Mr. Baad's opening convocation address was delivered virtually from All Saints Chapel to three groups across campus and faculty and staff working from home.
Welcome back, everyone! This is the first time of the year that we have all gathered, and it is good to feel as one again. I extend a welcome to our board members who are joining in this opening convocation via Zoom. We are grateful for your volunteerism and presence here today. We also welcome a new board chair this year, Giffen Weinmann. On behalf of the entire board, he wanted me to communicate to the faculty and staff the board’s appreciation for all of the hard work done to accomplish the school’s mission amidst the pandemic. This is a difficult time, and it gives the board great comfort to know the quality of the people that we have on the ESD team.
Despite these unusual circumstances, I hope you still feel some of the normal excitement at the beginning of the school year. We welcome fifteen new employees and over 100 new students to our fold. I remind the veterans how uncomfortable it can sometimes feel to transition into a new community, and that feeling only multiplies in these conditions. Let’s be particularly mindful of those folks right now. In fact, I think all of us may be feeling those similar emotions of “newness”. So much of what we are accustomed to at the beginning of a school year is not there - the hugs and embraces and the stories of summer adventures have been replaced with friendly waves, elbow bumps, and reviews of the latest Netflix’s offerings. My daily mantra, though, has become, “This isn’t forever.” Let’s remind ourselves of that as we summon the courage to push forward in these uncertain times.
Courage is one of those attributes that is needed in abundance but is often in short supply. Earlier in the year, I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt when she said, “Courage is summoning the strength to do that which we did not think we could do.” Her wisdom particularly resonates right now. We are being asked to confront two problems - a health pandemic whose cure has so far eluded us and racism, a social problem that has been with us for centuries. We have been thrust into the fray, my friends. But, we have chosen to devote our lives to people, to children specifically, to prod them, to guide them, to shepherd them. We are devoted to our charges. We teach because we love playing a role in making each student the best version of themselves. Let us remember that responsibility and the dedication it requires.
Heads of School, I suppose, are expected to deliver an inspirational message that reflects the excitement of returning to school at the beginning of the year. This year may call for something different. Reverend Heller and Dr. Goatley have already both done an excellent job asking us to think about love and patience. This morning’s contribution to our group meditation is a reflection on John’s Gospel story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene. I hope the passage will resonate with you as we prepare for this most unusual of years.
The women of the Gospels have always been inspirational to me for their devotion. My mother’s hometown in France, Le Puy-en-Velay, just held its annual Quinze Aout festival at which they commemorate the Feast of the Assumption. Catholics celebrate this day by taking the Virgin Mary to heaven at the end of her life. The festival culminates with a religious procession through town ending at a statue of the Blessed Mother that sits, a la Christ Redeemer in Sao Paolo, on top of a mountain just outside the city limits. The perfection of her motherly love has always been the unrealized goal for my parenting. Another story is that Mary and Martha. They remind me of the balance that is required of us between work and meditating on God’s goodness. Jesus asks Martha for her patience in understanding that her sister has chosen the better part. And today we hear from John about Mary Magdalene.
Mary’s story is one of devastating loss. Her world, her normalcy, has been turned upside down at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion. This person, this rabbi, this teacher to whom she is wholly devoted, has been branded a criminal, humiliated, and executed in the most awful way. Many would run and hide. Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus. Mary, though, responds by summoning the courage to care for Jesus, to be with Jesus at his tomb. And just when she thought things could not get any worse, she discovers that someone has stolen Jesus’s body.
She encounters two angels and, not knowing who they are, responds first with fear,
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
But then her emotion changes,
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Hear the anger. She is outraged that Jesus’s body has been taken.
For me, this summer, fear and anger have been in abundance. I am guessing some of you may have experienced those same feelings at times. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Anger at racial injustice. Anger that we are experiencing things beyond our control. Anger that our lives have been filled with questions for which there are no easy answers. I have felt loss; maybe you have too - small things, bigger things, life-altering things. What the heck happened in these last five months? For some of us, these emotions have been building and present for much longer. For some of us, it may be an awakening to emotions that some of our friends, our community members, have been feeling for their whole lives.
The people who have talked about all we have experienced have seemed to share exhaustion. There is a depletion of energy that comes with fear, with anger. This might be a feeling that many of us are feeling right now.
So, where might our comfort come from? What might be the source of energy that can help us overcome the exhaustion of fear and anger? From my faith tradition, I take solace from the rest of John’s Gospel passage. Jesus reveals himself to Mary. She recognizes him and is overwhelmed, but Jesus says,
“Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
Mary is ecstatic when she realizes that Jesus is with her. Her fear and anger are replaced with love and a sense of normalcy. “Rabboni” she exclaims when she sees him. His presence is reassurance. Everything is going to be OK. However, Jesus knows that things will never be the same. He knows Mary must let go of that which seemed safe, which seemed familiar so that she can experience something even better. “Do not hold on to me. Mary”. He shares the good news of the Christian story, that he is risen, and tells her to spread the message to others.
Perhaps what allows Mary to push through her fear and anger is this reassurance that comes through faith - for her a faith that the hardship she has endured has led to a healing. A reassurance that the bonds of love and the attitude of openness and patience that Reverend Heller and Dr. Goatley described last week can, in fact, lead us to something redemptive.
My prayer for our community, our ESD community, our Dallas community, our world community, is that each of us can find a source of that same reassurance, that same faith. For some of us, it might be a faith in the Gospel. For others, faith in another spiritual message. For still others, it might be a faith in the human family. I hope most immediately it is a faith that each of us can have in each other.
I feel fortunate as Head of ESD to have faith in you. I do not have all the answers and sometimes find myself not even having all the right questions. I have faith that together, as a group with extraordinary goodwill and a shared mission, we will find ways to give each other energy and conquer our fears, anger, and exhaustion.
Let us rededicate ourselves to finding joy in our journey this year and remaining faithful in one another.