The Way Forward by Senior Master Richard Nickerson

“Senior Master” is a title held by a faculty member who, by nature of his longevity at Nobles, knows much about the school culture and history. Math teacher Nick Nickerson currently holds this position; at the beginning of each year, he shares insight about the school’s motto, “Spes Sibi Quisque and the powerful role it plays for all of us.

You are not expected to have everything figured out on the first day.  But how do you find your way forward?

Many years ago, a young freshman, new to Nobles, sat right there at the opening of school. Like many of you, he was both excited and nervous about the coming year;  he had many hopes and dreams about doing well in his classes, about making new friends, about making his mark at this fancy private school (he came to us from the Boston public schools), about playing varsity football. You see, the young man was a good athlete, and he loved football, but things don’t always go as planned.   Early in his career here, he suffered some injuries, and as the seasons passed by, he would rehab only to get injured yet again.   He loved football, but finally at the start of his junior year, it became clear that he would never be able to play football at Nobles.

Things don’t always go as planned.

In the scheme of things, an athletic injury is a relatively minor event, when compared to the devastation of a hurricane in New Orleans, or a car accident on Rte. 128, a battle against cancer, or the overwhelmingly tragic events of 9/11 eleven years ago. But this athletic injury was enough to change the entire life path for this young man.   For while he was trying to figure out something to do in lieu of sports, someone suggested to this young man, Michael Beach, Class of ‘82, that he try out for a play.   He was cast in that play, and he quickly discovered two things:  he liked acting, and he was good at it.  Michael worked hard in theater, and he participated in many plays after that first one;  he worked closely with a drama coach here, and he eventually auditioned for the Julliard School  in New York, where he was accepted.   From Julliard he went on to a successful career in Hollywood– Michael Beach has been on TV shows such as ER and Third Watch and Criminal Minds, and in movies such as Waiting to Exhale, America the Beautiful, and Soul Food.   From a disappointed athlete to a successful Hollywood actor….sometimes things don’t always go as planned.

Our school motto is  Spes Sibi Quisque, a passage from Vergil’s Aeneid which, roughly translated, means that each person must find hope in him or herself.   The founders of this school recognized that no significant achievement is possible, no hurdle successfully mounted, without a core belief in yourself.    Michael Beach was able to switch paths, to take a dead end and turn it into a new direction, because he found such hope within himself.   He credits several people in this room today for helping him find that hope, for giving him the confidence to switch paths and pursue his acting career.    You are not expected to do this alone;  the school motto doesnt say,  “You are on your own, its all on you– best of luck, buddy”.   In fact, I believe that we often gain confidence in ourselves only after someone else believes in us first, that we seek out the hope that is within ourselves only because we are first inspired by the examples and opportunities that surround us.   But no matter where the original source of inspiration, whether it be your faith, the values of your family, or the support of your teachers and friends, eventually any growth and change has to come from inside of you.   Spes sibi quisque.

There is so much in today’s world that is confusing, even terrifying; so much that seems so overwhelming and out of our control.   How are we to make sense of the events of 9/11 eleven years ago?   An ordinary person heads for an ordinary day at the office, or a routine business flight, after a quick breakfast and a hurried good-bye, and then….such terrible chaos, such loss and tragedy.   As a school, how can we prepare you for such an uncertain world, a world in which things don’t always go as planned?

Spes sibi quisque. We have to teach you to find the hope within yourself.

Each year, I try to weave the school’s motto into my remarks, and yet the irony is that there are many at Nobles who don’t like our school motto.  In fact, a previous headmaster, the Reverend Edward S. Gleason, the man who hired me and who was a mentor to many of the older faculty in this auditorium and for whom the Faculty Chair for the Senior Master is named, for years tried to insist that the word “Sibi” could be translated as being plural, as in “We find hope in others”.   But the truth is, no matter how creatively one tries to translate it, sibi remains stubbornly reflexive and singular.  In this inter-connected world, does that really make sense?  In terms of service to others, and leadership for the public good, shouldnt our motto be more, I don’t know, outward looking?

I must admit that I, too, was ready to throw in the towel and start a crusade to change our school motto.   And then I came across the words of a remarkable young man, another graduate of our school, another young man who came to us from Boston, nervous about fitting in, a man who now, in fact, serves on our Board of Trustees, Marzuq Muhammad, Class of ‘01.    Last year he addressed the graduating students of color at the Freeman Legacy dinner, and he concluded with these words  “We change the world by simply changing ourselves, particularly by altering our thinking to believe in ourselves and in our ability to do just this. I can promise you that in practicing this we will each create a ripple that will
generate the waves of influence that move others into action.  And in doing this we all will be the leaders that serve the public good.”

And there it is–spes sibi quisque.  “We change the world by simply changing ourselves, particularly by altering our thinking to believe in ourselves”.

You came to school this year with goals and dreams, and many of them will come true, but some will not.   Things don’t always go as planned, and we dont know what tomorrow holds in store.  But we know this– try to keep your setbacks in perspective, and always keep your eye out for the many opportunities that surround you in a wonderful place such as Nobles.   But most of all, work to develop a stronger core believe in yourself.   For with this stronger core belief, you will be able to go out and make a difference in this world, a world, I should add, that needs you to make a difference.  It takes only a cursory glance at a daily newspaper to know that we have problems in this world that cry out for solutions.   This world needs more doctors to cure disease, more engineers to improve our levees and bridges, more visionary leaders of business to lessen our environmental footprint, more social workers to help mitigate poverty and more lawyers and judges to help promote justice.  We need more linguists to improve the communication between countries.  We need more writers to analyze events and clarify the issues, and we need more artists to inspire us with beauty and remind us of the human condition.   Make no mistake about it;  each and every one of you is very, very much needed.   “We change the world by simply changing ourselves, particularly by altering our thinking to believe in ourselves.”

Spes sibi quisque.   Go and find the hope that lies within you, and then, my friends, go out and change the world.  Lead the fight against the ignorance and hate that caused the senseless tragedy of 9/11.  Nothing could be a better tribute to those who lost their lives on that day, nothing could better honor the memory of Richard, Cora, Sonia, and John,  than that.  Lets get started.

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