Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Simply Wait

Alia Santini ’96 was invited to return to Peddie on October 14, 2013 to speak to the community in Chapel.


Have you ever thought about the very first students at Peddie? The first women and then men who in 1864 boarded horse-drawn carriages or the earliest of trains to arrive on this plot of land seeking the same thing that you seek – to have an enriching experience and emerge better prepared for the world beyond this campus. It is not until the announcement of Peddie’s 150th anniversary that I have had such a thought. 

In the year of Peddie’s founding Abraham Lincoln was President and signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The very first typewriters were being invented in Europe but were still 10 years away from reaching the American market. Door to door mail delivery began with a postage stamp costing 3 cents and the 4-wheel roller skate was patented. Today, we have re-elected our first African-American President. Women represent 60% of U.S. college graduates. “Selfie,” meaning “a photo that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam, and uploaded to social media” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary this year and the original iPod classic from just 10 years ago with its revolutionary click wheel now seems heavy and slow and will soon be phased out and replaced by something with a lightning connector.

So what is the most significant difference between the Peddie of 1864 and the Peddie of 2013? Speed. The sheer pace of things. In the time since Peddie was founded, we have advanced from horse-drawn carriage to high-speed jet. From things taking a while to a world of instant gratification. From the locally reproducible printed page to the universally reproducible computer screen. From the cable of a telephone to the signal of a satellite.  Brick and mortar to login and PayPal. If you were dialing then, you are speed dialing now. Walking is now speed-walking. Dating is now speed-dating. I currently live in San Francisco and there is talk in the Silicon Valley of Amazon.com moving to same day service. That’s right. You can dream up the book, jacket or pair of socks you want in the morning and have it at your doorstep by night. What this confirms is that the world is not slowing down. If anything, it’s getter even faster.

Which brings me to my coaching to you future thought leaders, community members, citizens of the world. I encourage you to PAUSE. Be still for just a moment. Stop to take in the richness of your experience here. Notice people you haven’t noticed before. I can almost guarantee you that someone here will change your life forever – a classmate, a teacher, a coach. Are you moving too quickly to notice?

Franz Kafka once wrote: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

This place, this community, Peddie, will rise to meet you where you are. Whether it’s your fourth week or fourth year, it will unmask itself to you as quickly or slowly as you allow. It will challenge you to think creatively, collaborate openly and, most importantly, to inquire genuinely – to be curious about any and all things. This is the foundation you will come back to for the rest of your life.

When I was a student at Peddie, my best friend Gwyneth and I were the editors of the AMPHION. We would spend late nights in Annenberg Hall sifting through student poetry and art thinking how wonderful that our fellow students were so inspired by this place and this time in our lives. Indeed, the process of creating art is in itself a slow one. We take in the environment. An inspiration emerges. It becomes an idea. The idea takes shape. It manifests itself in word or form. It is taken in by audience, digested - in some cases, lauded and in others, critiqued. It’s a slow process but an extremely gratifying one.

So my advice to you is not to slow down or to resist the sheer inertia of the speed at which the world moves or the pace of your high school experience. My message is to find balance.

      Between exemplary personal achievement and deep self-reflection

      Between ambitious drive and ambitious self-awareness

      Between constant motion and occasional stillness

      Between stimulation and tuning it all out

Find those moments in whatever way works for you. In a solitary morning run past the soccer fields or between the pages of a book. In breathing – deeply and consciously. On the bench by the Peddie lake or in the moment of silence in this very chapel. Learn how to pause. Sometimes I find that pause in poetry and so in closing I would like to share with you the poem I wrote my senior year at Peddie about this chapel, this gathering of humans, this moment of stillness.  It’s called “Seniors First.”


This chapel seat has worn
A hundred names.
I am but one.
I call it mine.
Will it recognize the surface of
my coat
in a year
in a lifetime
tomorrow?
The weekly molding of my dreams
in that seat
in that silence.
The air, a concentrated mix
of five hundred separate dreams.
I’ve heard them all.
I’ve dreamt them, too.
A little closer each year
so close
so close to the front now
that leaving is hard to do.
Not like the years before
when I could have slipped out the back
unnoticed.
Somewhere else
an invitation
an empty seat
an untouched dream awaits.
Yesterday lives in the silence.
You can find me there amongst the others.
Go in peace.
Seniors first.

following Santini's chapel talk, former faculty
member Bill Hill, along with Peter Quinn,
presented her with a plaque engraved
with her poem, to be hung in the
chapel narthex.
(left to right) Headmaster Peter Quinn,
Alia Santini '96, former faculty member
Bill Hill, Chaplain Rosemary Gleeson

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