Miller School of Albemarle

“Mind and Hands in the Service of Heart” Baccalaureate Address 2012 by Steve Knepper

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Thank you, Class of 2012, for giving me the honor of speaking to you, the first group of students that I taught, advised, and befriended at Miller.

I think I have some memories about each of you that will stick with me.  I think about Coop pulling out a plastic baggy of deer steaks and warming them up on my radiator all period long, only to offer one of them at the end of class to a less-than-impressed Rachel.  Or Joaquin seemingly falling asleep in the front row—eyes closed even—but then suddenly snapping back awake to ask the kind of question that made me feel like I was the one who had been caught napping.  I remember how Grant and Leela communicated primarily in dinosaur squawks and growls for two straight weeks.   I think about Chris’s spirit week costumes.  Or I think about how Nelly and Magic rocked the chapel.  I think about the exciting exploits of Ashleigh, Nicole, Janiel, Chase, Devon, and Andrew on the court; of Jeremy, Eric, Joaquin, Justin, Sam, Dan, and Jarrad on the diamond.

It is hard to imagine that I will walk into the library and not see Spencer, Peter, Max, or Harry— arguing, playing games, or watching bizarre YouTube videos.  Those guys really should have started a debate team.

It is hard for me to imagine, period, that next year I will be here and you will be gone. And this is the first thing I want to point out.  It’s the elephant in the room.  We will, in all likelihood, never be together again.  You will not see many of your classmates ever again after you graduate.  This is a real reason for sadness, and it is why graduations are always and unavoidably bittersweet.  They are 80% celebration but 20% mourning.

Still, I hope to have shown you already how all of you have shaped me.  And you have all definitely shaped each other.  And in this way, even though we will never be together again, we will also never be fully apart.  We have made lasting impressions on each other’s personalities, intellects, and memories.

I remember a paper that Savannah wrote once for my class.  She said that important memories are like photos in a scrapbook.  You come back to them again and again to help make sense of your life.   You are all taking many important memories with you that will help you make sense of your life even into your old age.  When you try to figure out who you are, when you try to tell the story of your life, you will draw upon those memories.   And those memories would not have been possible without the people in this room.

But I also want to talk about another way in which Miller has shaped students over the years.  I want to talk about our school mission and its emphasis on mind, hands, and heart.   It’s something you hear about so much that it becomes something of a cliché, I know, but I hope to show you that it is really something profound and worthy of deep reflection.

Here at Miller we often tend to think of mind, hands, and heart in terms of curriculum.  You go to calculus to develop your mind; wood shop to develop your hands; and service to develop your heart.

That is not wrong.  Different classes do have different emphases. But it can’t be the whole story.   It suggests, first of all, a false division of labor.  Obviously, you have to use not only your hands but also your head in wood shop.  Obviously, being around an inspiring person like Dr. Tian in Calculus will influence your heart.  Anyone who has watched Mr. Macdonald’s videos from his AHIP service group knows that whenever MSA students go out into the Charlottesville community to repair the houses of those in need, they use mind, hands, and heart.  Ray Yen, in his chapel talk, taught us that you might even end up using your heart in Robotics when you fall in love with one of your fellow engineers.  In all seriousness, everything you do at Miller—just like everything you do in life—in some sense, requires all three.

Here it is useful to think through the metaphor.  In the body, mind, hands, and heart are connected, of course.  But more importantly, Ms. Vega will teach you in Human Anatomy that your brain and your limbs only work if the heart pumps blood to them.  Heart is fundamental.  It is what activates the other two.

There’s a crucial lesson here.  If we are looking at the MSA mission narrowly, only in terms of curriculum, then it would seem that heart is the least important thing at Miller.  After all, we only do community service for a couple of hours every other week.

But I think all of you know that this is the wrong way to look at things.  For just as the heart is the core of the body; heart is also the core of Miller School.  It is what makes it a community.  It is what makes it a special, welcoming place.

