This morning, we gather for the opening of the McCallie School for the 116th time in our storied history of the slopes of Missionary Ridge, a sacred land of wars, struggles and dreams that have transformed a battlefield and family farm into a school that shapes boys into men.
That you are sitting here this morning -- as young men on a hot August morning in 2020 -- as part of the great and unfolding story of McCallie is a remarkable moment for you. You’ve gathered here from 27 states and 12 countries around the world, from 31 elementary schools last year within the region, and yet that’s not the most significant aspect of your being here.
You’ve come here for many different reasons: to grow, to get better, to be your best selves...to understand what it means to be a man of honor, truth and duty. You’ve come to broaden and deepen your thinking, to open your minds and hearts, to develop lifelong friendships and experience a supportive brotherhood. You’ve come because you are courageous and in need of an adventure. You’ve come for the doors McCallie opens, for how it changes the trajectories of lives. You’ve come to be a part of something bigger than yourself. You’ve come because life is hard, and you need love, support and encouragement from trusting guides and mentors. You've come to play and enjoy these special years, to be known and loved. You’ve come to discover your identity or to discover God and what a life of glorifying and enjoying Him can mean.
Whatever your reason, you are here for a reason. And when we hand you your diplomas at your graduation, you may realize that your reason for having learned and laughed and played and prayed on this Ridge is different from the reason you believe it to be today. McCallie has a way of changing you, of broadening and deepening you. You’ll leave different, and better, than how you came, than how you sit here now.
You sit here this morning at a historic time in our country, and for this school. The year before us will surely be unlike any other in school history. Throughout the school’s history, we’ve faced serious challenges -- wars and depressions, financial peril and diseases, civil strife and social unrest. McCallie students and young alumni have battled in wars abroad and fought cancers within. They have encountered times of scarcity and scary seasons of uncertainty, each of which demanded selflessness, sacrifices and self-discipline.
Difficult and challenging times reveal one’s character. They reveal the character of an institution as well. They call on us to be our best selves and give us the opportunities for doing so. When we are faced with difficulties, it’s easy to whine and complain, to make excuses, to wait or walk away or wilt, to look for others to speak up or step up, to follow the crowd, to sink to the path of least resistance or the lowest common denominator.
But that’s not the McCallie way.
We are a school that looks at a challenge and says, “Bring it on.” We are gutty and gritty, innovators and idealists, big thinkers and brave doers, not afraid of 4th and long. We will roll up our sleeves, do the difficult, put in the work, make the sacrifices, and get it done.
The pandemic is one of the challenges we are facing this year. It’s a worthy adversary, one we must all take it seriously. We must all individually do our part to conquer it. The difficulty of this unique challenge is that it forces us to refrain from that which we would naturally do. We are a school of close relationships and brotherhood, and we are accustomed to showing that in close proximity to one another. We can’t do that. As boys and men, we are often messy. Hygiene isn’t necessarily our strong suit, but in these times it must be. We must be extraordinarily disciplined in our developing and following new habits of health, safety and hygiene.
McCallie boys and young men have, throughout our history, including our modern history, achieved outstanding accomplishments. We’ve earned national recognition for outstanding academic, athletic and extracurricular feats. We have exceptional teachers and coaches and outstanding facilities. We are a school of scholars and champions, of excellence and high standards, and certainly a national leader among schools.
Building on this foundation and national reputation and leadership, I’d like us to manifest our school character and history by demonstrating extreme discipline in following the protocols and practices that will keep us safe. I’d like us to be a national model and example of how 938 boys, and 200 plus adults, can learn and live together in safe and enjoyable ways during a global pandemic. I’d like to show the world that pre-teen and teenage boys can defy stereotypes and be hyper-hygenic and self-denying and self-sacrificial for the greater good of the community. I’d like us to show the world that if one lives wisely in these times, we don’t have to live fearfully. I’d like us to show that we can be as passionate and unified about whipping Covid-19 as we are about beating Baylor on this very football field.
