Above, students signing yearbooks at the end of the 2016-2017 CA school year.
Below is my address to the Class of 2017 at our annual Baccalaureate ceremony.
It is time to close our 2017 Baccalaureate ceremony, a rite that symbolically links us with scholars dating back to the first Baccalaureate held at Oxford University in 1432.
Back then, students would to recite a sermon in Latin. Today, we’ll commemorate the event with a post to Instagram.
I selfie, therefore I am.
At our opening convocation marking Cary Academy’s 20th Anniversary, I shared some of the ways the school has had to adjust to changing times, while still keeping true to our founding vision. I noted how a place that was originally dubbed a “school of the future” has to constantly reinvent itself, and I challenged you to live up to the words of past CA students who have called this place an “amazing community of people.”
Well, here we are. Two days until graduation, and I can say you did it. Tonight you’ve heard speakers representing your peers, your faculty, and your parents talk about the special aspects of this class. You are amazing.
While tonight marks a passage in your lives. Your identity, as a son or daughter, as a friend, as a student at CA. All of these are going to change. Not disappear, mind you, but change.
What I ask you tonight is to be patient with yourself. You are entering an important chapter in your life, but your story is not yet written.
Let me illustrate by going back to the 1998 NFL Draft, and a choice that has become known as the greatest draft bust in professional sports history. The Indianapolis Colts had the top pick in the draft that year, and pundits were split over whether they would take Tennessee’s Payton Manning or a Washington State quarterback named Ryan Leaf.
We all know how things turned out for Manning, a two-time Super Bowl winner, soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer, and ubiquitous TV pitchman. The San Diego Chargers took Leaf with the number two pick and signed him to a $31 million rookie contract — and his football career hit the tank immediately. By the time he was 40 years old, Leaf was bankrupt and had spent almost as much time in jail as he had in the NFL.
His was a tragic tale of talent squandered. It was as if the clock on his identity stopped after right after college. If his life wasn’t football, he was a footnote.
You might hear in this story a familiar theme. Talent only gets you so far. Character matters.
True. But, what if there is more?
Convicted of burglarizing homes to steal prescription drugs for his addiction to vicodin, Leaf found counsel from an Iraqi War veteran who encouraged him to help other inmates learn to read. When he was released from jail, he answered an ad for a job driving people who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse to a local rehab center. The pay: $15 an hour.
Leaf now speaks on behalf of that very organization across the United States and has started his own foundation to help addicts who do not have money for recovery services.
Long ago we all locked in on Leaf’s story, but he has been hard at work on writing new chapters — and now bringing hope and healing to many who suffer in the shadows.
“I don’t believe I was meant to be a professional quarterback,’’ Leaf said recently, reflecting back on his journey. “I was meant to have these life experiences and be an impact on others who’ve struggled.”
Twenty-one-year-old Ryan Leaf was supposed to be an NFL quarterback — until he wasn’t. Eighteen-year-old you might feel a lot of pressure to have your story figured out — but chances are you don’t. And you don’t need too.
So as we close this ancient ritual of a Baccalaureate, you’ve escape the Latin recitation and you may be wondering what, if anything, we have in common with a practice that began in the 15th Century.
You may be familiar with the Latin phrase “mea culpa” or “my fault.” Did you know that there is a variation called “felix culpas” — or happy faults, where you turn a mistake or setback into an unexpected positive.
Perhaps even more valuable is the advice from the Italian Renaissance man, Leon Battista Alberti, who about the same time as the very first Baccalaureate wrote a tract called, the Use and Abuse of Books in which he said: “The more you learn, the more you realize how much you do not know.”
Good luck to you, Class of 2017.