Anna Shine '73
June 3, 2011
[I must say that] I am extremely honored and proud to be here today to celebrate with all of you. In addition to thanking Mr. Chuck Baldecchi your headmaster, I would like to thank Lucy McKinstry and everyone at The Lexington School who has helped make this day a very special one for all of us.
Firstly, I would like to offer my warm congratulations to today's graduates - and their families. Research in education highlights the significant role a family can play in an individual's success, and so just as my congratulations go out to the class of 2011 today, I also congratulate your parents, your family, your teachers, and the staff.
When I started at The Lexington School in 6t h grade which was (and even for me this is hard to believe), 38 years ago, there were only 10 of us in my graduating class: 3 girls, Ashley Addison, Stacey Stewart, and me, and 7 boys. There are 49 of you graduating today and although the number of students alone is one of the ways in which The Lexington School is different from what is was - when I was here, there are still many characteristics that are the same.
I was asked to mention some favorite moments and to talk about friends and teachers from my time here, and although I do have a number of memories, and I am happy to share them with you, I would first like to tell you what has stayed with me most from my time here:
I came to The Lexington School as an extremely shy and timid child, a child who used to run away FROM school, who used to stand alone at recess, who used to sit alone at lunch, who spoke in barely a whisper, who had a big bald patch on the top of her head from nervously pulling out her hair- and all because I was incessantly teased - and why was I teased? Simply because I spoke with a British accent.
I can remember a few days before starting here having nightmares about the awful things that would happen to me here - how it would be more of the same, and I was petrified.
And, I knew that on my first day, my somewhat eccentric father was going to drive me here in one of the family "cars", either a red double-decker London bus or a yellow 1931 Rolls Royce, whose back seat would periodically spontaneously burst into flames. As a result, we always carried an oversized bag of baking soda in the back seat with us, and if a fire broke out, we would quickly smother it with this white powder. I dreaded what was to come: not only was I going to be teased about my funny accent, but there was a fair chance that I was going to turn up to the first day at my new school looking like a powdery snow man.
But... nothing happened - nothing bad I mean - actually lots happened... friendships, learning, kindness, support, encouragement, challenges - hair growth - and an audible voice!!
The Lexington School was the first school where I belonged.
The gentleness, kindness, tolerance, and support that met me on that first day, has always permeated through the school, from Bud Pritchett who was the headmaster at the time, all the way down to William Turner, the janitor who used to keep my 3 siblings and me company as we were always the last kids to be picked up as my mother would, more often than not, arrive close to 5:00 o'clock saying while laughing, "Oh darlings, sorry, I forgot to pick you up - again!!" - but at least she arrived in a more normal car...on the days that it simply never occurred to her to pick us up at all, Bud Pritchett would just roll his eyes, and say, "Come along kids", and drive us home. He, like us, lived on Cooper Drive.
It was also at The Lexington School that I met my best friend, as my 2-year-old daughter says, "my best friend in the whole world - ever", Ashley Addison, who is also sitting right here in the front row. Ashley joined The Lexington School slightly after I did, but since the 7th grade we have remained best friends. We always planned to be roommates, first to go to college together, then to live together, then after getting married, live near each other, but since graduating from the 9t h grade, we have actually never lived in the same city, often not even in the same country. Nonetheless, we have remained best friends, and what is remarkable about this friendship in addition to its longevity - and why I mention it - is that one of us, and it doesn't matter which, is a somewhat secular Jew and the other is a somewhat religious Mormon. This very same environment of gentleness, kindness, and tolerance that I referenced earlier, allowed these two very different people to discover what they had in common rather than to notice their very distinct differences. The Lexington School taught Ashley and me, as I am sure that it has equally taught you, that despite seemingly vast differences between individuals, or between Republicans and Democrats or between blacks and whites, for example, not only can common ground be found, but also magical wonderful relationships can develop.
This school culture of nurturing and caring has always stayed with me as really, it presented an environment in which a hurting child could heal. When you take such a culture and combine it with this school's academic excellence you have something magical.
Like me, each one of you has been lucky enough to be touched by this magic. After The Lexington School, I attended school with the British royal family and have gone to one of the best graduate schools in the world, but never have I seen such a remarkable learning environment as The Lexington School. Cherish what you have experienced here, as it is highly unlikely that you will AGAIN come across such a warm and supportive environment, such good teaching, and such a remarkable school.
As Nelson Mandela has said,
"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."
This remarkable school was my, and now is your springboard for the rest of your life, and you now have the opportunity to jump as high as you want. However, as all of us know from either watching diving, or actually diving ourselves that even the best boards in the world cannot guarantee the best dives. It is a combination of the board and the diver working together that create that perfect splashless entrance into the pool.
Although my life is not perfect, I can honestly say that - finally - in general, I am satisfied both personally and professionally. Getting to this point took an amazing amount of hard work and what I call an "operational philosophy", if you will. I am going to share it with you in the hope that you find something useful in it, something that will help you with your dive.
My philosophy has a number of parts, but I thought I would share with you 3 of the (parts that might be most useful)
Part 1. Follow that Dream. I would say that the first step towards that perfect dive is to define what you
(and not those around you) want that dive to look like.
During your headmaster's introduction, you might have heard that I used to be a pilot and a flight instructor, and although I taught students just outside Kennedy Airport in New York, the truth is I never wanted to be a flight instructor - I always ALWAYS, from the time I was a little girl until I was in my late 20's, wanted to be a flight attendant, but I allowed myself to be pushed into a profession that others thought more appropriate for an educated woman - that of a pilot ...and as a result, I was never really happy flying - I never felt that it was my calling - my dive, if you will, and thus I never had the drive to push myself to make it to the top of this profession. I haven't flown professionally for over 20 years, and I have never missed it.
