So, good morning, Peddie. While we all wear many hats here, I would bet that most of you know me primarily through my job in the music department. So I hope that you won’t be too terribly disappointed that this speech actually isn’t about music at all.
But in fact - THAT is what makes Peddie so awesome. It's full of people who do far more than their job titles might suggest.
Like your teacher, who gives up a week of his summer break to go on the sophomore bike trip with you and help you learn to put up a tent and cook on a tiny stove for 40 hungry people.
Like your prefect, who spends hours night after night talking you through a really rough weeks even though you KNOW she has college apps to finish.
Like your friend’s mom and dad, who are always there to organize the reception after a play or concert.
I think it’s really special to be in a place where there are so many people who answer the call to do something for no other reason than that they think it’s important. And if you agree with me, do you know what you can do?
You can join in.
As a Peddie student, your job description includes going to class and showing up for chapel and community meeting and participating in a sport or theatre or PA every term. It does NOT include giving tours or making Blair Day videos or being one of the people who stick around for a few minutes to clean up after dorm food on Saturday night.
But what happens when you start doing those kinds of things – you know, the ones that aren’t really in your job description?
That’s when it gets fun. That’s when you feel like you really belong. You are part of what makes the Peddie experience special and memorable.
So take a moment and figure out how you already make Peddie special. And then figure out how else you want to make Peddie special. And go do it.
And then before long, it’ll be time to graduate. Your relationship to this place will get really different.
Whenever the departing seniors ask me for some words of wisdom, I always tell them the same thing. So I guess I’ll let you in on the secret a little early. I remind them that Peddie is part of you for life.
Come back and visit us, sure. Send your teacher an email when you have to reread a book in college and end up figuring out something totally new about it. But it goes beyond that, beyond just your own personal connections. Go have dinner with a traveling admissions officer when they come through your town. Come to your 5th reunion and make a new friend who’s here for their 25th. Talk to a really special middle schooler you get to know down the road and tell them that there’s this cool place in Hightstown, New Jersey. And of course, you won’t even have to think twice about giving to the Annual Fund because…that’s just a habit that you’ve had since your student days. You’re a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher, but at the same time you’re a Peddie alum.
But that’s not all. You’re also an alum of your college. And a board member of your local theatre company. Or a coach of a girls’ soccer team. Or an activist for marriage equality. Or a deacon at your church. Or a volunteer at an animal shelter. Because you’ve learned that some of the most special parts of life happen when people go above and beyond their job descriptions.
As the famous chef Julia Child once said, “Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” Whether that’s the time you can make, the money that you can give, or the way that you can use your skills to help a person or an organization that needs it. At the heart of it, that’s what I think “community service” really means – the things you do simply because they’re important. And that’s why I do what I do, and you can do the same.
Even though we all know that NO ONE at Peddie has any free time, when you move things from the “to do” list to the “must do” list, you’d be amazed at what you can fit in. I make time to do things because I think they’re important. To cook dinner with my advisees. To help plan my college reunions. To train other women to volunteer in the community through the Junior League of Greater Princeton. Even though it originally just sounds like giving up time that you don’t think you have, somehow on the other end you feel even more rewarded, refreshed, and inspired.
I won’t be donating a building to any of my alma maters any time soon – nor will I probably ever be able to pay back all the financial aid I received that allowed me to attend them. But that’s OK. Not only do all the gifts, of any size, truly add up, but also, I know that I’m part of a community where people give back. And I’m already in the habit of giving. It’s a line in my budget just like the cell phone bill.
I try to use the skills that I’m particularly good at wherever they can make a difference. For instance, I can do interviews for local seniors who are applying to Harvard and keep connected to my alma mater that way. But I can also help unemployed women in Mercer County work on THEIR interview skills at a program called Dress for Success.
It’s easy to let your job become your entire life. Particularly when you love it as much as I do. But it’s vitally important that you find a way to live beyond it. As Katie read to us earlier, Martin Luther King said that committing yourself to things because they’re important – whatever those things are for you – “will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher.” And I would add that they’ll also make you a better colleague, a better spouse, a better friend.
I challenge you to ask your teacher, or your classmate, or that kid who lives in your dorm that you haven’t really talked a lot to – what do they care about. What do they do simply because it’s important. How do they serve others.
And ask yourself the same questions. Figure out how to use your time and your money and your talents to cast a ripple in the water that expands out and out and out. Make the world safer. Make your neighborhood vibrant. Make an organization stronger. Make a person’s life different.
Because, in the immortal words of the Lorax by Dr. Seuss,
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.