This article originally appeared in the summer 2012 Harker Quarterly.
Good morning. I would like to welcome members of the board of trustees, the administration, faculty and staff, family, friends, alumni, and the true guests of honor, the graduating Class of 2012. As head of school, I currently hold the privilege of making a few remarks of farewell at graduation. The seniors who paid attention in British Literature will recognize this talk as a “valediction.” In an attempt to “forbid mourning,” I will continue the tradition of confining my remarks to one page of single-spaced, size-12 font.
This is the first graduation address I have ever written on an iPad. That is completely irrelevant to my talk, except that I have pictures of the newest addition to our family, Andreas, on my iPad and also my iPhone. I would show you pictures of Andreas on my iPhone but I cannot get it out of my robe.
The main advantage to writing on an iPad, besides the manipulations it offers to stay within my word count, is that while writing I can take breaks and look at pictures of Andreas, although I almost never do. In fact, I am not confident that my wife and I look at him very much in real life either. Oh, we watch him plenty to make sure he doesn’t eat a golf ball or something like that. But do we see him in the same way he sees us? Which brings me to my advice for you today – “to see like a baby.” I would offer the advice to sleep like a baby, which is only two letters away from seeing like a baby, but my wife and I have been reminded recently that babies do not sleep very well at all. Actually, you should aim to sleep like a toddler, not a baby. Toddlers crash within minutes of hitting the bed and can sleep through a Led Zeppelin concert. But to really see what is around you I advise you to see like a baby.
Albert Einstein wrote, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” If Einstein said this, then it must be true. One of the reasons Einstein made such great discoveries was his ability to see freshly, to see phenomena around him as if for the first time. I think it is very easy to slip into looking at life as if it were not a miracle. To the poet Walt Whitman even a blade of grass was a miracle. He wrote, “I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.” He famously misspelled loaf, without the help of the iPad’s spell check, by adding an extra e, but he saw the spear of grass as if it were a miracle. Perhaps it is.
Babies see everything as a miracle. I know that we might say hey, they are new to the world, so yes, everything is amazing to them, including their own fists. But what if they are seeing things the way they are supposed to be seen? What if we, with our overwhelming conviction that most things are ordinary, are the ones who are not truly seeing?
Have you ever noticed how babies look at something? Once their eyes are operational, which takes a while, they truly see. That is why they lose themselves looking at a light fixture, or a fold in a curtain, or a brightly colored, plastic ring. That is why they love faces and peek-a-boo. I have seen Andreas watch his brothers with complete abandon. Of course they almost always were doing something naughty. But when is the last time you looked at a loved one as if he or she were a wonder?
Now this might seem like romantic and impractical advice. But I would argue that truly seeing things as they are is supremely practical. It is critical in research, for example, and for problem solving of any kind. Truly seeing will help you with your relationships at work and with your loved ones. Plus when you see everything as a miracle, like a baby, it is difficult to become bored. A jelly bean can become the center of the universe. Maybe it is.
The big problem, of course, is that babies do not know that they are seeing everything as a miracle – they just see – and most adults do not know that they have lost this ability, or if they do, they do not know how to get it back. The trick is to see like a baby but not try to do it. That is what Yoda meant when he said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Or the great Zen saying, “In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.” That is why most of the great saints and spiritual leaders of the world admired children. Children at their best are devoid of self-consciousness, like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. But you cannot try not to try either, because that is still trying. “Above all, don’t wobble.”
Mr. Butch Keller, Harker’s upper school head, puts inspirational quotes on the bottom of his emails. He recently had another quote from Einstein in which the great scientist asks, “When was the last time you did anything for the first time?” I don’t believe Einstein just means bungee jumping or feats of that nature. I think he means seeing things as the miracles they are, like a baby. If you see like a baby, you just might see yourself as the miracle you are. Thank you.