Head of School Chris Fortunato’s Commencement Address at Blair Academy
On May 21, 2015, Head of School Chris Fortunato delivered a speech at the Commencement exercises at Blair Academy in Blairstown, NJ. Offering reflections and words of wisdom for the graduating senior class, Fortunato’s comments resonated with several of the Good Project’s guiding values, including the importance of purpose, the power of personal principles and ethics, and the vital need for people to do good work that advances our communities and society.
Read the full speech below. (Note: the text has been edited for brevity.)
As I have the privilege of standing before you, our Class of 2015, one last time together, I admit I’m feeling parental, experiencing the range of emotions that no doubt your parents and families are feeling today. I am proud of you, because you’ve accomplished so much; but more so because you are simply very good people. I am sad, because now at the end of my and Mrs. Fortunato’s second year, we have grown to know many of you–you’ve spent time with our own children, and you have brought joy to our lives, and we’ll miss that more than you know. I also feel as hopeful as I have ever been in my life, because you are all becoming exactly what the world needs for it to become a better place, no matter what you choose to do. I found myself, over the last couple of nights, struggling to find the right words that encapsulate this range of feelings that I and our faculty have, to do justice to how much I admire you, how much you’re loved in this community, and how excited we are for you to take on your futures and to live your stories.
I posed the question: How do I sum up the stew of somewhat conflicted feelings we are experiencing as we deliver you into the next chapter of your lives? And I found what I was looking for, what I wanted to say to all of you–and it’s this–“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard!” The words come from author A.A. Milne and were voiced by one his title characters–an unassuming young leader by the name of Winnie the Pooh.
Of course, your varied and wonderful voices will echo in our heads and hearts long past your graduation. They have grown strong individually and collectively over your years at Blair. It has been our pleasure for us to hear them, help them grow and celebrate them even when they are quiet ones. There are moments when your voices rose in ways public and not so public that were simply so true to who you are and what you care about that they will forever stick with me, with all of us.
I am grateful to all of you personally as well, for as I have spent the last two years discovering Blair, you have taught me about this community, our culture, what we must always preserve and what things new we might explore. You’ve helped me develop my own voice, no doubt a work in progress, as your Head of School.
As you look ahead, change is all around you. It will in fact be one of the few constants in your life, in all of our lives. But I have also discovered and wish to share with you another observation, if not a piece of advice–the greater the frequency and speed of change, the more important it becomes to recognize and hold on to those things that must remain steady and true. Things such as these:
-Your principles define who you are and they can never be taken away from you. They impact every decision you will make. You will filter every challenge, opportunity, relationship and conversation through those values. So, as you march through life, please keep asking yourself–what matters most to me, what are the things for which I stand? Do this often, so you can know yourself and help others know the real you. Don’t steer away from this exploration of your values, of who you are and who you are NOT, even if others judge you or don’t understand, even if it at times it frightens you, even if you change your mind. And you will change your mind, which is entirely okay. It is part of growing up. Some people might fault you for being inconsistent or impermanent–I will, however, honor you for your trying to find your way, your true north.
-Another thing I also know to be true is the Blair bubble we so often talk about. People have been talking about it since long before you or I stepped foot on this campus. It endures and always will, but the best thing about the Blair bubble has never been what it keeps out but rather what it keeps in, what it keeps close and what it nurtures–curiosity, resilience and, most importantly, friendship. And here’s the thing: The real Blair bubble, the one that really matters, is not the one you leave behind as you leave campus. In fact, it’s the one you take with you. Inside it is the best of what you’ve experienced and what you’ve become, and it lives on in the good work you’ll do and in the people whose lives you’ll enter. Spread the bubble beyond this campus, and go out and make the world more like the best of what you’ve experienced here.
-Finally, throughout your time at Blair, you have heard the following, and I want it to be the words with which you close your time with us. Life is about love. Don’t ever forget that. It’s about love. Love of learning, of living, of family and friends. It is the reason, ultimately, that most of us do what we do, strive to be successful, make a difference and accomplish things that are important. It’s the reason we push ourselves past our limits, take risks and dare to share our stories. And you are, indeed, loved by the people here today–your parents, relatives, friends, faculty and your Head of School. Carry that with you in times of joy and hardship. And share it. That’s the real secret. Discover what you love in the world and share your world with those you love.
Blair Academy Class of 2015, we honor all that you’ve achieved and congratulate you!