Early childhood through grade 12

Hawthorne Valley Association

We are very grateful to have had Matt Fleury, a Hawthorne Valley School alum from the first graduating class ('83) and now the President and CEO of the Connecticut science Center, as our 2024 commencement speaker! He delivered a wonderful speech that we get to share with you here:

Thank you, Mr. Metraud. And thank you to the Association, the Board, the Council of Teachers, and the faculty and staff. Congratulations to today’s honoree(s). Thank you and congratulations to the families of the graduates. As a parent of 9th graders, I have come to appreciate that the road to commencement is a team sport!

Our time together today is very short. Believe it or not, your time together has been short. The journey to graduation is made of inches. And those go slowly. It’s the miles they make up that seem to fly by. And then, we’re all grown up.

So it is with life. As the exhausted and bleary-eyed parent of toddlers, I remember being told how I should savor every minute!

Life is made of moments that can seem to pass very slowly, but then vanish in big chunks of time. Bogged down in the most challenging moments, a friend told me, “The days are long. But the years are short.” I feel like that’s exactly right.

It wasn’t until I prepared my thoughts for your commencement that I discovered that those words are attributed to a woman named Gretchen Rubin. Once a Yale-trained law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Rubin has gone on to a career observing and teaching happiness and human nature.

I noticed that exactly one year ago today, she addressed her own daughter’s graduation in New York. She was really good. If I read her speech to you, it would be better than mine. But you’re not that lucky.

Except this part: “The days are long. But the years are short.”

In certain classes at least, I was an avid student…of the clock. Literally wasting seconds of excellent instruction time waiting to go play with Dr. Frishkoff and his older brother, Andrew, at recess. Moments to squander when you’re 15.

That, my dear friends, was over 40 years ago. Right here on this campus, seven of us became the first ever class to graduate from HVS. (I don’t mean to imply that somebody else before us tried and failed to graduate. There just wasn’t anybody else who had tried!)

Yes, you are looking at the first captain of the first basketball team in the history of HVS. We practiced (not often enough) in an unheated church gym in Philmont. The flat surface and the roof overhead in our venue today were not part of our campus then. We were the Hornets at that time. I noticed that you have now become the Wildcats. And this facility is undoubtedly one of the reasons that you are better than we were. I checked the stats and noticed that you do win occasionally. This is a welcome feature of the modern day HVS sports program!

Preparation for this gathering prompted me to reconnect with a few of the original Hornets. We have fond and distinct memories of what we believe was the first victory in this school’s history. Either 1982 or 83. The glaciers had just melted from the Hudson River valley. We were so excited that we nearly turned over the bus on the ride home from defeating Faith Christian. I believe Rob Oelhaf had a three-pointer, which may have been another first – not just for Rob, but for HVS. Predictably, he translated that moment into a career as a medical doctor. Andrew Frishkoff undoubtedly made a pest of himself on defense.

As the parent of twins, who are young scholars themselves, I think about multiplication more than I used to. For example, my boys are 15. I call that 30-years of parenting! Sharing their journey helps me imagine your experiences growing to be young adults during these complicated times.

Many things have changed. Private phone calls involved a long chord, a closet door and hushed tones. Technology is different now.

But in some ways, we were ahead of our time here at HVS. This is the home of the first “AI”…Anthroposophical Intelligence.

I bet you have brilliant yearbook quotes. We did. Mine was from a crusty comedian named WC Fields. I invoked him to express my state of mind on the precipice of graduation this way: “There comes a time in the affairs of a man when he must take the bull by the tail and face the situation.” Profundity with which my HVS career will forever be associated. Our yearbook advisor must have been out that day. But that is a truism that I have had to embrace at times. So will you.

Look. It’s been a long road. You deserve to laugh and have some fun. But let me try to leave you with some useful thoughts…

  1. I have learned that one must be careful about absolutes. Our society today has a bad habit of taking hard positions and defending them loudly, rather than thoughtfully. If I believed getting older and wiser would make everything clearer, I was wrong. There is nuance in our world. The world and its people are enormously complex. We will never fully understand. I am informed by painful experiences. Perhaps I can head it off for you…

How many times have we seen someone dig themselves so deeply into a position that even if they’re clearly wrong, and even if they start to realize they’re wrong…their pride won’t allow them to crawl out. Give yourself room to crawl out. You will, occasionally, be wrong. Sometimes, when you feel you have the perfect response, it’s best to stay quiet and go write it down. Then, if you’re wrong, the crawling back part is private.

  • Don’t give up on incrementalism, because small acts matter. For most of us, they are all we have. In a world where so much is amiss, and where progress is achingly slow, we must calibrate our responses to be realistic AND impactful. “Revolution” is a widely used term, and it suggests great acts that shift the course of the world quickly. More often, change demands EVOLUTION, which is, by definition, a sequence of small adaptations or interventions that make great change over the fullness of time. Pragmatism need not be the enemy of idealism. Have a mission, pursue it with zeal, but play for the long game.

My father was desperately concerned with the state of the world, but power and means were limited. What could one man do in the face of such vast need? I distinctly remember his small, but consistent contributions to Doctors without Borders, perhaps some environmental organizations, and political candidates he believed in. Small but mighty acts add up. Don’t think of activism only as protesting and sign-waving. Sure, there is a place for that. But also think of activism as small choices you make every day. If you don’t have a cause that speaks to you yet, start with the simplest and most beautiful cause: Reject bitterness and anger. Choose kindness. Hold the door. Smile at someone. Let them cross. Don’t lean on the horn.

  • There is a great deal of pressure on young people to “know what you want to be when you grow up.” I don’t believe it always makes sense to treat this conversation as if it’s existential at the age of 18. For some of you, the next steps and the long-term goal may seem very clear. For heavens’ sake, pursue it. But if the journey calls you to something unexpected, strongly consider the invitation. Likewise, if you are unsure about your long-term goals, make the process of exploring and learning about many things your objective. Try things! By way of illustration…I am on my fourth career at least. Every step has been less predictable than the one before it. The elders present will attest that I would not have been voted “most likely to run an organization dedicated to teaching science.” Unpredictable!

  • Build relationships and recognize that some people you meet may have an extraordinary, completely unexpected impact on your future. There is a small number of individuals I have met in my professional career without whom my life would have been entirely different. As much as we like to imagine that we are self-made and that only our hard work and brilliance led us to our accomplishments, the good fortune of crossing paths with – and forging relationships with - the right people can be just as defining. That is where preparation, work and luck meet.

    We all need someone to believe in us: a teacher, a potential employer, a mentor, a coach, an admissions counselor. You can’t always know who, when, or where. In the meantime, your job is to strive, learn, be authentic, and value those around you. Expand that circle, even when you have no idea where it may lead. Someone in that network may be doing something you find interesting. It might be now, or when you bump into each other at a reunion right here in 10 years. Invite yourself to be part of it. When you’ve built relationships before you have to ask for something, the conversation is far easier. Be genuinely curious and interested in people and their work. They may need help and you’ll be there. Someone will see your potential and make a bet on you. And you will reward them by rising to the moment and becoming the best decision they ever made.

To the 41st class to graduate from HVS from the 1st class to graduate: You have carried the lantern magnificently through some very cloudy times. It shines steadier, clearer and brighter than ever, through you and through the lives you will live after you walk off this stage.

Grace, Sage, Tiger, Elijah, Rosebel, Keira, Shea, Mateo, Roan and Tor…

Thank you for the privilege of being part of your commencement.