And what do we mean by heart?  We got the answer to that in the scripture reading from Corinthians that we heard earlier.   And we got it in Bonnie Kim’s chapel talk, with her photos of friends and couples at MSA.  We mean love, of course, and everything that love entails: friendship, passion, giving, kindness, patience, and care.  We have to be careful here.  I don’t mean to be sappy or trite.  Hallmark cards and cheesy movies have narrowed our notion of love.  Love is sometimes tough love.  It often involves confrontation and discipline. The parents, the teachers, and good friends in the room know this.  Those of you who served on the Honor Board and the Discipline Review Board know this.  In the Christian theological tradition, love is sometimes called the form of the virtues.  Just as the heart is the foundation of a healthy body, love is the foundation of right living.

Hopefully, your education at Miller has been an education in love—love of each other, rightly ordered love of self, love of this place and what it stands for.  At graduation time, this all should be apparent.  At graduation, we realize that there are strong feelings bound up in this place and these people.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that love is just about feelings.  Remember that mind and hands are dependent on heart.  Love is also about thinking and acting.  Hopefully, Miller has challenged you to think and act in the service of love.

What does it mean to think in the service of love?  It means to try to learn about the beautiful and the true.  It means to take a hard look at the problems of the world and to try to discover their roots.  It means to think hard about others—to try your best to understand them while realizing and respecting that you will never fully comprehend what makes them tick.  Have you ever noticed that the best classes are usually the closest classes, in which the students like each other and the teacher?  Love enables learning.

Another way of saying it is that your mind should not be cut off from your heart.  This is one of the great dangers of today, in our age of compartmentalization and specialization.  Think of a group of scientists in a laboratory using their intelligence to develop a world-destroying nuclear weapon without thinking about how it will be used.  Then you will realize why it is important that we think in the service of love.  This is why many science, engineering, and medicine programs are adding ethics courses.  It is an important thing to consider when you pursue a career.  Find a job that does not require you to check your heart at the door.

It’s clearer how hands and heart relate.  Indeed, we’ve already spilled over into that territory. We want you to put your love into action.  Here is a hard truth.  You are not a good person if you do not do good things.  All good people do bad things at times, for sure, but good people also do good things, and they do them consistently. Aristotle was right about this.  If we consistently do virtuous things, we become a virtuous person.  If we consistently indulge in vices, we become a vicious person. In the first Letter of John, we read “If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”

We have tried to teach you something like this at Miller.  Be kind to others.  Help those less fortunate.  Be honest, just, and trustworthy.  Live your life in a spirit of love, and challenge all those around you to do the same.

I know that on many occasions I have been challenged by students in this room to be a better person.   I think of Aaron and Taylor’s leadership on the honor board.  I think of the wisdom of Yiming; the kindness of Nicole and Lili; the friendliness of Olivia and Leela; the integrity of Eric; the insight of Jiwon and Rachel; the keen ethical sense of Grant and Theodore; the honesty of Ashleigh; the passion of Juhong; the discipline of Andrew and the basketball team; the camaraderie of Casey, Ben, and the baseball boys; the quiet goodness of Sean.  I think of my advisees Dan and Jonny, two of the most all-around decent guys I know, period.  I could go on.

Far more than your SAT scores and college acceptances—which are impressive—Miller should measure the success of this class by the astounding fact that there is not a single cruel person among you.  The world needs good people more than it needs smart people.  In this graduating class, the world is getting 39 young individuals who are both good and smart.

My hope, then, is that Miller has shaped you holistically, but most especially my hope is that Miller has taught you the importance of love.  We are very fortunate that our valedictorian and salutatorian this year embody this in an inspiring way.  Yiwen and Chase are not only brilliant; they also live out Miller’s highest values.

I want to end on a lighter note that hopefully brings this all together.  One day this spring, I asked my students to list the five most important qualities they would look for in a significant other.  One of my wilder students listed a couple of qualities that pushed my class’s  PG-13 rating.  But after steamy and dreamy he listed, as his third bullet point—mind, hands, heart, all together, as one quality.  And I thought that was right.  That is a good thing to look for in a significant other.  He was looking for the kind of person that Miller produces:  A special person, a person of tremendous character, one who goes into the world—like all of you are about to do—searching for the truth and acting in a spirit of love.  Mind.  Hands.  Heart.

Written by Miller School of Albemarle

May 30, 2012 at 10:25 AM

Posted in Posts

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