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Read Dr. Nabi’s Opening Address and Roll Call for Academic Year 2017-2018

 

Miller School of Albemarle

Opening Address and Roll Call 2017-2018

Good morning, everyone! I’m Dr. Nabi, the Director of Academics here at Miller School. I’d like to extend a hearty welcome to so many of you, and to so many more, a welcome back.

It’s an exciting time. We stand on the verge of a new school year. The energy that you’re bringing is real. The school is gleaming. Faces are beaming. It is truly an exciting time here on The Hill.

But, it must be said, in the larger world, it’s an unsettling time. Not two weeks ago, our hometown, Charlottesville — a haven; a beacon of artistic, historical, and intellectual worlds; a seat of the Enlightenment; home to a Founding Father of this great country — Charlottesville, in the space of a single afternoon, gained a dark entry into the annals of United States history.

Two Saturdays ago, the entire world watched in disbelief and in horror, as, on the streets of our Downtown Mall, the darkness in people’s hearts spiraled out of control. Hatred flourished. Chaos prevailed. And our leaders did not show us a way out of our tremendous sense of loss and confusion.

One of the greatest poets of the 20th century, William Butler Yeats, wrote some lines in 1919, which have become disturbingly relevant in 2017:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats wrote these lines the year after World War I. In them, Yeats, exhausted at the conclusion of the supposed War to End All Wars, is wondering if he and mankind can dare to hope again. Because Yeats sensed a troubling reality then. And now, a hundred years later, we are sensing it too:

There will be times when our world is darkened.

So what do we do? How do we find a way forward when the world around us goes dark?

I am here to say that our way forward, here on The Hill, is clear enough, in that there has never been a more crucial time to be a student. I want to talk with you for a minute about how the subjects you are taking are more important than you know.

History:  It is said that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. As we ask ourselves, at this particular moment, ‘how doomed are we?’, History has never felt more current. Perk up in your history classes, and perhaps your generation will not struggle as much as our generation with this painful lesson:  that there is a difference between worshipping the past, and studying it. It’s strange to think, but we are becoming part of history now. It’s difficult to think of ourselves historically, but it’s worth doing. When people look back on us — when people look back on you — how will they judge? Are you acting in a way that people who come after you will honor?

English:  In your English classes, you will read moving stories that will help you develop compassion and humanity. In these classes, you will also begin to appreciate the power of words — the very real power of words to hurt and to heal, to divide and to unite. You will learn that speaking is the first step to speaking up and to speaking out. You will gain the courage to say what you mean, mean what you say, and to fearlessly call out those who don’t do either.

Math:  In Math, you learn how to be exact and exacting; precision and method are all-important. Math assures us that, quite simply, some things are right, and some things are wrong. In this way, Math has a wonderful purity to it, in how it promises us truth, and shows us ways to arrive at it. Math also helps us to appreciate unknowns:  to get a sense of their values, and to work diligently and carefully to make those values at last known.

Foreign Language:  It’s about more than learning how to communicate. It’s about appreciating the fact that there are structures and laws that govern your very thoughts. It’s about learning there are worlds out there that you do not know. Language is a bridge to these worlds. Language study allows you to connect to other cultures, and it humbles you by the fact that there are different ways to say the world and to see the world. Through Foreign Language, you are exposed to Otherness. And you learn that Otherness is more than just okay. It’s fascinating.

Sports:  You have a heart and, through your sport, you will make it strong. You will feel it beat more intensely than it ever has. You will discover your potential. You will discover your limits. You will discover when pushing your limits causes you pain, and when it yields you glory. You will decide, for you, if one is worth the other.

Fine Arts:  In your Fine Arts classes, you will create. Creation is the opposite of destruction, and in this way, when you create, you take part in an eternal battle. It is the battle between darkness and light; between what is called “chaos” on the one hand, and “cosmos” on the other. In your Fine Arts class, you work a kind of miracle. You take something tangible, physical, material, and you transform it into something altogether, radically different:  wood, paint, toner, sound… these become hope, delight, beauty, inspiration.

