From the Headmaster

2019 Commencement Speech

Alfred F. Dugan III

I would like to rely on these words as we go forward with the evening…

May today there

Princeton Academy's Class of 2019


be peace within
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith
May you use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you
May you be confident knowing that you are a child of God
Let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love
It is there for each and every one of us

So, line 1, “May there be peace within,” Class of 2019, please take in this moment. It is for you. It’s the only one of its kind that will ever exist. And how about this day? I was awoken last night, I won’t tell you at what hour, by torrential rain on my roof. It woke me up it was so loud and the first thought that popped into my head was, I guarantee the sun is going to shine on the Class of 2019, and we could not have a more spectacular night. So indeed, it has, and we are here in this Alumni Courtyard, affectionately named by the graduates of the Class of 2016, recognizing that this is the last place you will stand as students of Princeton Academy before you become alumni. Look around you. You are surrounded by the people in this world who love you the most. They will do anything to ensure that you are your best selves. Men, we live in extraordinarily complex and challenging times. We also live in beautiful times that are full of joy and full of opportunity. This is one of those moments. I know that you all are a particularly nostalgic bunch. They’re really quite sentimental and I love it. It’s good. Be grateful. Don’t let go, you don’t have to. Never lose sight of that which matters most. Even in this time of significant transition, find peace within. Truth be told, I don’t always feel peace within but in those moments, I reach out. I hold on to the people that I love the most, my anchors. I put myself in peaceful environments - for me it’s nature and the sea – and in those moments, I find my peace within. I wish that you find yours. Seek it. You owe it to yourself.

Line 2, “May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be,” Class of 2019, you are exactly where you are meant to be. There is no doubt about it, and you are here for a reason right now. You were chosen to carry the banner for Princeton Academy’s 20th anniversary. You were chosen to carry the banner for the 200th celebration, the bicentennial of Sacred Heart education, your class. You’re here now for a reason. I think about this concept a lot, actually and I always have. Life has been beyond explanation to me. At many times, why are we here? Why are you graduating from an all-boys’ school of the Sacred Heart? I believe in destiny. I believe that all things happen for a reason. I also believe there are no coincidences. You’re meant to be here at this moment, in this place, formed in this way for a reason. Know it. I believe the same about myself by the way. I have shared my story with you. I lost my dad when I was eight years old. At that time there could not have been a greater loss in my life. Beyond my comprehension. Beyond my explanation. Did I know then why I was there at that moment in time? My mom raised me in a city by the sea. In a place where I was meant to be, but I didn’t know it at the time. I was formed by teachers and coaches who inspired me to lead and serve as an educator and devote my entire being to leading and serving others so that they could be their best selves. I’m here right now but it took me 43 years to recognize that purpose. All I ever really wanted was to be a father when I was growing up and today, I’m blessed with a beautiful daughter, two amazing sons and 190 adopted sons as well. I’m the luckiest man on earth and as the headmaster of a boys’ school, I feel it; where I am supposed to be, now. Search for it. Grab it. In order for you to be here right now, hundreds of generations of ancestors would have come before you. People whose names you will never know but because of them, you are here. They lived for you. You must live for them – made of this stuff with your unique story, each one so different, both told and untold, here now for a reason. As one of my favorite poets Mary Oliver, who actually left this earth this past year, says in her poem A Summer’s Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” You have a reason for being, a purpose. You are exactly where you are meant to be.

Line 3, “May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.” When you have faith in yourself and complete trust in something bigger and greater than you, anything is possible. We heard Father Tom speak about that tonight. You know this innately, but I am here to tell you there will be times when your faith is challenged. It’s exactly at those moments that you need faith more than ever whatever your faith may be. I don’t pretend to have the answers at all, but I believe what I believe. My faith has strengthened the older I have gotten – when I met my true love; when I saw my children born; when I met each and every one of you… my faith has been strengthened. How could it not be? My appreciations for all things growing as I get older. Believe. Look at this… It’s ideal and so are you. It’s what calls us forth, gentlemen and you gotta find it in your heart. Infinite possibilities born of faith.

