Called Out: Open letters to those most important to me … as my beeper beckons me for the final call.
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It is an end in itself, not a means to an end. What is it for? Why does the school exist?
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If you have truly and fully embraced all that we are, what will you have gained from your experience here? Most adolescents go to high school because it is another rung on the proverbial ladder and a next step to college.
The most accomplished strive for good grades and high test scores. Of course they have opportunities to explore the arts and play sports, occasionally at the highest levels. They develop friendships that can be sustaining and elevating, and they might establish a relationship or two with a teacher or a coach who shapes their experiences in powerful and important ways.
The ideal Woodberry experience, however, is designed to turn those transactional experiences into a transformational opportunity for every boy in the Tiger Nation. Here we elevate character over reward, and it is important for us all to remember that the parchment of the diploma that makes alumni equal forever is far more valuable than any award bestowed upon an individual on Amici Night or later this morning. And why is that the case? Because character matters most, and it will last you a lifetime and it has the capacity to shape those around you for the good of all.
The honor system and a culture of moral integrity mean more to Woodberry alumni than any worldly accomplishment. But over the years it has become natural, and the foundation of your character has been established for life. The character of which I speak, by the way, is far more than mere endurance all the way to graduation. It is the way that I believe God wants us to live our lives: open, free, honest, trusting.
No matter where you go on to college, no matter what your profession, no matter what your material circumstances, we are called to life without a veil. Over your time here those glimpses have developed into a fuller, deeper, more panoramic view of who you really are, a keener understanding of the purpose of life, and and a more complete appreciation of your place in our community and beyond.
Here you have come to belong. Here you are rooted. Here you will always be welcomed back for who you are and for what you mean in a community that values character over reward. Living without a veil is a life challenge, and your graduation from Woodberry is a mere moment on that journey. I grew up in northwest Texas, where the highways are straight and flat and traffic is light. And I had a trusting father. For a while Dad drove and I sat in the passenger seat. But we loved the cruise control. And we made up games like trying to go as many consecutive miles as possible on those northwest Texas highways without having to tap the brake.
That made, as you might imagine, construction zones a real nuisance.
And each of us is under construction, too. If we are building our character, we will always be under construction, open and eager to learn a little more and grow a little more. There is no finish line for life without a veil, simply because the swirl of forces in the world will always make it incredibly hard to live life without a veil or to take our many masks off, first for ourselves and then for those we love and trust.
The Christian tradition is full of examples that elevate light over darkness and orient us to the purpose of life without a veil. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Of all the forces in our wider culture that make life without a veil so very hard to embrace, fear stands supreme.
Fear holds us back. Fear has us assembling and projecting layers of masks for self protection.
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We like to think of fear as unique to our circumstances, and while it is true that fear ebbs and flows culturally, it has always been with us as an constant element of the human condition. Sometimes the forces of fear come from the world beyond, but more than occasionally, they originate with us. If he made the slightest little stir, the snake was on top of him and he was dead.
So he stood in the corner of the cell, opposite where the snake was, and he was petrified. He barely dared to breathe for fear of alerting the snake, and he stood stiff and petrified all night long. It was an old rope. Now the story is banal, but the moral of the story is profound: in a lot of the rooms of our minds, there are harmless old ropes thrown in corners, but when our fear begins to work on them, we convert them into monsters who hold us prisoners in the bleakest, most impoverished rooms of our hearts. Hulsey, who has taught me more about courage than I could have imagined, has a card taped to the mirror in our bathroom.
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As you bid farewell later this afternoon, I urge you not to expect the rest of the world to care right away that you went to Woodberry Forest. Instead, let your actions show them the difference that Woodberry has made in your hearts and through your character as you live in the world beyond. Know deep to the core of your being that the truths of this place will hold you in good stead for the rest of your lives, but avoid the temptation to project yourselves with hubris and arrogance on those around you. Be humble and hungry always. Wear your experience here lightly on the outside and hold in your heart always the true value of what you gained here slowly, day after day, week after week, trimester after trimester.
Take time to be curious, inquisitive, tender-hearted, and open-minded on the path that lies ahead. Have confidence in your ability to to reach beyond yourself, but always have something to prove, or else you are settling for a life of mediocrity that falls short of your potential. Lean into life without a veil so that you might serve others wrestling with their own struggles with darkness that each of us endures.
Impressed by the beauty and the splendor of our campus, the couple said to Sion that Woodberry reminded them of a country club. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. It is, without question, our most precious resource. Once squandered, it can never be reclaimed. And if prison can be defined as the metaphorical bondage that comes with a heavy sense of unlimited time and limited space, surely freedom might be understood as a clear-headed appreciation of what many seniors and departing faculty might define as the intersection of very limited time and unlimited space.
We know we will be back, grooved into the routines of the year to come. Many of us are eager for the end of the year and the sweetness of summer free from study hall, lights out, Saturday classes, evening duty, early morning faculty meetings, and a. And you have not always followed through with our expectation that you will work hard, build your character, and take care of each other. Even with our shortcomings, however, I want to convey tonight my belief that the Woodberry community is defined by the kind of love to which Christ calls his disciples. My overriding memory of the class of is shaped by my belief that you have invested in the best of who we are and the most enduring elements of goodness, decency, and humility that course through the alumni community.
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Many of these acts of love are not seen by most of us, most of the time. These acts anchor us with a sense of belonging and rootedness that gives us the courage to take off our masks for each other and live into who we are meant to be. Many years ago as a young alumnus, I met up with my headmaster, Emmett Wright.
At some point our conversation turned to a discussion of friendship and his relationship with John Reimers. Unseen, unheralded acts of love that foster rootedness, belonging, and gratitude for the blessings of this life in our community. I remember a Saturday lunch in a nearly deserted dining hall early in this school year. It was about p. Two seniors came through the buffet line, and rather than sitting together in the sixth-form section, they took a seat with the fifth-form South African.
A graduating senior came as a new-boy fourth former. Having the courage to take off the layers of our many masks in the presence of each other, is, I believe, the essence of our culture and it captures the best of who we are as an all-boys, all-boarding community. Living with authenticity is a foundational part of personal integrity, and it establishes a fertile field of trust that distinguishes our community.
And being who you really are, without guile or pretention, also seeds the field for the unconditional love that Jesus models in the New Testament. Jesus loved the vulnerable, the misfits, the downtrodden, and the least among us. Jesus loved a wide range of castoffs who only had in common the courage to take their masks off to be loved by the Son of Man and to then to share that love in return. Many of you have learned how to do that here, and that has been, in my estimation, a fundamental part of your Woodberry education.
Taking your mask off, by the way, almost never happens in prison. Boys who have yet to make it to their senior year have not fully grasped what many of you can articulate so eloquently. Instead, it is the bond that ties together your class as a whole, the connected tissue of groups of boys that once were cliques and are now far closer to a unified whole.
You have modeled that oneness for those who have been paying attention, and I thank you. Woodberry creates a self-sufficient support system on dorm after classes are over. With very little effort and proactive kindness, friendship returns a hundredfold. And I recognized the voice right away. I checked my calendar and said the first would work well for me, but that my wife, Jennifer, might have a conflict.
So on the appointed day Jennifer and I drove out to the Huntsville airport and greeted the tall, lanky former headmaster as he came through security. We chatted informally on the drive back to my office at Randolph, but once the door closed, he was ready for business. Baker pulled out a yellow legal pad.