From The Ridge - The McCallie Blog

Details and Duties

Posted by Lee Burns on August 18, 2015

Convocation 2015 - 33 of 48-LMcCallie School Headmaster Lee Burns '87
Convocation, August 17, 2015

Good morning, and welcome to the 111th opening of a McCallie school year. I especially want to extend a warm welcome to the many of you who are new to McCallie this year.

As a student body of 935 boys, you have joined McCallie from 24 states and 8 countries. Among the 6th grade alone, you represent 28 different elementary schools. There is something special about McCallie that has drawn you to this place. There is something special about you that has caused the school to select you from the many, many other people who wish they were here.

It is a privilege and blessing to be a member of the McCallie community, whether as a student or member of the faculty and staff. You join the long blue line of over 10,000 boys and young men before you who have studied and sweated, who have played and prayed and performed here on the Ridge. You join a school rich in history and traditions. We stand on the shoulders of men and women who built and shaped this school, of McCallie boys and faculty from this and the last century whose character and achievements have bequeathed us not simply a good name, but who have given us a culture of integrity and excellence, an identity and purpose, and a way of doing life together.

In these next several minutes, I want to talk about how we do life here together, and especially how we live out the concept of duty in our school community.

The 935 of you have different backgrounds, talents, passions, beliefs, personalities, and ways of seeing the world. And that’s a really good thing. That diversity enriches our school and enhances your learning and development. And yet there is only one McCallie for the 935 of you. So what does it mean for 935 people to share share one thing?

Sharing well a single community means we need to have a few key values that anchor and guide us. In fact, the privilege of being a McCallie student requires your acceptance of and adherence to them. At the heart of our values would be that we will treat one another with respect, kindness, compassion and dignity. From time to time, we may disagree, or get on each other’s nerves, or frustrate each other, but it’s vital that we do so with care and sensitivity for one another and with a recognition of the importance of maintaining healthy relationships.

A community is built on relationships, and those relationships at McCallie are especially strong and deep. There is a brotherhood here. We support and love one another. We cheer each other on and laugh with each other.  We hold each other accountable, including sometimes saying difficult things to each other. We provide shoulders to lean upon or cry upon. We are loyal to each other. We are loyal to McCallie. We are family.

Another value here is hard work. Since our founding in 1905, we’ve been a blue-collar, roll-up-your-sleeves, let’s-get-to-work school. If you are new to McCallie, I can guarantee that nearly all of you will find McCallie to be more difficult and demanding than your previous school. I’ve heard Coach Henderson say, “At McCallie, we hate easy.”

Convocation 2015 - 29 of 48-LWe don’t expect straight A’s from you. And quite frankly, your learning and growth should be more important than your grades anyway. We don’t expect perfection. We don’t expect you to win all of your games. We know you will sometimes miss lines and notes, and be outdebated.

But we expect you to give your very best. We expect you to come to class prepared every day. We expect you to participate actively in class. We expect you to run and sprint, never cutting corners or letting up before the finish line. We expect you to sweat -- not just physically, but to sweat mentally as you wrestle with new and challenging ideas, as you attend carefully to all of your academic and other assignments.

We expect you to sweat as you get uncomfortable and even scared as you try new and difficult things, as you risk mistakes and failures. There is no shame in failure. It’s actually how we often grow the most. I sometimes wonder if too few of you and us are willing to take chances, to dare and dream, because we are too concerned about a grade or the right answer or our image or the scoreboard. If you’re not falling short and failing some, either your standards are too low or you aren’t courageous enough. McCallie is a safe place for exploring. Do something this year you’ve never done. Do something this year that scares you. Boys, jump out of the boat.

Speaking of sweat, I’ve heard it said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and while that may sometimes be a good strategy, I think it’s generally not good advice. Attention to details matters. Doing the seemingly small or little things right day after day makes a big difference. Habits develop. Character is formed. And one day, all these little things have added up to something really big.

So what are some seemingly small things here?

When you finish your meal in the dining hall, clean up your table. Push in your chair. If someone at your table has neglected to do so, clean up his space also and push in his chair. And the next time you see him, remind him, in a polite way, that he should do the same.

Take the initiative to keep our campus not just clean, but to keep it beautiful. If you walk by a piece of trash, pick it up. If you walk by a weed, pull it. Take ownership for our facilities and grounds. Yes, we have a custodial and maintenance department, but it is the responsibility of each of us to claim and own this community. Don’t outsource to others what you should own yourself.

Convocation 2015 - 32 of 48-LDress the way you want to be treated. If you want to be taken seriously, and thought of more as a mature young man, straighten and pull up your tie above your top button and keep your shirt tail tucked in.

Be precise also with your assignments. Revise and proof them before you turn them in. There’s no place for sloppy here.

Look people in the eyes when you talk with them. Say sir and ma'am, please and thank you. Give firm handshakes. Manners matter.

Don’t make excuses or cast blame when you fall short. It’s rare yet refreshing when someone simply says, “It’s my fault and my responsibility. I’ll strive to be better next time.” Say those things.

Get to bed on time. If you are sleeping less than 7-8 hours per night depending on your age, several of your key brain functions are operating well below their capacity. It’s like not wearing your contact lenses when your vision is 20-200 or running with a pulled hamstring.

Eat some vegetables and fruits each day at lunch. As with sleep, the benefits are significant, both cognitively and physically, when we are eating well.

