Welcome students, families, colleagues, alumni, and Board of Trustees members to this important occasion. I echo the gratitude that Lisa led with and include earnest a special message of thanks for all of our BFS colleagues, who are here with us as well. I also want to thank Lisa for her two years of service to Brooklyn Friends School. Lisa, along with a dynamic and committed team, have worked to earnestly center your children.
This moment, though not the one we envisioned, is your moment, Class of 2020, to be honored and celebrated. It is a moment that already has vast historical significance.
Class of 2020.
Paul has referenced so much about the qualities that make your class memorable. From all that many have shared about you, it is clear that you have all had memorable experiences in your BFS journey and you have been at the helm of creating powerful moments for others to learn and grow from. And yet, in this significant moment in history, this time right here in front of us, you find yourselves in the midst of simultaneous pandemics – a health pandemic and a pandemic that the world is now alerted to surrounding the murders of Black and Brown people. In a virtual recognition ceremony, this is not what I thought I would begin with months ago when I excitedly thought about my message to my first graduating class in my tenure as Head of School. However, as Brooklyn Friends School, we are called to remain in the truth of this moment because our activism is through education. In my short tenure, I have been a witness to the mightiness of your voices and your hearts. I have watched you take stands against injustices, rally support for many causes, and insist on adults to stand with you in support of your experiences. All the while, around you, you have continued to witness painful acts affecting human lives – and in disproportionate horror – Black lives. In what many are experiencing as the crescendo of a movement for justice begun hundreds of years ago, you and all youth are being looked at as the ones who will have the answers and help us find our way through.
Many are counting on you to dismantle that which was created before you were even here in this world. And yet, though we know of your strength and ability to create change, this is not a fight that’s yours alone. We, the adults in this reality, all bear a responsibility to do our own part. As a school, we have a responsibility to reflect on our past in order to consider our present. We need to consider our own place in the healing of pain and trauma for members of our own community. We must continue to examine our curriculum and consider the ways in which it is reflective of the diversity of our human ecosystem – the one within our school walls and the one beyond it. We must all commit to a full understanding of the meaning of inclusion – inclusion is not just being present within an experience, but it is truly being able to authentically tap into all elements of the experience before you. We must make time for healing – something which your class has modeled as recently as last week – bringing together hundreds of people from around the world to engage with Ahmaud Arbery’s family and friends in a dialogue led by you, with adults, in partnership towards a different way forward, one grounded in collaboration and values reflected in our Quaker core, and a shared commitment to the betterment of today. This then followed with a call from you and your peers to make space to speak about what is occurring around us – why the protests? What role do we have? How do we make sure that we are front and center in our support of Black Lives? What is the role of adults and students?
Class of 2020, you have made us proud. You will indeed carry your strengths forward and do such good. However, continue to insist that the generations before you join in partnership towards resolution. Achieving peace is a process. Achieving equity and transformation is a process. Achieving justice is a process. Stewarding communities is a process. Simply put, we have much work ahead, and while we are grateful that you are now entering into your adult lives to assist and lead in these processes, that does not let us off the hook. We commit to you, Class of 2020, to do our own necessary and essential work. To learn more. To ask more. To collaborate more. To center your own voices and ideas into the plans for a way forward. To heal. We commit to centering what you have modeled – that being change makers is not a passive act. We will hold ourselves accountable for the ways in which we live our Quaker values and quite importantly, for the ways in which we would benefit from magnifying them.
You will have new communities that you enter into and groups of support that you will have. All the while, remember the spaces of support currently in your life. Your families. One another. Your school. You have existing communities that care about you.
Now, before I end, I want to share a story with you. (Note: Although this story has been told many times, with different variations, this particular version is attributed to Rabbi Jason Rosenberg with additional inspiration from Cantor Ellen Dreskin.)
This story takes place when no one had indoor plumbing. In the home of an older woman who lived by herself. To get any fresh water, she had to go a local river, a trip she made every day.
Each morning, she went to get water. She took a long pole. Then she took an old bucket and hung it from the left side of the pole. Then she took another bucket and hung it from the right side. Always the same buckets on the same sides of the pole.
The walk down the dirt path from her house wasn’t terribly long and was much easier heading to the river when the buckets were empty. At the river, she would take the pole off her shoulders, gently and carefully take each bucket off the pole. One at a time, she would dip each bucket in the river, filling it with cold, fresh water. Then, just as carefully, she would place each bucket back on the pole, oh so carefully lift the pole up, and back onto her shoulders, and turn to make her way to walk up the path, a bit more slowly, to her little house at the end of the dirt path.
