Convocation 2019

The Steward community joined together on August 29 to formally begin the new school year with a message of resilience.

Steward's 2019 Convocation ushered in a new school year with a huge turnout to witness inspiring music and messages.

The event began with JK/K students teaming up with their senior buddies on the Colonnade and accompanying one another to the ceremony hand-in-hand, after which Head of School Dan Frank welcomed attendees with a game called "System or Thing." By considering different images — a rope; the Bryan Innovation Lab garden; a coffee maker; Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia — Mr. Frank asked the audience to identify which represented systems and which represented things. With little consensus across the board, the exercise raised an important question: what makes a system special?

"A system has parts that affect each other," Mr. Frank explained. "When those parts work together, something different happens than if those parts were to work alone. Often, the effect of that cooperation — its core purpose — can persist over time, even when things change drastically. That's resilience."

Resilience is The Steward’s School's theme for the 2019-20 school year, and that theme played a prominent role during this year's Convocation. Mr. Frank invited Mike Mailey, Middle School science teacher, to the stage to talk about tardigrades, which Mr. Mailey described as the science department’s "resilience mascot."

"Tardigrades are the heroes of resilience in the microscopic world," Mr. Mailey said, comparing their ability to survive in extreme climates to that of hobbits. "This year, we endeavor to learn from tardigrades to become tardigrade tough."

Mr. Frank closed his message by reminding listeners that Steward is neither a thing nor a system. "We are not just things. We are people. We make decisions. And in making those decisions, we are far more than a system. We are a community."

The Choir and Musical Theatre Ensemble then performed a moving rendition of Shakira's "Try Everything," featuring lyrics that fit perfectly into the message of resilience: "I wanna try even though I could fail/ I won't give up, no I won't give in/ Till I reach the end/ And then I'll start again."

Steward’s Alumni Association Board Vice President Brantley Scott '01 next introduced the recipient of this year's Alumni Achievement Award, which was created in 2014 to recognize an outstanding alumnus who, by virtue of his or her inspiration, engagement, and care, has had a transformative effect in the community, within their chosen profession, and on families.

This year's winner — Dr. Ted Benson '01 — was introduced by Upper School math and physics teacher Todd Serr, who served as Dr. Benson's class sponsor for all four years of Upper School. "The best word to describe Ted at that time is 'curious,'" Mr. Serr said. "He not only wanted to know the right answer, but why it was true."

Dr. Benson is an applied researcher and creator of Cloudstitch, which helps people create websites that can be managed from Google Docs and Microsoft Office. Though Ted could not attend Convocation in person, he did speak to attendees via an inspiring pre-recorded video message. In it, he boldly claimed that he could teach attendees how to do anything in ten minutes. The secret, Dr. Benson said, is simple: "No matter what you're doing, always just put in a little more effort every single time."

"Giving a little more effort in everything you do is a habit, it's not a goal. It’s something you can build into who you are. And that’s why it works every time," he said.

Dr. Benson cited examples from his own life when he used that same secret to great success, first as a struggling lacrosse player at Steward, and later as he tried to sell his company despite imminent bankruptcy. In each case, he kept doing the work again and again, with a little more creativity each time, hoping it would pay off. Fortunately for him, it did — in both cases.

He finished his speech with a homework assignment: "This year, pick one thing you're good at and one thing you're bad at, and commit to giving just a little more time, a little more creativity. For this homework, don't worry about scores or grades. Just keep doing it, and keep doing it in different ways."

To watch Dr. Benson’s full Convocation address, click here.

To close the ceremony, Director of the Upper School Adam Seldis, Director of the Middle School Susan Atkinson, and Director of the Lower School Ingrid Moore stepped forward to address those in attendance.

Dr. Seldis added another "certainty" in life to Benjamin Franklin's death and taxes: making mistakes. "Despite what the latest Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook post might want you to believe, there is no such thing as perfection," he said. "The most we can do is strive to be the best version of ourselves, and the way we get there is to develop the skills and attributes inside each of us to learn from our mistakes and improve going forward."

Mrs. Atkinson followed with three familiar names that inspire her by having overcome seemingly impossible odds to achieve greatness.

  • Michael Jordan, who didn't make the cut for his high school basketball team and missed over 9,000 shots in his professional career.
  • Oprah Winfrey, who survived a rough childhood and was fired early in her career as a reporter for being "unfit for TV."
  • J.K. Rowling, who was so poor when she was trying to sell the first Harry Potter novel that she hand-typed a new draft for every potential publisher because she couldn't afford a computer or copying costs.

"My hope for each of you is that you do not shy away from life's hurdles," Mrs. Atkinson said, "but instead choose to embrace those opportunities to show resilience, just as Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, and J.K. Rowling did."

Lastly, Mrs. Moore offered advice for those who want to promote their own resilience, including prioritizing relationships with close friends and family members, looking for opportunities for self-discovery, and maintaining a hopeful outlook. "Developing resilience is possibly one of the greatest gifts Steward can teach you," Mrs. Moore said. "For it is key to allowing each and every one of you to strive and thrive on that journey to becoming the best versions of yourselves. And that should be the goal for us all."

For photos from the day's many events, click here to browse our special gallery on Steward Snaps!





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