Speaking of eating, have breakfast each morning. You’ll feel better -- and do better -- when you do so on a regular basis.

Keep your locker rooms straight. Clothes and uniforms are to be hung in lockers, never thrown on the floor. Take care of the bathrooms as well. There should not be one square inch on this campus that we fail to take pride in, that doesn’t reflect our standards.

Make your bed first thing in the morning. Start off the day with this simple practice. And keep your room tidy.

Sit in the front of classrooms. The same goes for plays and speeches. And show up on time.

If you are on a team, don’t slip to the far edges of the sidelines when you aren’t playing. Stand forward, watch the action intently, cheer on your teammates. I read a book a few years ago how one of the distinguishing attributes of teams that won and lost was where the players on the sidelines stood. On winning teams, the players on the sidelines were closer and more involved in the action of the game. They weren’t sitting back on the benches.

Put down your devices in public spaces. Engage in conversations and the community. Build boundaries about how much time you are on-line. And when you are online, be disciplined and restrained and respectful in what you post, knowing that you are responsible for anything you post, or repost, or retweet, that anything you put out there, even on snapchat, will never really disappear, and that you are representing McCallie.

Read beyond what is required. Read just for pleasure.

Carve out regular time for your spiritual growth, to reflect upon and explore matters of faith, to worship and pray, to think about life’s big questions, to wrestle with who you are and who God is.

These and many other little things can become habits that will build your character, and Dean Sholl will be talking more about this later this week. If you study the biographies of extraordinary men and women, you may find that many of them were very disciplined about some ordinary things. They were intentional about habits and details and process. Little things, day after day, became big things.

These habits are not just important for each of you as individuals. They are important to us as a community. They can inspire others of us to be better. They build school pride. They are points of pride; they are markers of excellence, reminding us and others about our high standards, our community values. They build unity within our school community.

Your daily actions, including these and other little choices, speak to your duty to McCallie.  But you have bigger duties as well.

Convocation 2015 - 23 of 48-LYou have a duty to give to McCallie...not just take from it. You are given, each day, the combined efforts and hundreds of people, starting with your teachers who carefully design an environment and experiences that foster your intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social and physical growth. You are the beneficiaries of their years of training, of their remarkable talents and minds, of the places they have travelled and the things they have learned, of their sacrifices. You are given the gifts of their devotion and care and love for you, their investments in you, in the ways each day they challenge and stretch you, mentor and guide you, hold you accountable and remind you what our standards are and what excellence means.

You are given outstanding resources: powerful learning tools, multi-million dollar facilities, beautiful spaces.

You are given a community built on vital and shared values and and in which every aspect of that community has been carefully designed to help you, as young men, to grow and thrive.

You are given the name of a McCallie student now and, one day, the name of McCallie alumnus -- both words that send to the world a powerful and positive message about you because of the long blue line of McCallie students and men who have gone before you.

You’ve been given the gifts of thousands upon thousands of alumni and parents and friends who have made gifts to make McCallie the school we are and to give you the opportunity to be a McCallie student.

That’s what you’ve been given. And my question to you is this: what are you going to give back?

A couple of weeks ago, I met with a 90-year-old McCallie alumnus who, despite the many and very generous ways he’s supported and served McCallie since his graduation 72 years ago, says, with tears in his eyes, he still owes McCallie for what it gave him.

Every day, you are being given something here -- lots of things, in fact. But you don’t need to wait on giving back until you are an alumnus. Find something, one thing, to do for your school every day. It doesn’t need to be big or grand or seen by others.

Duties often are that way. They can be quiet and unassuming and understated. Duties begin with a posture of humility, built on a foundation and recognition that we were created by God, and called to serve and love Him and to serve and love our neighbors, to put their needs in front of our own. It means seeking a purpose for our lives beyond our own happiness and successes. It entails sacrifice. If something is natural or easy or convenient, it probably isn’t a duty. If it’s something most people are doing, if it’s common, it probably isn’t a duty.

Starting today, find something uncommon to do for a classmate or a teacher or a spot on campus. Look with new eyes for needs around you. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Be creative and courageous in coming up with ways to serve others, our school community, and the needy world beyond the Ridge. Take the initiative. Help in unexpected ways.

Commit to the uncommon.

We are uncommon as a school. We are uncommon in what we ask of you, and you are called to act and lead your lives in ways that are uncommon...that are driven by duties and informed by a sense of gratitude for what you’ve been given. The Bible tells us that to whom much has been given, much will be expected. Our faculty and staff expect much from you...more, perhaps, than you may think yourself capable, or that you are used to giving. There is, though, a purpose and power and great fulfillment in holding oneself to a high standard, to internalizing our ideals of honor, truth and duty, to glorifying and enjoying God. That’s the McCallie way...a way that, for 110 years, has produced men of great character and integrity who have made a positive difference as scholars, citizens and leaders all over the world. That is their legacy, and this is your duty.

I’m grateful to be here -- to be a McCallie alumnus and to serve as your headmaster. I am grateful to serve alongside this incredible faculty and staff. I am grateful for you students, individually and collectively, and for the ways that you will, out of duty and with gratitude, serve one another and serve our beloved school. And I’m grateful for and counting on the leadership of the senior class.

It is now my pleasure to declare that, for the 111th time in McCallie history, that the school year has begun. May God bless it, and each of us, and the McCallie School.

Topics: Featured, First Person, Posts from the Ridge, spotlight

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