Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and this year, as my family and I begin to say farewell to Randolph, it’s not at all hard to name what I know I’ll miss most about the School and our community. In no particular order, I’ll miss Huntsville, the Lifelong Learning Collaboratives, K-12 Convocations, the commitment to arts and athletics, our new daily schedule, the Board of Trustees, my meetings with seniors, the School’s mission and educational philosophy, the Alumni Holiday Reception, the Senior Capstone Course, the Randolph Parent Association, and Grandparents Day. We’re staying in Huntsville for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and asking our far-away family to join us here. We don’t want to miss a beat in our last year here at Randolph, a place that’s so much bigger and better than any one of us.
The inclination to gratitude is a commitment to others that elevates humanity beyond a ceaseless self interest that erodes the common good. Gratitude is fundamental to happiness that lasts. Our education, our faith, our relationships, and our character stand the test of time. Everything else is temporary and can evaporate quickly in a life that can’t be predicted or guaranteed. But we’re reminded this time of year that our devotion to excellence and our shared investment in each other connects us with those who’ve come before, and those who one day will come after.
This month in American history we have celebrated the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and observed the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. I admire Lincoln more than any other president because of his tenacity, perseverance, vision, and his hope for the future. If you’ve visited the Gettysburg Battlefield and read about the slaughterhouse between the Blue and the Gray over those three days, it’s almost overwhelming to take in the words of gratitude and resolve that Lincoln delivered several months later when the outcome of the war was still so uncertain: “It is…for us to be here dedicated to the great task before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
In the aftermath of such carnage I wonder whether we should find it surprising or commonsensical that Lincoln would several weeks later become the first president to declare Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. One hundred years later, in the wake of enormous personal loss, Jacqueline Kennedy summoned the same impulse to gratitude. She crafted a hand-written letter to Richard Nixon, her husband’s great political rival consumed with a burning aspiration to be president. She had lived with that ambition and knew it well, and wrote to Nixon that if his dreams were never realized he should nonetheless be “consoled by what you already have—your life and your family. We never value life enough when we have it.”
It may be that we summon gratitude more naturally when we have endured great loss, and it may be that I’m especially grateful to Randolph as my family and I prepare to say goodbye to a place that’s meant so much to all of us. But I know for sure that we have in our community men and women and boys and girls who care very deeply about the School and are grateful for who we are and who we might become. I am reminded of this by the seniors who share with me in small group settings what they cherish most about their time at Randolph. Invariably it’s the people—the teachers and coaches and friends and classmates and teammates who make the experience come to life. And this year’s seniors are like every other class I’ve known: they understand from their experience that we do better and reach higher and yearn for more when we are challenged by friends and teachers and coaches whom we respect and admire. That’s the Randolph Way, and for it I am very, very grateful.
Parents and alumni and friends commit to the Randolph Way by serving as admissions ambassadors and stalwart supporters of the School in the community. And this time of year hundreds of parents and alumni are making year-end gifts to the Randolph Fund. Your timely gifts matter more than you may realize. In the aggregate, gifts to the Randolph Fund wipe away the gap between tuition and the full cost of a Randolph education. Early giving makes it possible for us to respond to faculty ideas that come up mid-year and to dream big and plan responsibly for the next school year. There simply isn’t an area of school life that hasn’t been made better by the generous giving that so many have contributed to the Randolph Fund.
I consider every gift to the Randolph Fund to be one of gratitude and expectation. Those of us who give are grateful to be part of the School and this community. We’re challenged, nurtured, and sustained through our common commitment to learning and our love of children and their potential. And those who give expect us to remain steadfast in our commitment to be better tomorrow than we are today. It’s that spirit that will motivate Randolph to be an even better place for children to learn and for us on the faculty to invest our life’s work, and it’s that spirit that I will take with me wherever I go and whatever I do.
One of my favorite contemporary novelists is Wendell Berry, who writes about a fictional community in Kentucky that he calls Port William. Berry makes a compelling case for gratitude as the social ligament that binds communities together, and in Andy Catlett: Early Travels, he notes that “no one who has gratitude is the onliest (sic) one. Let us pray to be grateful to the last.” Happy Thanksgiving, Randolph, and thank you for all you do to make this a place worthy of our hopes and big enough to make the most of what matters most in the lives of those we’re privileged to teach and coach.