This speech was given by Mr. O’Neil at the Providence Hall Academic Convocation, marking the opening of the 2012-2013 school year, on August 21, 2012.
Students, parents, esteemed faculty and administration, members of the Board of Directors, and friends, it is with great pleasure and delight that I welcome you to the 2012-2013 Providence Hall Convocation Service. Today marks the exciting beginnings of a new academic year. The processional drummer, the First Walk of new Providence Hall students, the hymns sung, the prayers offered; all of this provide a common experience for all Providence Hall students and their families and leads us into a time of thanksgiving and encouragement as we look forward with great anticipation to the things that the Lord may have for us this year. As we embark on yet another school year we indeed have much for which to be thankful. God has provided us with a new and exciting opportunities, talented and passionate new faculty members, wonderful new families, and a hope of things to come. I can hardly wait for classes to start tomorrow
Earlier this month in London, the world finished its 30th Summer Olympic Games; this number includes the three games that were canceled due to tragic world wars. As is Olympic fashion, the games were an impressive display of individual and team athleticism, steep competition, encouraging displays of national heritage, and commitment to excellence. These athletes have been training for many years to earn the opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games for their country. To train for the gold, each athlete (many of them teenagers, like yourselves) made significant sacrifices, enduring countless injuries and setbacks, committing to strict diets to finely tune their bodies, putting their friendships and relationships on hold—missing out on going to the movies on a Friday night or on vacations with their families—really, sacrificing any semblance of what we would consider a normal life.
A star of this year’s Olympic Games was a sixteen year-old girl from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Gabby Douglas not only earned the right to compete for the United States of America but also made Olympic history. Douglas was not only the first gymnast to win both the all-around and the gold in the team competition, but she was the first African American all-around champion in Olympic history.
At age fourteen, Gabby decided to move 1,800 miles away from her family to train with the very best coach, Liang Chow. During those two years Chow pushed Gabby to her limits, seeing just how fast she could run, how high she could jump, and how precisely she could land. He taught her about her weaknesses and how to overcome them while developing her strengths, teaching her how to maximize her efforts and her results. The outcome of her training was excellent. The outcome was beautiful. The outcome was good.
Was Gabby’s path to the gold easy? Was it without hardship or setback? Did she, at times, doubt herself, her trainer, or her mother for sending her to the middle of nowhere? I wonder, did she want to quit or give up? My guess is, undoubtedly yes!
At Providence Hall, we are not training Olympic athletes, but we are training and equipping young people for lives of faith, character, service, purpose, and significance. We are partnering with parents to engage the minds of their children and to shape their hearts.
Students, your teachers, coaches, and administrators are your trainers, serving as your personal sparring partners, dedicated to engaging your mind to think well and shaping your hearts to live well. An athletic trainer will take an athlete through consistent workout routines that tear the muscles of the athlete knowing full well that the muscle will rebuild itself, this time stronger, faster, and with greater endurance. This year, your teachers will lead you on a journey through history, science, art, math, literature, Christian thought, economics, and philosophy; they will cover the full story of human thought and experience. You will be asked, “what do you think; and why?” “Why do two hydrogen atoms react with one oxygen atom to form H20?” “Why can’t we divide a number by zero?” (My understanding on that one is once you reach higher order mathematics, such as abstract algebra or non-standard algebra, you can actually consistently define numbers in this way, but for now?) “Why was Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey relevant during his time, and how is it relevant in our culture today?” This year, your teachers are going to lead you through a thrilling exploration of human experience, asking you to strive further and dig deeper as you progress from childhood to adulthood.
Students, we are for you, and for your good. We are training you for life, equipping you to be successful at the next level. And it is important that you know you are not running your race alone. Your teachers and administrators, along with your parents, family, church, and many others are running this race with you. We are here to cheer you on, to carry you when you experience moments of extreme fatigue, to develop and refine your academic skills and abilities, to serve alongside you in our community, and to welcome you into adulthood and that fine day when you turn your tassel from left to right upon your graduation from Providence Hall.
Now, to achieve this end, to love you in this way, to realize this truth, this type of beauty, and this type of goodness, at some point this year we may have to reduce your minutes on the volleyball court because you are routinely late to practice, give you the B you earned when you (and maybe your parents) believe you deserved an A, not allow you to turn in make-up work for the tenth time this year, give the chorus solo to a student who worked harder than you, or hold you responsible for cheating on your exam.