Many of you have probably not yet defined your professional dream, and that doesn't matter at all. Although my wonderful French classes with Madame Koster here were the roots for my eventual career, I never realized it until I was in my late 20's. And even if you don't work it out until later, it doesn't matter, as it is never too late to do anything; it is never too late to follow your dream.
George Bernard Shaw, for example, did not write a play until he was 50, and everyone in the world knows Pygmalion, and its musical version, My Fair Lady.
And I, at the age of 47, became a mother for the first time, and at 50 became a mother for the second time, a time when a number of my friends, such as Ashley here, were having their first grandchildren. It was not an easy thing to do. I climbed mountains, well actually literally crossed oceans and rivers to adopt my first child as he comes from the middle of the Amazon, but for me, at least, by following this dream - even quite late in life, I have a warmth in my heart every minute of every day.
You know, and it is a wee bit embarrassing to tell you this, but I have always had another dream - to come back in my next life as a professional jazz / hip-hop dancer, you know the Michael Jackson type of dancer, but just to hedge my bets in case I never have a second life, about 3 months ago, I started taking dance classes...and I am very proud to tell you that just last week, I managed to dance to a Michael Jackson song and although there is no chance that Michael Jackson would have recognized my uncoordinated out-of-beat movements as dance, I am not letting my rusty aging body dictate what I can and can't do...1am following a dream...You know, I have also always wanted to be a back-up singer - but we will leave that story to another time...
You never want to regret not trying to follow a dream at whatever age and whatever the dream.
As we are sitting here today on the land where the author James Lane Allen once lived, it seems fitting to remember his words:
"Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so you shall become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be"
Part 2. Once you have defined your dream, push yourself - and NEVER EVER give up.
People often say to me - "Oh you are so lucky to have what you have, to be so successful. .." my response is not that luck had no role in it, because luck always plays a role, but that a big part of my success is simply because I pushed myself - and pushed and pushed and pushed - and when I have been scared to push, and I have often been scared, and I am sure will be again many times in the future, I say to myself, not that fear doesn't matter, but that fear is a good thing because I feel that if I am not scared, I am not pushing myself
Pushing yourself is not easy. You manage to climb to the top of the mountain, then start to rest because you think you have made it, but it turns out that just around the corner, what you thought was the top of the mountain, isn't, and the mountain actually has another peak to scale, and another and another, and the difference between making it to the final summit or not, is very often the ability to push ourselves and never ever ever give up.
When I decided to start my own school, I was told that because I had no money, I couldn't start my own business - but, I didn't listen.
I was told that because I knew nothing about business, I couldn't start my own business - I didn't listen.
I was told that because there was so much competition in the area, I couldn't start my own business - I didn't listen.
I was told by a college president that because I didn't have enough brains, I couldn't start my own business - I also didn't listen. All of the above are true: I had no money, knew nothing about business, and faced huge competition, but I climbed and climbed and climbed and never - EVER gave up. It actually probably helped that I was told by my mother that I was smart and beautiful and wonderful and that I could do anything I wanted to and that I listened to her.
I will share one other climb with you: When I left the United States to adopt my first child, I told my family and staff that I would return from the Amazon with my newborn in two week's time. Almost 6 years later, we have just returned. It is a long story, but simply put, because of their not unreasonable concern about international child trafficking, the American Embassy denied my son a visa to come to the United States. Here I was living a full life in the United States with family, friends, a business, a house I owned, and suddenly, I couldn't leave Brazil - at least not with my son. That was one big mountain to climb, but just as I have climbed my mountains, so can you, yours.
Part 3. Recognize what we have to be grateful for and in turn respond with gratitude to the world.
I remember, during my time here, I would wake up some mornings, and say to my mother, "Oh, I am so depressed" ... She would snap around and say, "depression is a luxury for the rich ... pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with it.... " - as an aside, both my mother and I well know that clinical depression exists and neither she, nor I intend to minimize this affliction -
Her point was that my teenage "depression" was not acceptable and that firstly, if things are not going the way you want them to, start climbing the mountain, and secondly, consider how much you have NOT to be "depressed" about:
In his forward to Paul Farmer's book "Pathologies of Power", Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, wrote the following:
" 'Every man who lives is born to die', wrote John Dryden, some three hundred years ago. That recognition is tragic enough, but the reality is sadder still. We try to pack in a few worthwhile things between birth and death and quite often succeed. It is, however, hard to achieve anything significant if, as in sub-Saharan Africa, the median age at death is less than five years."
Most of us recognize much of the time that we have a great deal to be grateful for. However, it is very easy to get caught up in fighting for that dream and climbing that mountain as it can take so much energy. Taking a step back and recognizing what you have to be grateful for can make the journey towards your dream much more rewarding.
But recognition is not enough. There is a wonderful children's' book, "A Circle of Friends" by Giora Carmi, which in a simple, yet lovely way, demonstrates the benefits of behaving with kindness, warmth, and love. The truth is that our lives become more rewarding, more interesting actually, if we can always act with kindness, sympathy and with tolerance for others, and if we can always remember, "there but for the grace of god, go I".
I think that you have all heard the saying that behind every great man is a great woman, but I also think that behind every great person, there are great parents, a great family, a great spouse or partner, a great best friend, and of course, a great school.
I am very grateful for having all of these things in my life, and I am very grateful to all of you for inviting me to speak to you today. Again, I offer you my congratulations - I wish you all the very best today - and always.