Greeting nearly 1,000 guests at our graduation ceremony at the Meyerson Symphony Center each year is always a bit tricky. For one, no one wants to listen to much talking from the Head of School – they are eager to hear from our student-nominated faculty speaker and selected student messengers. At the same time, I also feel a responsibility to ensure the singular event that is graduation is somehow fit within the broader history and mission of the school. For a moment, at least, I believe it is important for our students, parents, faculty and staff, and board members attending the ceremony to remember our place in the broader context of the community where we work, learn, and serve. And, with some guests visiting a Parish event for the first time, the graduation greeting affords me the opportunity to do something a bit more than thank them for coming.
This year’s graduation open offered an interesting opportunity to speak to the influence of two important names in the history of Parish Episcopal School: renowned architect I.M. Pei and Parish’s second Head of School, Gloria Snyder, both of whom passed away during the last school year. I hope you enjoy this message from Parish’s 2019 graduation ceremony.
Welcome to Parish Episcopal’s 13th graduation ceremony honoring the class of 2019.
This class of 107 graduates that we celebrate today is an accomplished one. Award winning engineers; global scholars; servant leaders; accomplished performers; and decorated athletes. As a class, they received nearly 17 million dollars in scholarship and merit-based awards; they will attend colleges and universities in 21 states and 1 foreign country. Indeed, once handed their diplomas in 90 minutes or so, they are on the way – with our prayers, hopes, and optimism.
Students, experience tells me you are barely listening – understandable given the scope and wonder of the moment. My responsibility and opportunity in welcoming everyone, though, is to illuminate a point or two of connection between this ceremony, the story of our school, and the life of independence that lies before you.
You graduate today in this marvelous venue, one designed by the famed architect, I.M. Pei, who died recently. On the website of Pei’s architectural firm, it is noted that the renowned architect envisioned in this elegant building “an inward-looking music chamber and an outward looking lobby.” Clearly, this vision was executed to perfection: Presently, students, a couple thousand eyeballs look inward toward you here on stage with perfect sight lines; later, you will take joyous photos with family and friends out in the beautiful, light-infused lobby that arcs outward toward the city.
But Pei’s “inward-looking, outward-looking” design concept for the Meyerson doubles nicely as a piece of advice to you graduates: you, too, should look inward to identify and refine your God-given gifts and look outward for people and places to whom to offer said gifts. This, you recognize as perhaps the most essential and, I hope, enduring of the lessons you have learned at Parish.
Of course, you and I have been immensely blessed to work and learn within another Pei-inspired building, one that has nurtured our sense of beauty and delivered regular doses of aesthetic inspiration. Our Midway campus facility, built in 1984 for use as Mobil Oil’s International Research campus and converted to Parish Episcopal School in 2002, was conceived by Pei and his partners.
You and your fellow Parish graduates, it is safe to say, are the only people on earth who can lay claim to having been taught within and graduated from facilities inspired by I.M. Pei!
This, of course, is more trivia than anything.
But pair Pei’s recent death with the passing earlier in your senior year of our second Head of School Gloria Snyder, whose vision propelled the Parish community into the Pei-inspired Mobil facility in the first place. What one finds in the legacies of these two visionaries in their respective fields – whose work just so happened to intersect at Parish Episcopal School on Sigma Road – is a life lesson far from trivial and most fitting for you graduates.
Pei’s ascendance as a transformational force in architecture did not begin until he was nearly 50 years old, when more impatient innovators might have felt their time for leaving a legacy had passed. Gloria Snyder led the immensely complex expansion of Parish in her early 60s, in the shadows of nearly four decades of influence and success as an educator – when less audacious change-agents would have had eyes squarely on retirement.
The lesson here is perhaps best captured in the words of Robert A.M. Stern, a former dean of the Yale University School of Architecture. In reflecting recently, Stern said of Mr. Pei’s legacy:
“It’s not a single building. It’s his work over a generation of time and his logical and relentless pursuit of the highest degree of excellence.”
The foundation you have laid at Parish, the one we recognize and celebrate today with your graduation, is just the beginning. Like I.M Pei and Gloria Snyder – two individuals whose genius informed your educational environment and flavors your graduation experience – your legacy building will occur over a generation. Not tomorrow, or next year, or even upon your college graduation. So be patient. And logical. And relentless in your “pursuit of the highest degree of excellence.” We will be watching with pride and eager to lend a hand at a moment’s notice.
Godspeed as you embark upon your journey.