A key part of our plan entails wearing face coverings. Face coverings protect us and especially others around us. Wearing a mask or gaiter is not simply a practical step to limit the spread of your germs to others, but it’s an act that says, “I care about you. I care about other people. I care about my school. I care about my community.” Refusing to wear a face covering is not only short-sighted, it is selfish. Not wearing a face coverings sends the message that I am more important than you...I prioritize my own comfort over your health. As members of the McCallie community, we have duties, including to care about and protect others.
I don’t like wearing a mask. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hot. I can smell my own trapped breath in it, and that’s not pleasant. I wear a mask to serve my community, to put the health and safety of others before my own discomfort. I wear a mask, and I expect that each of you will as well, to protect the health of our community.
I don’t like them for another reason. They hide us. It’s tempting to give in to the need to be someone else different than who you really are. The masks we wear to prevent COVID-19 remind us that we can figuratively wear masks to hide our true selves, to hide our fears and failings behind a stoic face, to hide emptiness behind achievements, to sacrifice our passions for something more staid. In short, we can lose our authentic selves when we put on masks. We can become a shadow of who God designed us to be...and calls us to be.
McCallie gives you the powerful and profound opportunity to discover who you are, and who God is, and what is true about Him, you and the world. I hope you will pursue that truth.
Our masks can also disconnect us from one another. We don’t see each other as well. We see the superficial facades, we see the differences, and we feel freer to mock, to discriminate, to hate, to vilify. We fear. Our masks can keep us from seeing or sensing the soul, our beautiful common humanity as God’s children.
One day, but not now, we will joyfully take off our face coverings and masks we wear for our physical safety, but before then, I hope we will take off these figurative masks behind which we can hide and isolate.
I want to mention another issue of community health that we must all take responsibility for this year. The events of recent months, most notably the terrible murder of George Floyd but certainly of others as well, have reminded us again as a country and as individuals that we fall short and fail to live up to our ideals. We must take stock of how we as a community are living up to our values and standards, honoring the dignity of each person in our community. The Bible calls us to treat everyone with love, dignity and respect, to promote and seek justice and mercy, to care for and promote the needs of the marginalized, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It teaches us that we are all children of a loving God, created with inherent worth and value. Texts that are sacred in other religions call for many of these same ideals. The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution espouse inalienable rights and equality, among other things. The Civil Rights movement for decades has fought for applying these rights to all citizens, especially to Black Americans.
Work remains to be done, not just in our society, but in our hearts.
McCallie is a school of tight community and brotherhood, and yet we, too, have work to do. It is vital that every single member of our community, regardless of the color of his skin, his country of origin, his religion, his identity, attraction or orientation, his ethnic or cultural background, be treated with respect, dignity and equality. Sadly, there have been moments, oftentimes inadvertently, but sometimes intentionally, when words or actions have undermined that and even caused pain and shame and hiding for others. We must do better, and we must be more intentional, and we will. We will be talking and acting on that this year as we articulate and enact the high standards that are consistent with our mission and values. We will move forward together as brothers.
We will ask a lot of you this year. The standard for being a McCallie student is a high one. Besides the requirements for treating everyone with respect, kindness and equality, and for following all Covid-19 protocols, we expect you to work hard, to come to class prepared every day, to participate in class, to throw yourself fully into extracurricular activities. Take chances. Try something new or out of your comfort zone. Do a flip off the Tower in the lake. Be vulnerable and authentic. Be a mentor. Find a mentor. Don’t cut corners. Sprint through the finish line. We are a school of passion and spirit, of being fully committed, fully present.
While the demands of McCallie are high, the award for being a McCalle student is a high one as well. McCallie men emerge with purpose and poise, confidence and character, a sense of who they are and who God calls them to be. They emerge as changed men. McCallie Men.
One day, I hope, you will look back and see what arose from the daunting challenges of 2020, from a Convocation on this field as the sun began its ascent over the Ridge.
May God bless you on your ascent up the Ridge.