Science:  In your Science classes, you learn that the physical world works a certain way. In a time when human behavior seems chaotic and unpredictable, it can be a comfort to study the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. The natural world always has (and probably always will) present itself as a mystery and an overwhelming power. But it is Science that refuses easy explanations. Science is the human intellect at its height. With discipline and method, the scientist looks equally upon things that are beautiful, and upon things that are terrifying. Her findings allow us, sublimely, to see into the life of things.

That is probably what the astronomer Carl Sagan meant, when he once said that the human intellect evolved as a way for the cosmos to know itself. And on that astronomical note, I want to say again:

There are times when our entire world is darkened, when something comes between us and our source of light.

In that moment, we are not powerless. We have a choice.

Do we return to our primitive instincts and consider the darkness a bad omen? Do we accept it as a fitting punishment for something we or others guiltily deserve?

Or do we seek to understand it? Do we grow our own minds, so as to better understand the universe that yielded the moment?

Of course it’s the latter. Education, knowledge, learning:  these are ways for us to step back into a light — a light that we make for ourselves.

Knowing something isn’t an end in itself. Knowing something leads to better questions. It leads to a more honest appreciation of that which we do not know. Learning is an ongoing process, not just for students but for teachers, not just for an individual, but for humanity as a whole.

Learning is light. And when the world darkens, it is a call to all of us, to grow our minds and hearts. As students at Miller School, but also as students of the wide world itself, you will answer this call to seek enlightenment, and in doing so, you will help to illuminate everything around you.

And on that note, I would like to ask our seniors, the Class of 2018, to make like the sun and rise. Please remain standing as I address the other classes.

Class of 2022 (8th graders):  You look up to our seniors in every sense. Maybe you’re a little bit star-struck, thinking to yourself, how will I ever get there? Don’t worry. You will. If you need proof, just ask. Some of the seniors standing before you are what we affectionately call our “lifers” — folks who have been here all the years. I admire you 8th graders. You could be ruling the campus at a traditional American middle school somewhere, but instead you have chosen to take an ambitious and brave step toward adulthood.

Class of 2021 (9th graders):  Congratulations, 9th graders, it’s official! You are locked into the high school orbit. Everything you do now gets high school credit! Everything may be on the record, but don’t let that terrify you. It’s a call to get serious about your studies, and to go all in. Many of you 9th graders already know the ropes here at Miller. Use that know-how to help guide those who are new to us, and also to be confident in yourself as you take on the long journey before you.

Class of 2020:  Houston, we have a problem:  10th graders! Also known as sophomores, which translates roughly from the Greek as “wise fools.” Why are you called this? Well, you are maturing faster than ever, physically and cognitively, at this point in your lives. Because you are more mature, and you know it, you are gaining confidence in who you are, what you’re about. Because of that confidence, you might be more inclined to take risks. Risks take all shapes and forms:  sometimes it’s telling a bad joke that probably won’t land; sometimes it’s getting up on stage performing; other times it’s thinking you don’t have to study so hard for that Calculus test. Some risks pay off, others don’t. When they don’t, you sophomores have the right mindset to try, try again.

Class of 2019 (11th graders):  You’re like Pluto, which isn’t a planet, but it’s also not not a planet! All the attention seems like it goes further out or further in from where you are; that it goes to those older or younger than you. So I guess that makes you like the middle child of a family.  But while you might be middle children in a figurative sense, you are young adults in so many other aspects. Many of you have caught the whiff of college and the great beyond, so you have become hard-hitting students, confident conversationalists, and earnest truth-seekers. Keep that up. You’ll get there.

And last but not least:  the Class of 2018! It began with small steps, but now, it’s giant leaps. You are nearing escape velocity. But:  you’re not out of here yet. You notice how I’ve asked you to stand the whole time? In the same way, you guys must carry yourselves, so that you can also carry others. You are our leaders, and all eyes are on you, and so many are looking up to you. Take heart in this fact, though:  this year will go by faster than any year before it. Also, college is nothing like high school. It is not just another four years of high school. It is an altogether different universe, where you will bravely encounter new worlds.

Could I now ask everyone to please rise.

Mr. Drude, it is my honor to present to you the student body of the 140th session of the Miller School of Albemarle.

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