As she walked home, the left-hand bucket held the water as you expect it would. But the right-hand bucket, it had a small crack in the bottom. As soon as the woman started walking down the path, the bucket would start leaking. A steady persistent drip. By the time the woman reached home, the bucket would be half empty.
Nothing changed the next day. The pole, the buckets on their usual sides, the right-hand bucket dripping out water. The days passed. The months passed. The years passed. Nothing changed. Until one day, just as they arrived at the river, the right-hand bucket sighed.
This surprised the woman. She had never heard a bucket sigh before. Then the bucket spoke. “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.”
“What are you sorry about?” the woman asked the bucket.
“That I keep leaking. You work so hard to bring water to the house, and I am half-empty by the time we get home. A bucket has one job and I can’t do it correctly.”
“Well, you do bring home half a bucket full of water.”
“Don’t mock me. I know what I am. I’m a failure. I was meant to carry water. I can’t do it. I have this crack, this defect. I’m a failure at the one thing I’m meant to do.”
The elderly woman looked down at the bucket, this bucket which had been on her right side, for all these years, with a look on her face which was a mix of sadness and caring. After a long moment, she began to speak. “My good friend. I am so, so sorry. I had no idea that you felt this way. You’ve been suffering all this time, and you have no idea at all, do you?”
“What you mean? No idea about what?”
“Here. Let me show you.”
She gently picked up the bucket and filled it with water. She put it on the pole as usual. She added the left-hand bucket filled up on its typical side. As they walked down the dirt path home, she said to the left-hand bucket, “What do you see?”
“What do I see?” said left-hand bucket, who had never spoken before. “I see dirt. I see the path. I see the same thing I see every day.”
“That’s right,” said the woman. “Now, what do you see?” she said to the right-hand bucket.
The bucket looked down for the first time and was amazed. All along the edge of dirt path were flowers, beautiful colorful flowers, showing every hue imaginable. While the left side was bare, the right side, her side, was lush and picturesque. And her crack that dripped out water? The drops fell right onto the flowers giving moisture to each plant.
“I planted those flowers,” said the woman. “They’re lovely, but they need a lot of care. And, they especially need daily watering. So, when I found you, I knew I had found exactly what I needed. Every morning, I fill you with water. And every morning, as I walk back up this hill, you sprinkle out, so carefully, so precisely, drop by drop, exactly the right amount of water to keep these flowers alive. To keep them flourishing. To keep them beautiful. This path is the most wonderful place in my entire world. And it’s all because of you.”
The woman consoled the bucket, “I’m so sorry that you never knew this. So, so sorry that you thought that you were broken. That you were a failure. You’re not a failure, and you’re not broken — you’re perfect.”
The bucket was stunned into silence. And the woman looked at it with wise eyes and said, “What’s amazing is that precisely the thing that you thought made you broken was the exact same thing which made you so powerful. What you thought was your greatest flaw, was exactly what I needed to make our world a more beautiful place. The crack which you thought made you nothing was exactly what was needed to make our world holy.”
“What you think of as your weakness can sometimes be your strength. See yourself as half-full not empty. Turn those flaws into blessings, and this year change your world.”
As I think about the story, I am reminded that each of us is beautifully imperfect. However, when there are massive challenges before us, we feel that our human flaws are pronounced. We feel incapable of meeting the demands of others or ourselves. We begin to look at our flaws and have difficulty in thinking about solutions. We begin to feel uncertain about our present and future. We see ourselves as helpless and often feel hopeless. We begin to feel that there’s a spotlight on us.
We question our feelings and our ideas. We convince ourselves that someone else should step in and take over.
In these moments, remember two things:
One. Do not confuse your strength for weakness. Sometimes, we miss focusing on what our purpose truly is because we have such a planned idea of what it should be. At this moment, you may feel like your path ahead needs to be more defined. However, in these years of your life, you will be faced with many experiences, choices, and people who influence your thinking. As you navigate these, I hope that you lean on your purpose as a way finding tool. I hope that you lean on your strengths – the ones you know already exist and the ones you’ll discover. I hope that you lean on those around you who see you fully – cracks and all – and love you not in spite of them but because of them.
Two, know that many of those who you can lean on are your teachers. I may have only been here for just shy of a year thus far, but it has rung loud and clear what mighty connection you have to your teachers.
All BFS colleagues are on this webinar bearing witness to this significant moment. I know just how proud they are. I know just how much they want to hug you and exclaim your names in joy. I know that they will miss you deeply. We truly do miss you, and yet, there is one thing we know. You are ready, Class of 2020. You are ready for the world to take in your brilliance, beauty, and mighty voice. As Paul has so aptly stated, “Keep on doing what you’re doing!”