May 22, 2016. Yes, it is odd to cite this distant date in a back to school post, but experience tells us a school year goes quickly. Graduation day for the class of 2016 will be here before we know it.
No one graduating class or ceremony is more special than another, but this May’s does mark an important benchmark in the life of Parish Episcopal School. For on that day at the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center our 10th graduating class will receive its diplomas. These 90 seniors will join a corps of 751 young people already sent forth from this place since 2007 to discover their purpose, make meaning of their lives, and in so doing impact the world for good.
Considering this milestone, and the fact that among those 90 graduates will be my oldest son, I’ve reflected often this summer on the concepts of purpose and meaning.
I reread perhaps the most compelling author on the topic, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel. Frankel’s memoir, Man’s Search For Meaning, provides an inside story of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. But as a psychiatrist, Frankel’s experience shaped his thinking on living purposefully. He wrote that “nothing in the world would more effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning to one’s life.” In fact, Frankel posited, our primary drive in life is not the pursuit of pleasure but the discovery and pursuit of what brings us meaning. He believed we derive meaning from three sources: work (doing something significant); love (caring for another); and courage during difficult times.
In her book The Spiritual Child, Dr. Lisa Miller’s fascinating research affirms that humans are naturally endowed with a spiritual capacity. In a riveting chapter, Miller details how “the tumultuous period of adolescence is when values and priorities are forged, meaning and purpose are discovered, and an inner compass is honed.” Conscious cultivation at school and at home helps children develop a personal spirituality which “becomes a cornerstone for lifelong personal growth, success, satisfaction and happiness,” not to mention “empathy, forgiveness and resilience.”
“Sadly,” wrote Tim Clydesdale in The Purposeful Graduate, “disengagement if not disillusionment” pervade today’s colleges and universities, whose essence has been distilled to a “four to six year hazing they call ‘meeting degree requirements.’” Clydesdale offers an amazing analysis of the impact of the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s 88 campus, 8 year and 225 million dollar initiative which invited institutions to develop conversations about questions of meaning and purpose. These schools sought to systematically change the mindset from that of “college as an instrumental means to a practical end” to one yielding measureable results including “greater intellectual engagement” and “post-college trajectories that set graduates on journeys of significance and impact.”
As a new school year begins, it is appropriate for all of us to be thinking about purpose.
Students will hear much on this topic from me during my monthly homilies. What do they seek to discover about themselves this year? What gifts are they finding they possess? What tasks – be they in study, or work, or service – bring them the greatest joy? If together we can help our students ask more of these types of questions to offset those focused on the next test, the latest grade or the imminent deadline, we will do much to stimulate their thinking about the larger purpose of our lives.
Parents, you can capitalize on the year’s beginning to consider what purposeful parenting means to you.
As T.C.’s final year living with us begins, I recognize that Mollie and I have completed much of the “heavy lifting” of his parenting. We’ve done our best to instill and model values; we have sought to raise a young man with a sense of agency; and we stand ready to offer counsel as he makes important decisions in his adult life. Our greatest hope for him remains that he discovers what God has called him to be and to do, and that he experiences deep fulfillment when he finds it.
Finally, as a School we will continue to be a place that operates with purpose. Over 150 parents attended last fall’s “Reimagine School” meetings and were asked what makes Parish unique. We asked students and faculty the same question. As you can see from the responses, there is much unanimity on the traits and characteristics we value in Parish.
Utilizing this feedback, and building on the bold narrative borne of our expansion and positioning as the Metroplex’s most progressive independent school, the Board of Trustees crafted and approved a new statement of purpose last April:
“Inspired by our values of Wisdom, Honor and Service, our inclusive Episcopal community guides young people to become creative learners and bold leaders prepared to impact our complex global society.”
In my blog posts this year, I look forward to sharing insights on how we live out this statement each day.
At the Class of 2015’s graduation ceremony in May I asked this question: “Do we realize the incredible opportunity which has been afforded to us to be in relationship with Parish over the last decade?”
Together, we have helped to shape something – creating a sensational new entity called Parish Episcopal School from the foundation of an equally wonderful learning place called Parish Day. Growing this school remains a constant source of challenge and joy. While many school communities, businesses, non-profits and churches have chosen to stand pat admiring their accomplishments, Parish has dared to imagine, to dream big and to be among the first to do or try.
This is what makes Parish unique and special. This is what brings great meaning and purpose to our work.