FOLLOWING ARE DR. PROCTOR'S REMARKS FROM THE 56th COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES HELD ON MAY 25, 2019
Schoolwork is a funny thing. It is easiest when approached logically, completed well ahead of time, and reviewed for potential improvement. But for every Ann Ashley Daniel, I am sure there are ten people like me who procrastinate until the last minute, allowing the terror of an imminent deadline to generate the creativity necessary to complete an assignment. Such was the case with my remarks this year. In fact, I was still fact checking while the graduates were in line to process. I am not sure who was most terrified, me, my wife or Susan Baker…
But don’t worry, I’ve got it…
You see, I have been working on this address for my full eight years at North Cross. It started back when Andy and Jackson were well under six feet, you all were learning the turtle formation and fighting imaginary Carthaginians; before you aware of the Jabberwock; and, well before the spirit hog terrified Meredith McGimsey. I began working on this address in conversations with senior staff and with Katherine Fralin, my Board Chair at the time. Mark Thompson looped in Robert Robillard on the idea and the decision was made to make North Cross a world school.
We knew that confining ourselves to our traditional boundaries was not an avenue to success for North Cross. We needed to look beyond the confines of the SOL’s and provide an education for the future, an education not available anywhere else in the Valley.
But why a world school? And could we really do this in Roanoke?
The answers to these questions hit me last Sunday when I was sitting in the graduation ceremonies at North Cross-Shanghai where fifty graduates crossed the stage much like you are about to do. Now, that fact alone speaks to us becoming a world school, but more important, the presence of students from seventeen different countries and six continents on our campus over the past eight years has proved that we could bring a world class experience to the Roanoke Valley.
While at that graduation, I heard faculty, student and administrators speak about topics like duty, responsibility, and obligation. These are all words you might hear today but my guess is that you are more likely to hear words like success, opportunity, or achievement. For some reason, 8,000 miles from home, that difference struck me as an important distinction.
It’s not that the kids are that different. They all want to go to the best colleges and universities, they enjoy movies and watching Premier League soccer. They enjoy going to lunch with their friends at La Mien, our favorite Muslim noodle shop. They create a yearbook and perform plays and play ultimate Frisbee. And I am pretty sure they know what a crush feels like.
But they chose at graduation to emphasize very different characteristics. Why?
I’m no Margaret Mead, just a geologist from a school that will remain un-named, but conversations with my friends in Shanghai have led me to believe that the Chinese culture is one that values the collective over the individual. The belief is that by subverting the individual needs to that of the greater good, the country will prosper. Thus words like duty and obligation.
Contrast that to our American culture where our very founders enshrined in the Bill of Rights the prominent role of the individual, protecting us from the power of majority rule. Our founders, along with the central tenets of capitalism, believe that if we turn the individual loose, they will by their very actions make the collective better.
Okay… pretty heavy stuff for a Saturday morning. I know. So where am I going with this, how does it relate to this class, and when do I get to funny anecdotes about Aidan Erwin trying to convince me that chess should count as an athletic sport or Piers knowing eight ways to get on first base in a baseball game? I promise I will bring this back.
You see, both cultures want the best for themselves and their communities. They are just going about it in different ways. Wouldn’t we as Americans benefit from a little more Chinese emphasis on the collective good, even if it meant a little more personal sacrifice? And wouldn’t the Chinese benefit by allowing the individual a bit more freedom and creativity to expand unfettered by the responsibility to the collective? Both cultures bring something admirable to the table… A world school promotes this type of discussion, still a discussion of right and wrong, but one more heavily weighted toward acceptance and relative merit.
Like most ideas, the concept of a world school was a bit hazy at the beginning, rudimentary in its formal structure, and more concerned about the number of points needed to achieve Global Studies status. But over the eight years, it has matured into an institutional way of thinking. Specifically, I see a global maturity in this class that reflects a comfort with difference, an awareness of their good fortune, and a genuine desire to make a mark in the world. When I say global maturity, it means I am looking past Global Studies certificates and Intro to Global Studies classes. I mean that a global awareness is part of how these kids think. I think it is in their DNA. They will travel the world. They will be global thinkers and world leaders.
Let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate what I am talking about. Last summer, Austin Zappia travelled to Mallorca to visit a classmate at his home. I am aware that they were not discussing the art of Picasso or Goya, but Austin was honestly and informally experiencing a culture very different from his own, in his second language.
Davin Hansen is making his second trip to Mendoza, Argentina this June, this time staying for four weeks to complete an internship in wine making. While there, he will be living with a local family and conversing in a second language.
Ruxi Dancea, our resident polyglot, that being an eight letter word meaning multi-lingual, heads off to NYU next year, but rather than beginning in New York, she will do her first year in Paris, in a second language. For kicks, she will do her third year in Abu Dhabi. Get to work on that Arabic…
Assuming Ryan Messick gets his visa, he will be joining his friend and classmate, Peter Wang on a tour of China, beginning in Peter’s hometown of Yangzhou. They will hit all of the highlights including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the impressive skyline of Shanghai. My advice to you Ryan… avoid eating the jellyfish.
And my favorite story, Euan Spikers, our favorite South Australian, is taking all 23 stones of Solomon Crockett-Eanes, North Cross Class of ’20, to his home in Australia. Wytheville meets Clifton Springs. (And, for those of you wondering, one stone is equal to 14 pounds. You do the math.)
You will see in a few minutes that we have a record number of Global Studies Scholars in this graduating class. We are very proud of that fact. But so much more than a certificate, this graduating class is the first at North Cross to truly embody the concept of a world school. It is obvious in their friendships, their senior speeches, their reaction to Global Studies speakers, and their genuine interest in making the world a better place. In so many ways, this class has made North Cross a better place and we will miss them deeply.
Over the past several days, I have been moved to tears multiple times at the thought of losing this group of students. A sidebar, that is not that hard to believe because I cried at the old Nescafe ads on TV. But watching Meredith helping Grace get through her Fat Pencil speech, the slideshow at senior dinner, and last night hearing our four seniors sing for us one last time at Baccalaureate was joyful and bittersweet. And truthfully, at my keyboard, as I wrote this, I moistened up one last time. It is a special group and always has been. While we will miss them greatly, we know we turn them out into the world to make it a better place.
Christian J. Proctor, PhD
Dr. Proctor is the ninth Head of School at North Cross and has served as such since 2011. He has more than 30 years of experience in education. He has served as headmaster at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, Louisiana, Grace Episcopal School in Monroe, Louisiana, and as Interim Headmaster at Wesley Academy in Houston, Texas. In each location, Dr. Proctor’s tenure was marked by creativity, innovation, and school growth.