Line 4, “May you use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you.” So, I have thought my whole life about what it means to be a man. In the absence of my father, I sought answers to this all around me: living people, people who had passed, in books, in athletics, in history, everywhere. As the headmaster of a boys’ school, I think about what it means to be a good man every minute of every day. So, we are here today as a society asking that question all the time – thinking deeply about what it means to be a man in 2019. Models of masculinity being shoved in our faces in television ads and video games, everybody trying to define for me what it means to be a man, define for you. As I said earlier, I believe what I believe, and I have my own definition of manhood. I’ll give it to you in one word, you’ve heard it so many times here uniquely as men of the Sacred Heart and Father Tom spoke of it tonight. It’s the most powerful word, in my opinion, known to humankind: love. A real man loves… Has the capacity for love. That’s it. Simple. He loves his family, he loves his friends, his partner, he loves others, he loves creation, he loves nature, he loves all of humankind, he even loves his enemies as we know from our model Jesus Christ. This is real, men. Be good, be kind, uplift those around you, make others’ lives better. Specifically, I demand that you strive for healthy, respectful manhood where you seek to respect women. Recently, I had the privilege of listening to Tony Porter, former NFL athlete and leader of an organization called A Call to Men: Next Generation Manhood. His mission, to help create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful of all women and girls are safe and valued. Will you help to solve the problems that we see today in a #MeToo era? Will you stand #HeforShe and uplift your sisters with respect? If we are not doing something about it, men, then we’re part of the problem. In fact, one of the reasons why I believe so deeply in the K-8 journey is because we have the opportunity to form you as children so we don’t have to correct adult behaviors. I demand this of you as children of the Sacred Heart, best of your ability – we believe in you. Just as you are here now for a reason exactly where you are supposed to be so does that mean that you are at an all-boys’ Sacred Heart school for a reason living a mission as creative, compassionate and courageous leaders of a just society. A just society – can you imagine that? We’re getting there but we’re not there yet. I believe a real man cares deeply – stands for a cause. The more you care, the greater you love, the more you love, the stronger you are, really. Care about others, men. Care about something other than yourselves. Care deeply about yourself. One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, The Lorax, remember he says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s gonna get better, it’s not.” The opposite of caring is apathy and unfortunately, cynicism and sarcasm will be all around you. If you don’t care, we got real problems. But here’s the thing, I know you care. I witnessed it… I have seen such sincerity and purpose in you every step of the way. Please know, I have been a witness to the heartfelt purpose and sincerity of these young men, earnest. This past Friday at Friday Thank Yous, you had the courage to get emotional and cry because guess what, men? Real men cry. Real men cry who love and feel, it’s called an emotion, and you did that in front of kindergartners all the way through grade 7 in your reflection on your Princeton Academy experience. You care. I saw it in D.C. when you visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, when you visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum, when you circled up on a sidewalk under a tree outside the Capitol building to reflect. That’s what they do. That’s not normal. Most 14-year-old men aren’t doing that, but these men do. You care deeply. Understand this about yourselves, please. You were pioneers of the inaugural Goal III social justice project – social awareness which impels to action, guiding you. You chose issues of social injustice: environmental concerns, gender inequity, education for all, the UN Sustainable Development Goals… These were issues you selected. Nobody told you to pick them. What are you going to do about it? Projects are great – actions speak louder than words. Recall those topics that you chose to bring to light: what are you going to do to eliminate the pay gap; how are you going to provide equal educational opportunities for all; access to clean water for much of our world; ensure that women in developing nations have access to healthcare; eliminate plastic usage or combat climate change… These were your issues, you taught me. You see your generation is so much different than mine, so much better. You have a heightened awareness far beyond what I had when I was 14. You have to be able to communicate across lines of difference, listen to others. Really listen. Discuss issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, culture, the like, everybody is different. You know that. Listen with your hearts, learn about other people and then communicate civilly, like you have been taught to do here. Use the gifts you’ve received. Pass on the love that has been given to you.

I told you I had a lot to tell you.

Line 5, “May you be confident knowing that you are a child of God.” Listen, you’ve been formed in the spirit of the Sacred Heart. You’re children of the Sacred Heart. You’re going to be a child of the Sacred Heart in secondary school. None of these young men are going to Sacred Heart secondary schools. So you have an added responsibility to carry that with you into your high school environment. It’s a distinction. You heard Father Tom talk about college, university, the path you take in life. You will always be a child of the Sacred Heart. Nobody can take that away from you. You have a blueprint to live your lives to do good in our world but please also carry forth the traditions that have been so intentionally established for you here at Princeton Academy. A Morning Handshake, a Friday Thank You, don’t let that stop on this night. Carry it forth with you. You’ve already seen alumni brothers who have gone on and started Friday Thank Yous at their boarding schools and high schools. Carry it forth with you. Transfer the meaning of these artifacts to make others’ lives better, confident knowing you’re a child of God.

Line 6, “Let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.” Be present. Be present. I cannot emphasize this enough. When I was 14, I wanted to grow up. I couldn’t wait to get my license. I couldn’t wait to go to college. I couldn’t wait for the next thing. Please be present. We’re living in an age that is forcing us to move so fast. I believe you’re different. I believe you can defy that. You look up when I see you in the hallway. You slow down to think and speak. Make sure you hold on to that virtue as you move forward. I learned this from a role model of mine who passed away early in his life at the age of 40 after a 17-year battle with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. He left a six-year-old son who graduated this past weekend from Delbarton School and he used to stand up with a chemo pack on his back coaching varsity baseball. He was the athletic director of Delbarton. In front of 500 high school men, he would say, “Be present.” Now he knew his days were numbered. Take it from me taking it from him, gentlemen. These moments are precious. They will not last forever and make fast go slow. Live life joyfully. So that’s the other thing about your class, you guys know how to have a lot of fun. You smile, you joke around. You should have seen them before this night tonight. Yeah, it was… What happens on the Choir Loft, stays on the Choir Loft, I’ll just say that much. But “allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.”

Finally, line 7, “It is there for each and every one of us.” I will say it again, “It is there for each and every one of us.” Home… Princeton Academy will always be home to you. We will be there for you. You have left this place better than you have found it. Like the stones that are around us, each one of you has contributed to the foundation of this school. Your leadership has forged a legacy. I don’t know if everybody knows this, your beautiful and thoughtful class gift to transform Mr. Dignan’s Hunt Room from 1929 into an alumni gathering space for generations of alumni who have come before you and will come after you is proof of your legacy to last forever. Now’s the time. You have a purpose. You have a mission and a cause. Not everyone can say that and I’m blown away by how you’ve advanced our mission even while you’ve been here. Make our world a better place. Go get it done. The good news is, you kinda already have. So John-Michael, Pablo, Anthony, Sid, and Nick, Bennett, Patrick, Kyle, Daniel, and Erik, Caleb, Brendan, Varun, Alexander, and James, William, Justin, Trip, Andy, Hampton, Bram, Oliver, Yash, Alexander, Nate, Chandler, Charlie, Sean, Sean, David, you are beloved. You are home. My culture calls forth the Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind always be at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand

Thank you, Class of 2019, for giving us the gift of you. Carpe Diem – Go HAWKS.

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