We also will be there to rejoice with you when you earn that A on your term paper or make a connection between the beauty of the intricacies of the human body and the majesty of our Creator. We will be there to give you hugs and prayer when you experience defeat in the championship game of the CIF finals, or to give you a flower as the curtain closes on the final performance of the school play. We are those same people who will take you on retreat and join you on the Slip-and-Slide, paint our faces and dye our hair, enter the annual belly flop contest, and embarrass ourselves during the faculty skit night.
So what do all of these illustrations add up to? What is my point in telling you these things? It is this, that God uses all things for our good. That his grace and his truth (as it says in the beginning of John’s Gospel) is worked out in our lives over time. That sometimes what we think are tragedies, simply are not; in fact, they are experiences that make us stronger, more effective, and moldable for God’s great purposes in our lives.
This year, as you experience both triumph and disappointment, I encourage you to keep perspective, seeking the truth of your life, who God is, and what he is doing. Recognize that life is not always fair. This year, some of you will go through (some of you are already going through) some very complex experiences that have little to nothing to do with your own decisions or actions. Please do not lose heart, because God is in the process of redeeming you and will use these experiences for good in your life. As I have said before, and you will hear me say again, at some point this year you will fail at something, and that failure will be a good thing, but only if you use it as an opportunity for growth and maturity. God is bigger than your failure. Do not look back with bitterness, but press on, fighting to discover joy in all things.
I count myself fortunate in that I had the distinct privilege to play collegiate athletics at Westmont College. My favorite moment of each day was my cool-down run at the end of practice. The sun was ducking behind the hills of Montecito as if it was melting into the sea, the dew was beginning to form on the blades of grass and make a most beautiful fragrance, and I was alone to reflect on the day’s work. And no matter how successful or unsuccessful my efforts seemed to be, in that moment I would take a deep breath and remember once more…it was good. It was good, indeed. I had made my offering to the day’s work and the Lord was redeeming my efforts with his grace and his truth over time in my life. I was thankful for the opportunities I had and that tomorrow a new day would begin, giving me a fresh start.
We are all in process. On this side of heaven, perfection does not exist, so each day God grants us grace as we practice, train, and hone our skills, not solely for the efforts of this world but for our glorious birth into the next. And as I consider this, I conclude that we cannot endure challenges, failures, and all of life’s many experiences without truly thankful hearts. It is nearly impossible to do life well, or to do school well, or to do anything well, for that matter, without a true and authentic spirit of thankfulness and gratitude.
You will be a better athlete if you are more thankful for the body God has given you. You will be a better student as you become increasingly grateful for your ability to think, reason, and explore the world God created for us. You will have more joy in your life as you grow in your thankfulness for your failures. As you experience trials of many kinds you can be thankful that God is in the process of redeeming them right now. Your life will be transformed as you grow in your thankfulness and gratitude for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The theme for Providence Hall this year is thankfulness. This year, I encourage each one of us to live abundant and joyful lives—marked by giving and receiving grace. As we live out our lives and respond to everyday occurrences may we fight for joy, experience true grace, and extend compassion and understanding to one another during times of struggle.
Ultimately, may we become increasingly thankful; it is at the foundation of our lives and is essential to living well.
So, each day this year, may you give thanks for the things God has given you and use your talents and skills for your good and God’s glory!
Concluding his talk, Mr. O’Neil introduced Head Prefect, Elizabeth Beebe, with these words:
I now have the distinct privilege of introducing our Head Prefect, Lizzy Bebee. Lizzy is a young lady who embodies the ideas of “grace and truth” and shows a spirit of “thankfulness” and strives to put them all into practice each day.
Lizzy is no a stranger to adversity, having suffered numerous injuries that have kept her off the basketball court and track more minutes than she has been on during her high school career. Not once have I heard a complaint from this young lady, but rather she has come to school each day prepared for the day’s work, ready to engage her teachers and fellow students, and with a desire to have her heart shaped by her relationship with our triune God.
Lizzy, thank you for your commitment to excellence both in and out of the classroom, your commitment to find beauty in all things, and your convictions about the truth that leads our community and that extends grace into all of our lives.