Dedication Service - Head of School Address - August 21, 2018
It is a joy to be here today. At the beginning of each school year, I am always eager and excited to get started. On behalf of the faculty and staff, I welcome you the 2018–2019 school year. It is a privilege for us to continue on our journey with our current families and to begin one with our new families.
Tomorrow is the first day of school. In the morning, we will host a pancake breakfast before first period, and then we will be off and running. There will be crowded hallways, course adjustments, the reconnecting of friendships, introductions, syllabi, discussions, and much more as we make our way to Triple M on Friday night. Eventually, there will be first quizzes, exams, musical rehearsals, games, and, by the third week, our all-school retreat. There is much to anticipate, much to experience, and much to be done as we start.
Purpose - What Are We Doing, and Why Are We Doing It?
Before we begin all our activity, it is important for us to remember why we do what we do. We need to remember our purpose. Whenever you spend significant time with high school students, you will inevitably hear the phrase “Why are we doing this?” “What’s the point of all this?” Or some variation: “Is this important?” “Do we need to know this stuff?” “Will I be graded on this?” These are really good questions, and if we fail to give a reasonable answer to our students, they have good reason to be frustrated. If we answer their questions with a “because I said so,” we begin the process of alienation, which is especially impactful for teenagers. With three-year-olds, “because I said so” works. With eighteen-year-olds, we must transition to rational thought, purpose, and reasoning. After all, who wants to put in all this work and go through the gauntlet of high school just “because”? We must lay out why we do what we do. Our students may disagree, but at the very least, they know there is a purpose behind their journey.
Pacifica students, to be successful in school and in life, it is of utmost importance to know why you are doing what you are doing.
Tonight, before the business, before the frantic activity, before all the details, we will pause to consider “why.” All the details of our daily lives, all the activity, all the coming and going, and all the hard work must be connected to a bigger picture. The granular details of our lives and the big picture are purposefully connected. When we understand the connection between the two, we derive meaning, purpose, and direction. We have a road map.
So, what are we doing here? We are building and transforming lives, lives filled with meaning, purpose, and virtue. We are encouraging lives of faith, character, and service to the glory of God. We are teaching students to think and live well. Why are we doing it? For freedom and joy.
Lest you be fearful of this answer, college placement is wrapped up in Pacifica’s vision to build and transform lives. Pacifica students will attend outstanding colleges across the coutnry. We have a proven track record of success. However, College is not the end goal—it is just the starting point—and our bold vision for students goes deeper.
Schools across the country have many different answers to this question. For most, the “what” is graduation—a diploma—and the “why”… well, the “why” is typically left unanswered, is unintelligible, or is left to the students to decide.
So, here we are, about to embark on the magnificent journey of high school during a significant time in life—adolescence. We have Pacifica’s mission to guide our way.
Pacifica is a liberal arts high school devoted to teaching students from all neighborhoods to think critically and wisely, instilling heartfelt joy and interest in learning, while encouraging lives of faith, character, and service to the glory of God.
What a blessing it is to see the fruit of our collective work in the lives of our currents students and alumni. Students across the country—and the world—are building lives of faith, meaning, virtue, and purpose. In business, in the arts, in politics, in ministry, in law, in theology, in education, in the non-profit sector, in health care, in retail, in fashion, in family, in community, in friendship, on Main Street, on Wall Street, on Silicon Beach, on Broadway, and from Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York to London and Tokyo, our students are building lives, not mere resumes. They are building lives, not mere bank accounts. They are building beautiful, solid lives of freedom and joy.
Pacifica students, what will you do with your lives? The answer is whatever you want. You can do whatever you want because you know God, you know who you are, and you know the world. You have direction, meaning, and purpose, and you are free to go after it, to dream, to build, to truly live.
2018–2019 Theme – Courage
Tonight, we also pause to consider our theme for the year. Each year at Pacifica, we pick an important area of life to highlight. Last year, our focus was on the good, true, and beautiful. Our theme came from Philippians 4:8.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you.”
In previous years, we have focused on being thankful and the effect of thankfulness on our lives. Other themes have included unity and love. We are not leaving these themes behind but rather building on them.
