Contributing through Challenge, Part One

June 07, 2018


During the 2018 Commencement Dinner on May 24, SSM President, Nick Stoneman offered a reflection to the seniors, family members, trustees, and faculty. Here is the first installment of a three-part series that highlights how we can contribute through challenge – challenging society’s norms, challenging injustices, and finally, challenging ourselves.

Good Evening to all of you.

As I am sure you each appreciate, tonight is one of the more special evenings of our school year, of course because we are celebrating our soon-to-be graduates, but also because we actually are celebrating a partnership – a partnership of parents, teachers, coaches and, most importantly, students. And tomorrow’s graduation reflects the true success of that partnership, one that has seen the remarkable transformation of our seniors from youthful, squirrelly pre-teens or early teenagers to young adults, ready to take on the world.

In an effort to keep these remarks brief but memorable, my thoughts for you this evening can be distilled down to one word.

The word is CONTRIBUTE.

Now to really understand what I mean by contribute, it needs help from another single word – and that word is CHALLENGE.

Now you may be thinking, “Mr. Stoneman has clearly lost it. How can you associate “contribute” and all the giving and caring and compassion it calls for with the idea of challenge?”

Well, I am glad you asked that question. Interestingly, there are not one, not two, but three ways that I want you to think about yourself as contributing through challenging.

I want to start by thinking about how you can contribute to the good of society by challenging its norms, by questioning the status quo and, by so doing, breaking the molds that contain you.

Ask the questions:

  • Why does it have to be this way?
  • Why are we not thinking differently?
  • What makes that rule or limitation right?

I want you to be a “burr under the saddle of normality” - that is how you will get ahead and how you will move our society ahead.

Yes, it does mean standing out in a crowd.

It may mean not always fitting in.

But what it does mean is leading as a difference maker instead of an indifference acceptor.

I need you to ask questions like:

  • Who says we can’t find a cure for cancer?
  • What’s preventing us from having a carbon free footprint at our work places?
  • Why is affordable “healthcare for all” so un-attainable?
  • Why can’t we have a society where the fair and just treatment of women of all ages is seen as an essential core value?
  • Why don’t we take better care of our wounded warriors who have served us so nobly?
  • How can we move our Sundays away from being the most segregated day of the week and into a day of cross cultural and cross-religion celebrations?

If asking these questions makes you uncomfortable, then you get my point. You need to be asking them because a simple query can take hold and grow into action that fosters discoveries or movements or a shift in attitudes and perspectives. And that is what CONTRIBUTION is all about.

Here’s some good news. There are SSM graduates who preceded you, who in their own way, challenged the status quo:

  • I am thinking about our alum, Steve Barrager, Class of ’59 who has just written a book that shows us how, in the not too distant future, our homes will generate and store electricity that we can each trade on the grid and forego the large utilities.
  • Or our alum, Jimmy Chin, who is a filmmaker whose recent awarding winning film, Meru, filmed in the Indian Himalayas, set a new bar for how, through a lens, we can explore and experience the awes and wonders of nature.
  • Or a recent graduate who is a genetic counselor and pursuing her passion of customizing medicine so that cancer patients get care that is about them, not about a “one size fits all” drug treatment approaches.
  • Or the U.S. Women’s National Hockey team, led by our amazing alums, who challenged the glass ceiling of their workplace compensation expecting better pay for all they do for, showing us all the importance of standing up for what is right and just.

So, challenge the “accepted”. Learn to cringe when you hear, “Because that is the way we have always done it.” Know that questioning the tenets and underpinnings of today’s “normalcy” is what gives birth to the contributions of tomorrow.

 To be continued with Part Two…

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