Reflection & Anticipation

Remarks for the Arts Education Honor Societies Induction Ceremony at Northwood High School, December 7, 2009…

I’m very excited to be here tonight to celebrate your achievements as well as the establishment of honor societies at Northwood for all four of our arts disciplines!  That makes this is something of a commencement for you and Northwood as well

So, whether it’s the season of the year or the nature of the event, I thought I’d to spend a few minutes focusing on

Reflection & Anticipation:
Not a Lesson from 3 Spirits, but 3 Lessons from 1 Spirit

About 10 years ago, I read an article about a friend of mine. His life had taken a circuitous route to his present position as a pediatric anesthesiologist. The article included an 1843 quote from the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard that has turned out to be signifcant for me and I think can be for you as well.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Keeping that in mind, I have 3 quick recommendations for you.

1) Get the best book I’ve read all year—The Element by Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson received his PhD from the University of London, led the Arts in Schools Project to improve teaching of the arts, chaired the National Advisory Committee on Creative & Cultural Education, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2003. He has served as an advisor to groups as diverse as the Royal Shakespeare Company, IBM, The Girl Scouts of America and the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation.  You can download his book at iTunes or at [I recommend the audiobook, because he’s a great storyteller and very funny.]  Or go listen to his presentation at TED  [] called Do Schools Kill Creativity?

The subtitle of The Element is How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. For Robinson, “the Element” is finding the place where the things you are good at intersect with the things you love to do. We are here tonight celebrating achievements and aptitudes you have already displayed.  But only you know if music or dance or visual arts or theatre are things for which you have a passion. Robinson’s book recounts stories of lots of very successful people—artists, authors, economists, musicians—some of whom were great students. Others spent years recovering from their academic experience before finding success. They reflect on those moments of epiphany when they discovered the intersection of their aptitude and their passion.

2) Identify, Create & Participate in Significant Traditions

Traditions—personal, family, religious, social, academic, & professional surround us.

We are here in the midst of an environment full of traditions—the academic calendar, football weekends [i.e., marching band season], holiday concerts, exams. I’ve spent more than 30 years on campus and the traditions are one of the reasons why.  Tonight we start a new one here. And you’ll always be a part of this very first year when Northwood began Honor Societies in all the arts disciplines.

Traditions are made for reflection and anticipation. They are benchmarks. Traditions make you a time traveler—connecting with people and events long past and to those yet to come.  Traditions provide an invitation and a medium to interact and to bond with another essential—community.

3) Recognize the Value of Community

When you are “in your element,” you will find opportunities to make connections with people who share your passions and talents. Traditions offer a mechanism to make these new connections and to share ideas and events of significance.  Community can provide validation that you are on the right path, a sounding board for ideas, a helping hand for initiatives, support with problems, and opportunities for service and achievement that single individuals can never realize alone.

Each year, this first weekend of December is a kind culmination of all these things in my life. I am celebrating 26 years as a member of the Duke Chapel Choir and 78 performances of Messiah with 100 closest friends. Connections with new world-class performers. Music and art and performing—the beginning of the holiday season. Grand traditions and silly personal ones. During Messiah week I travel to Duke for rehearsals on Monday and Wednesday. And then back for performances Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I’m quite fond of Dickens’ Christmas Carol in its many  incarnations. I listen to two particular ones on my trips to Duke this time of year. I practice my diction with Patrick Stewart’s exquisit rendition from his one-man Broadway production. And I warm up with Paul Williams’ music from Muppet Christmas Carol-a tradition i began when my kids were small [or at least that’s the excuse I use].

It turns out Dickens published Christmas Carol in 1843. So the same year Kierkegard was in Denmark talking about living life forwards and making sense of it by looking backwards, Ebenezer Scrooge was in England being visited by 3 ghosts. And vicariouly through him, even today, we all have the opportunity to reflect and anticipate the possibilities ahead.

Congratulations, happy holidays, and thank you for letting me be part of your community.


2 thoughts on “Reflection & Anticipation

  1. I just started reading The Element and enjoy it. Sir Ken Robinson came to the Full Sail campus about two years ago and spoke to the faculty — it was a great presentation and very inspiring so I look forward to finishing the book. Your Twitter post asked what is your favorite book this year … so far, it’s is Loving Frank. A novel about the life and loves of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a great to discuss with friends.

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