This year, our theme is courage. We should all understand the important role of courage in leading a good life. St. Matthew shares a scene from the life of Christ that can help us understand and conceptualize courage. Some of us may be familiar with the encounter: in the midst of a storm, Christ comes walking across the lake toward his disciples, who are on a boat.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
Their response when they witnessed Jesus was fear. They cried out in fear because they thought they were seeing a ghost. Many of us struggle with fear, which comes in many forms. There is fear of the unknown, fear of the future. Fear of failure, of not being perfect, of not keeping up with others. Fear of missing out (my kids call it “fomo”)—this fear is particularly acute with young people, given the pervasiveness of social media. Some fear what others think of them, spending their lives trying to please others. Some fear death; others fear being alone. Being alone has been my particular lifelong fear.
In the midst of this fear, Christ responds by saying, “Take courage, don’t be afraid…” In the face of fear, we are called to take courage. Fear of the first day of school—take courage. Fear of making new friends—take courage. Fear of the first test—take courage. Fear of telling your parents that you got a ticket or crashed the car—take courage. In the face of fear, we must take courage.
Why Courage – It is I
Why take courage in the midst of fear? What prompts us to stand firm and combat fear? I love the answer found in Matthew’s text. Christ’s answer is beautiful and highly profound. Peter is on the edge of the boat, and Christ says “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” It is I. It is I. Take courage because it is I. We never have to fear being alone—God is with us. We don’t have to fear failure—God picks us up, puts us back on our feet, and encourages us to begin again. We don’t have to fear what others think of us—God loves us beyond measure. He thinks highly of us and gives us an identity. Our identity comes from him and not from what others think of us. We don’t have to fear missing out—we are part of God’s family, and God has a beautiful plan for us. Peter listens and replies to Christ:
“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
Peter exercises courage and, as a result, does the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the remarkable. Pacificans, what remarkable things will you do through the exercise of great courage? How will you be magnificent? How will your life be filled with meaning and purpose, joy and freedom? It takes great courage to live life to the fullest. We must step up and get out of the boat.
One of my life-long friends from college had a dream of being a sports agent. He did everything he could in the field of sports. He wrote sports articles for several local westside papers. He sold athletic gear out of the back of his car. He hustled. One evening he was at a Los Angeles sporting event and noticed Mark McCormick sitting courtside. Mark McCormick was the founder of IMG on the worlds largest and most impressive sports marketing firms. My twenty-five year old friend gathered the courage to walk done to the first row. He went up to McCormick and said “I’d give my left arm to work for you.” McCormick responded “I’ll see you on Monday. You have six months to prove yourself. “ For the next twenty years he worked for IMG in sports marketing and traveled to some of the most famous sporting events in the world. Courage, take courage in the face of fear. Why? Because “It is I.”
Peter Lives Free
Peter was thinking and living well. He made a great decision, was courageous, and, as a result, was free. Free to live. Free to break the barriers. He didn’t care about what his friends back in the boat thought. He wasn’t worried about the crowd. His friends in the boat were trapped, trapped by fear. They were limited and confined by the boundaries of the boat. Peter was free. He was in wide-open space.
Pacificans, we want you to live in wide-open spaces; we want you to live free. Imagine closing night on the stage and the audience cheering at the curtain. Imagine the thrill of passing an AP test you thought you would never conquer. Imagine going to prom with that person you thought would never say yes. Imagine making the crucial shot to win the game. Pacificans, take courage and step into your lives. Live on the open seas, not in the confines of a leaky boat. Don’t live in fear—live in freedom.
Sometimes in life, we begin to sink. When we begin to sink and life feels like it is closing in around us, we return to Peter. As Peter is walking on the water, he takes his eyes off Christ. He begins to notice the storm, the wind, and the waves, becoming afraid. He begins to sink. As he is sinking, he cries out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. No pause. No hesitation. Immediately, Christ saves him. We are in good hands.
This meeting between Christ and Peter is about courage overcoming fear. So, I urge us this year to focus on and display courage. In both big and little things, let’s be courageous.
Finally, we are here tonight to dedicate our school and our community to God. Tonight, we ask for God’s blessing, wisdom, and strength to go above and beyond, to love well, to study well, to think well, and to live well.
Tonight, as your head hits the pillow, rest easy knowing that what we do here is not meaningless but purposeful and eternal. Rest easy knowing that the journey ahead, although difficult, is spectacular. Rest easy knowing that we care enough about you to do more than graduate you from high school, instead joining together with you to build a life of purpose, meaning, and virtue marked by freedom and joy.
Pacifica, it is a privilege and a pleasure to welcome you. May God bless you and keep you this year.