Miller School of Albemarle

“Real Moments” Baccalaureate Speech by Christopher D. Ross

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Presented May 27, 2011 at the Miller School of Albemarle

Good Evening.

I’ll begin with thanks to the Board of Trustees, Mr. France, and the members of his administration for running a tight ship; the parents and families of the graduating class of 2011 for investing your trust in us to educate your children; my fellow teachers for bestowing your time, energy, and expertise; you 32 seniors for inspiring and challenging us with your questions and answers.  You are the reason we show up every day to dig a little bit deeper.  And finally, I’d like to thank Samuel Miller and his compatriots for turning his dream of a school on a hill into a reality.

There is no doubt we are privileged to spend time in this bucolic sanctuary every day.  Truly, we can stop and listen right now—to the sounds of nature that enrich our presence.  As our song states, “Mid the mountains of Virginia/’Neath the skies so blue/Stands our noble Alma Mater/ Glorious to view.”  The beauty of our surroundings prompts me to offer some thoughts on the relative merits of nature, solitude, and technology.

When my father was a young man, he thought it a prudent decision to buy a farm in northern Pennsylvania and plant Christmas trees on it. The farm itself became a sort of Nirvana for me.  I loved roaming the country-side; I quietly spied on deer, badgers, and porcupines; and I’ll never forget the scalding summer day my brother and I hiked over the crest of a hill and discovered a mysterious lake glistening in the distance.  We stopped in our tracks, looked at one another, and crowed, “Paradise!”

When I grew to be your age, my college essay required my opinions of technology.  I wrote about the paradise of the farm, but added the disconcerting details of how one day I looked up from our porch-swing and witnessed a large truck trundling down the dirt road, spraying it with a black, viscous, and acrid smelling liquid. In my young mind, I was certain this truck represented a precursor to paving, a dastardly sign of the increased traffic of “civilization” marching down our farmhouse road.  Indeed, the dirt and the dust represented a sanctuary for me.

We all realize, of course, how technology has a way of paving roads to our doors, but that does not mean we cannot create for ourselves a fire-walled “dirt road” that leads us to a place of nature, solitude, poetry, and peace amidst the host of technological distractions that keep us so connected, yet, paradoxically, separated from each other.

Due to this phenomenon, I exhort you to create a healthy relationship with solitude and nature apart from texting, phones, Internet, and e-mails. Yes, times are changing quickly, but take the time; make the time, to slow down.  It’s okay.     You don’t always have to speed like mad to keep up with the changing world around you.  It will still be here when we put down our phones.

Having said that, I tip my hat to Mr. John Donne and Mr. Thomas Merton who opined “no man is an island”.  We can’t do everything alone.  After a period of refreshing solitude, we rejoin the world. Thenceforth, make opportunities to seek out face to face contact.  Indulge in eye contact.  Strive for moments of real world connectivity.

I experienced one of these God-given moments on Wednesday.

I was cloistered in my classroom, standing at my podium, revising this speech, when an odd thing happened.  A bird landed on the screen of my window, and suspended itself there.  Beyond my initial amazement, I quickly went back to my computer screen.  I was sure it would disappear as quickly as it appeared.  But it lingered.  Hmm, I thought, what kind of bird is this?  Is this some sort of sign?

I approached the window in a small and silent semi-circle, and planted myself next to my bookshelf. Once again, I expected it to fly off immediately.  But it clung on, maintained its equipoise, long enough for me to discern its markings.  I’ll confess; I even spoke to it.  I asked, “How are you doing?  What are you up to today?”  It cocked its head, and flew away.

Wednesday night, still looking for an ending to my speech, and unable to ignore the mysterious bird, I sprang out of bed, went to the bird book in my kitchen, and I.D.ed it; “Brown above, shading to reddish brown, bold eye-ring”;    a Wood Thrush.  Bells of other poets clanged softly in my head.

Thursday morning; cross-referenced the Audubon Bird Book, which included this Thoreau quote about the thrush;

Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her Spring;  Whenever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country,                        and the gates of heaven are not shut against him.

Thursday on the internet, tracked down other poets who had written about thrushes.  Gerard Manley Hopkins in his1877 poem entitled “Spring”;

 Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

John Keats, (1795-1821), wrote “What the Thrush Said”;

John Clare, (1793-1864), wrote in “The Thrush’s Nest”;

I heard from morn to morn a merry thrush
Sing hymns to sunrise, and I drank the sound

A review of Emily Dickinson’s poetry in the September, 6, 1896 Boston Courier stated;

As a caged thrush sings, so sang she, for the sake of singing and of making beautiful her place in the world, while she might…

For you Emily Bronte lovers, the name of Catherine Linton’s house was………..



These birds have been here before.

And I feel that resident wood thrush is here right now.

Who knows, possibly sitting on its clutch of green-blue eggs?  Or maybe feeding its hatchlings by now?

Maybe thinking about its future?

Or just being?

And—just as we are—

Watching the twilight appear?

Chris Ross

Written by Miller School of Albemarle

June 1, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Posted in Posts

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