Last Saturday was a momentous day for Keystone as we graduated our Class of 2021. On that day, our Head of School Malcolm McKenzie addressed our fourth graduating cohort and urged them to "be a teacher" who "[teaches] others about life and how best to live it, whatever career you choose." We share with you his entire speech in this week's edition of Head of School Corner.
Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,
Good evening – I give you a hearty and a warm welcome, everyone. Thank you most sincerely for being here. It is a huge pleasure for me to be a part of this ceremony and celebration with you. It is reassuring indeed to witness the return of some of our routines and rituals.
There are some who are not here who would have loved to be present. Our Founding President, Mr. Ed Shanahan, and Dr. Maureen McCoy, Head of the Middle School, cannot be here. Neither can Medaly Cardenas Retamozo, our well-loved and admired Grade 12 senior. Ed and Maureen are in the States, Medaly in Peru. All three are participating online. Family members of the seniors have been restricted to 2, and so there are loved ones missing. A few other Keystone leaders are absent of necessity. All these absentees are sorely missed, and are reminders that we still dwell in a pandemic period.
Two who are present, and have been here for many years, will be leaving soon. We have other teachers and leaders leaving, and we’ll say a fond goodbye to them in June, but there are two here this evening that I want to mention now. Dr. Diana Martelly has been our first full Head of the High School, and Derek Davies has led the Keystone Activities Program from the outset. Both are remarkable leaders. Even more, they are deeply thoughtful teachers. You students have learned a huge amount from them, more outside the classroom than inside it, I feel. That fact is important for what I want to say later, about teaching. I thank them, with and for you.
Seniors, Class of 2021, congratulations on your graduation today. In your program, the final sentence about the meaning of the glowing gown and stole that you are all wearing is this: “The golden fringe of this plant represents our hope that this special cohort of graduates, who have experienced an intense period of time of study and scholarship during the pandemic, grow, mature, and harvest more with bravery and resilience, regardless of difficulties in life.” You have shown great bravery and resilience. Thank you. You will harvest more, for sure. I have pride and confidence in you, and I appreciate immensely your contributions to Keystone so far. I say ‘so far’ deliberately, because ‘so far’ has been a relatively short period of time, the few years that you have been in our school. You are just now starting the next phase of your lives. You have many more years of contributions to make to Keystone, the wonderful school that has nurtured you. That’s why I say, ‘so far’. I’ll return to ‘so far’ at the end of my address.
This is a graduation speech and graduation speeches should have a message. Ideally, this is a message that you fix in your memories for the rest of your lives. My message to you today has to do with teaching, and is contained in a three-letter word, B-A-T. Bats have had poor publicity recently, with their possible link to the COVID pandemic. But my BAT is not a flying creature. My BAT is shorthand for something different – Be A Teacher. I am not thinking necessarily of being a teacher in a school, or university. Some of you, but not many I suspect, might do that. But no, I am thinking rather of being a teacher in much more general sense. I want all of you to be teachers, teaching others about life and how best to live it, whatever career you choose. This is a capability that Keystone has given you, and that you will pass on to others.
Let me try to explain. I’ll do so by way of a true tale. My story is an autobiographical one, brought to mind by my thinking about what it means to be a teacher. I’ll take you back almost 50 years. In the summer of 1973, I completed my first year at university. That was in South Africa, thousands of miles away from China. I did my first degree at the University of Cape Town, before going on to further study in England. At the end of 1973, I turned 20. I was just a year or two older than you are now. Being in the southern hemisphere, the end of the academic year was late November.
That December and January, I had a vacation volunteer job for two months in Lesotho, a landlocked, mountainous state completely encircled by South Africa. There are two other states in the world that exist totally within another, San Marino and the Vatican City, both enclaves of Italy. My job in Lesotho was to work with a German doctor, Jo Pini, who was setting up a chain of health care clinics high in the mountain villages, at an average height of over 2,000 meters. The work was hard, invigorating, productive and satisfying in the way that authentic service always is. We were doing something useful, and we were learning every day from those with whom we worked.
At the end of the two months of work, and before I returned to South Africa and to university, Dr. Jo and I went on a five-day trek to the Maletsunyane Falls, a remote waterfall that, with a sheer, single drop of almost 200 meters, is the tallest single fall of water in Southern Africa, almost twice the height, or length, of its more famous cousin, the Victoria Falls. We were riding small mountain ponies to get there. Our guide was a wrinkled and lean man named Khotso, which means ‘peace’ in Sesotho. Khotso was extremely peaceful. I have often thought how fine it must be to have peace living inside your very name. If I recall correctly, Khotso’s English name was Simon, which means ‘he who hears’ or ‘he who listens’ in the Hebrew language from which it originates. Our guide was blessed with two deeply meaningful names.
I remember well our first meeting with Khotso. It was at a rural trading station, a country store, from where we were to set out. Doctor Jo and I had saddlebags overflowing with tinned foods, sleeping bags, tents, and the other supplies that we thought were essential for camping. Khotso, on the other hand, had one frayed blanket, and three loaves of bread, dry and hard. On the bank of the first river that we waded through on our ponies, Khotso stopped at a wild peach tree that he clearly knew well, took his stick and knocked off about forty green, hard, peaches, still a month or so from being ripe. Hard bread and harder peaches were his staple foods for the 5-day ride.
This remarkable man taught me, in just a few days, a great deal about life. Khotso seemed to me then, and does even more now, an ideal teacher. He traveled lightly. He communicated quietly. He listened carefully. The villagers with whom we stayed overnight on our journey knew him well and revered him. He humored his two clients, Doctor Jo and me, with wisdom and curiosity, and he was open to the opportunity of learning from us. He loved the wild landscapes that we traveled through. He knew his place in these landscapes. We learned our own place in them from his humility and his experience. He exemplified self-reliance, and passed this on to us. Above all, he kept us safe, in the stream of his knowledge and the cascade of his care.
I tell you of Khotso and that time in Lesotho so many years ago, when I was just a little older than you are now, because I wish you to understand something about teaching and learning that is unconventional. You have already accomplished much, but you have so much more to do. Learn along the way from those whom you meet, especially those who might at first seem unlikely teachers. And be teachers yourselves. Live our Keystone values in your lives, and you will teach others without even knowing it. I doubt if Khotso saw himself as a teacher. But he was, for me and, I feel sure, for many, many others.
We all know the sports phrase: going to bat. In its metaphorical meaning it has come to suggest something like to support, to give assistance to, to take the side of. Do just that. Go to B-A-T, to Be A Teacher, to support yourselves, to give assistance to your family, to take the side of all whom you meet in the communities where you will live.
If you do that, you will bring honor and joy to your school, and to your teachers here who have gone to bat for you during your time at Keystone. All of us here will value and love that. What a powerful affirmation it will be. So far, as I said at the start, you have done well, remarkably well. But you still have so far to go. If you take me seriously, and Be A Teacher, of and for life, you will be going to bat for your school and for all of us, yourselves included, for the rest of your lives.
With warm regards,
Head of School