By Bill McLay, Upper School Physics teacher, Hackley School
Bill McLay offered these remarks in his Chapel Talk to Hackley seniors on December 10, just as college decisions were beginning to roll in.
Hello Seniors, how are we feeling these days? Anything on your minds? Are you checking your email every 22 seconds? Well, to get your minds off things, I thought I would treat you today with a little talk that begins about your favorite subject: me.
I still remember this time you are in now. Senior in high school, and all these adults asking “Where are you going to go for college?” “What are you going to major in?” “What do you want to do with your life?”
Turns out, all these adults don’t really care, they are just looking for new ideas for themselves.
However, at your age, I had it all planned. I wanted to go to Boston University to study Aerospace Engineering. Why? It sounded cool. So, I only applied to that ONE school. That’s right, one school. Crazy, yes, and probably a little stupid, but I actually didn’t think they would say “no.”
I received a letter from BU on Dec 22, in a thin envelope. Back then, we found out about college decisions by snail mail. Thin envelopes were often bad news, and were to be feared. I was home alone as I nervously opened it, suddenly thinking that if it said “no,” I had about seven days to get applications in to other schools before the January 1 deadline.
Luckily for me, it was “yes.”
When I arrived at BU my freshman year, they gathered all the freshmen engineering students into one room and said, “Look to your left. Look to your right. Those people will not be with you at graduation.” BU engineering had a 63% attrition rate. I told myself in that moment that I would not be one of “those people.” I was determined to be a Rocket Scientist.
As we all know from Physics class, external forces can cause changes in direction. Four years later, as my graduation approached, the external forces of the first Gulf War, a recession, and no real jobs in my field, combined within me a strange feeling that being an aerospace engineer was not what I want to do. So instead, I became most educated server/bartender in Boston, with no real plan anymore.
However, while doing that job, I ended up helping students who worked with me, or who came in to the restaurant, with Physics and Calculus. My best moment was when a couple of MIT students, who were at my table, could not figure out a Physics problem. I leaned over and explained the solution to them. I told them, “I don’t know what they are teaching you at MIT, but if a bartender can figure this out, maybe you should get your money back.” Anyway, everyone I did help always told me the same thing: “You explain this so much better than my professor. You should teach this.”
So, I made a rather random decision and, basically on a whim, became a Physics teacher. Now here I am, after casting aside all those plans I had at 17, in my 21st year of doing something I never planned on doing, but could not imagine doing anything else.
What’s my point?
In the end, it may not matter where you go, it only matters what you do when you get there. The past is gone, so don’t bother with it. The future is unknown and is more likely not to be what you think it will be now, but if all we focus on is that future, we miss out on what is happening today. More important, we miss out on one of the most important aspects that make us humans, that is the desire to form connections with others.
All of you are connected to each other, for the rest of your lives, because all of you will always be members of the Hackley Class of 2019. But that is not the kind of connection I am talking about. I am talking about getting to know and really appreciate each other for who you are before you head off into your futures. To be willing to open up to each other, to be real, and to be vulnerable.
Some of you have done that already in your Chapel Talks to your class. One of you admitted to us that you were not cool. Another revealed your inner nerd. Yet another admitted that you get nervous. Even I underestimated the intellectual strength of one member of your class. Another surprises us with the depth of her caring.
So, take the buds out of your ears. Don’t just put the phone down, turn it off. Be with each other TODAY. For God’s sake, have a conversation with that quiet guy in your class just so you will be able to remember what his voice sounds like in the years to come. You see, all of this will be gone soon, so appreciate it while you can. Don’t miss today because you are so concerned about tomorrow.
I want to leave you with two things. First, I highly recommend you watch this TED Talk on vulnerability and connection. Second, a few lines from a song by Darius Rucker called “This”:
“I don’t really know how I got here, but I’m so glad I did.”
“Maybe it didn’t turn out like I planned, maybe that’s why I’m such, such a lucky man.”
Thank you, and have a great Today!