King Jemison '17 shared the following address with his fellow graduates and their families along with the McCallie faculty at Commencement for the Class of 2017. Jemison will attend Stanford University.
Six years ago, I attended my first McCallie Graduation to honor the senior who drove me to school every morning. I was in awe of how “cool” and smart and most of all, big, he was. I struggled to picture myself ever reaching that pinnacle. As a freshman, I still watched the seniors tower over me, both physically and mentally. Now, as I stand on this stage as a senior, I don’t ever remember going through some dramatic change. Instead, I’ve been shaped by such miniscule changes that I didn’t even realize what was happening. They all added up to the man I am today.
McCallie strives to inspire boys and build men. I was never really sure when I switched from the inspiring phase to the building one. I’d say that even today, there’s a lot of boy left in me. But as a 6th grader, I was all boy. All I cared about was blending into the crowd and not drawing too much attention to myself. Thanks to wonderful middle school teachers and coaches, I started the process of inspiration, without realizing it. I was excited for sports and even classes. Learning and working were becoming fun.
Middle school teachers have a thankless job in that they watch the beginning of the maturation and development of a boy without getting to see the end result. Yet still, they work incredibly hard on our behalf. I believe that perhaps they see each boy for what he will become in the future rather than what he is today. Seeing him take steps along that path must be an incredibly rewarding accomplishment.
As an 8th grader, I started to see myself as a big deal. We walked around the halls of the middle school like we owned the place. The resulting pride slowed the inevitable process of maturation. One experience during that 8th grade year really highlights this dilemma for me. On our class trip that year, we visited a dinner theater showing Romeo and Juliet, which we had just finished reading in Mr. Jamieson’s class. During an intermission, I decided to pull the chair out from underneath one of my friends as he sat down. His subsequent fall unleashed a torrent of laughter. Mr. J, who I absolutely adored, did not find the joke so funny. He spent minutes berating me, most painfully pointing out that I had disappointed him. As I moved through the rest of the year, that moment served as a revelation of my continuing immaturity. I thought I might never be able to look Mr. J in the eye again. But towards the end of the year, he gave me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. He said, “You’ve come a long way since that night in the theater.” The discipline he gave me was only because he saw where I could be going if I didn’t let my immaturity slow me down. He saw me for the man I was becoming, not the boy that I was.
It’s in this way that McCallie lives up to its mantra: not by dealing with boys and men separately, but by treating all students as men while accepting the unavoidable failures of boys as necessary learning opportunities. This is not to say that once you cross the threshold of manhood, you never pass back into fits of boyhood. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was booted from my Econ class for filling up a miniature dump truck with hand sanitizer. Immature mistakes still happen, and they have value. Some of my happiest moments at McCallie have occurred when I let go of my adult judgement and become a kid again. My friends might say I spend more time with this mindset than the adult one. I would remind them that Jesus commanded his followers to become more like little children.
Still, all of us walking across this stage today are significantly different than when we entered McCallie. We’ve been treated like men since middle school. Then, we had very limited freedom because when unsupervised, we were likely to make boyish mistakes. Every year, it takes less and less supervision and discipline to enforce this maturity. We grow into our adulthood, and when we do, we no longer require someone looking over our shoulders every second to point us in the right direction. Discipline and supervision serve as a bridge into maturity. Freedom is the reward on the other side.
McCallie’s oldest tradition, the Honor Code, upholds this ideal. I’ve served on the Senate for the last four years and have been required to pass judgement on classmates for cases of lying, cheating, and stealing. One of the first questions we ask to start every meeting is whether or not this is a first offense. Almost always, the answer is yes. After one mistake, the discipline system we have in place serves as a forceful incentive to avoid a second violation while still leaving no permanent marks on a student’s official record. I’m not encouraging anyone to get even one Senate violation but I am saying that if treated as a learning experience, it can be a spark for positive change because our system of punishments allows for mistakes while still maintaining the belief that every student is capable of upholding the Honor Code.
Where does this idea of treating people for who they will become and not who they are while still allowing for mistakes come from? As a Christian, I believe the answer is Jesus. Because of His sacrifice, we are no longer judged by our countless mistakes but instead by the perfect being He is transforming us into. God is able to look past our present sins because He can see our future perfection. His incredible grace makes us desire to achieve that ideal.
Whatever your belief system, treating others with a similar amount of grace and foresight would make the world a much happier place. I struggle with this because it’s impossible to see what others will really become. But I do know that a lot more people would realize their remarkable potential if others had seen that in them all along. As the Class of 2017 moves forward through life, I hope and pray that we can treat others like we’ve been treated here at McCallie: not as the flawed current versions of ourselves but as the incredible people we will be in the future.