among the many blessings St. Matthew’s has brought to me, at the top of my list are the people who have been part of my life over these 27 years. I love my job and I treasure our time together, in large part because of all that you have given me. For I have received: friendships that I hope will stay with me beyond my time here; the inspiration of wonderful, dedicated teachers who taught me new ways of seeing and understanding; the support of parents, colleagues, family and trustees who enabled so much good to be accomplished; the trust of parents who so freely placed their children in my care; the happiness and affection of children, from students beginning in 1984 through today, who, when I took things too seriously and lost my sense of priorities, brought me back to the core idea that learning and school are, after all, supposed to be fun; and from Marilyn, Matthew and Jenna, I have been given unconditional love and forgiveness for the endless late nights away from home and often more time spent with someone else’s children than with them.
To each of you, my thanks for this perfect evening. It would not have been so were you not here. I will miss this work more than you know and I will hold St. Matthew’s and you in my heart for all of my days; for it is you who have enriched this time of my life, given me more than I could ever return, and brought me great joy and satisfaction.
Les W. Frost
Head of School