CA Head of School Dr. Mike Davis gives his Commencement Address to the Class of 2024.

Dr. Mike Davis: Commencement Speech for the CA Class of 2024

I want to welcome all of you to the Colorado Academy Commencement Exercises of the Class of 2024. We are here to celebrate something special: the culmination of many years of your dedication and hard work. Whether you are a Super Lifer, Lifer, joined sometime during your Lower or Middle School years, or came to us during high school, you are about to walk across the stage and be recognized for your amazing work! Congratulations on your many accomplishments in the classroom, on the playing fields, in our art studios, and on the stage. As Seniors, you have made your families very proud, and you have served as important role models for other grades. 

This day would not be possible without the phenomenal work of all our teachers—from the Lower School to the Upper School. Let’s honor them with a round of applause.  Rita Pierson once said, “Every child deserves a champion—an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”  Graduates, you have had numerous champions, each of whom played a unique and essential role in your development.  Going back to the fall of 2020 when COVID was in full swing, these teachers hung in there with you as we all reinvented education together. They challenged you to think independently and grow intellectually. They helped you be better human beings by encouraging you to live our mission of kindness and courage. They nurtured your interests and propelled you to be excellent in arts, athletics, and academics.  Teaching is an incredibly challenging profession, and no more so than in the last four years.  Let’s again acknowledge the work of the amazing faculty and staff of Colorado Academy for their selfless efforts on your behalf!  

I also want to thank your parents, grandparents, and family members for their support of this school and for entrusting us with these exceptional students. Sending a child to Colorado Academy is a significant decision for any family. It involves a commitment that requires tremendous sacrifice on many levels. Seniors, your parents have given you an amazing gift. And, next year, you will realize just how well-prepared you are for the next level of your journey. It is up to you to use the foundation that Colorado Academy and your parents have given you to go out and make a difference. Opportunities await, and you have the thinking- and problem-solving skills to go far in life. Let’s thank your parents and families for their support in helping you and guiding you to this important day.

As I referenced, you entered the Upper School in the Fall of 2020… wearing masks.  It was a time of immense FEAR and uncertainty.  All of you were impacted by the pandemic, and more than a few of you experienced some type of loss.  Yet, you persevered. You made connections despite having to be on Zoom.  You had to be split into different groups for the first half of the year. But, you came together as a class and formed an essential part of the school community.  

It was a time of great anxiety, and there were many unknowns.  But, the worry was real for many. There was a strong sense of responsibility that I felt to ensure that we stayed safe as a school. 

We are inherently social and I knew any worry you had was not going to stop you from connecting with one another.  I remember you would all gather as Ninth Graders outside the front entrance of the Upper School. Adults, me included,  would pass through pleading with you to stay six feet apart and wear your masks.  Generally, you ignored us, and part of me appreciated your minor rebellion as I understood that you had an intense desire to get to know one another.  It is hard for any human to not want to seek out some type of connection with their fellow human beings; and you didn’t let fear get in the way.

The nature of fear can be extremely limiting..  We experience fear both in our minds and in our bodies.  When we get scared, our amygdala kicks off a series of reactions. Hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released. Blood flows away from our hearts and into our limbs to literally help us “fight or flee” from the source of fear.  For some people, fear can lead to feelings of euphoria. Dopamine is also released— think about riding a roller coaster or maybe a really steep ski line through cliffs– it can be scary, but at the same time thrilling.  

The other thing that fear does is impair cognitive function. Our amygdala, which is part of Our brain that processes emotions, overwhelms the cerebral cortex– the part of our brain that drives reasoning, understanding, and judgment.  When fear strikes these things quickly become impaired.

Yet despite knowing this, fear can be a natural part of life. We are impacted by it at some level.  Yet, there is an antidote – and you have already used it in your lives….

The one trait that can supersede fear is curiosity.  A trait you all demonstrated in the fall of 2020.

Curiosity is not just a desire to know; it is daring to explore, the courage to question, a drive to understand, and the heart of innovation. As Sir Ken Robinson once said, “Curiosity is the engine of achievement”. This simple, yet profound, idea underscores the transformative power of curiosity.  (Dr. Akintoye Akindele ) A writer has noted: “We were all born with an impulse to seek knowledge and discover new things. A study conducted by cognitive psychologists at Johns Hopkins University shows that when infants are surprised by an object, they learn more about it. Their capacity for surprise keeps them curious. In this childlike wonder, children build their Knowledge Capital quickly to prepare them for the new world they are experiencing. When their ideas turn out to be wrong, they don’t let fear of failure paralyze them.”

Throughout history, the greatest leaps in science, technology,  the arts, and even athletics have been fueled by curiosity. It was curiosity that led Newton to ponder the fall of an apple, and Einstein to dream about riding alongside a beam of light. Their curiosity about the world around them led to some of the most important discoveries in human history.  Einstein once remarked, “I am neither clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious”. Einstein’s curiosity propelled him beyond the fears of inadequacy or error, driving him towards groundbreaking insights about our universe.

Bill Walton, the great basketball player and broadcaster who passed away this week once said, “I don’t sleep much. I’m on the go. My mind is racing. My wife says my mind is like the rolling dials on a slot machine. So, yeah, I think about everything”.. It was curiosity that made Walton eccentric, successful, thoughtful and I think curiosity actually saved his life. He was an exceptional college basketball player, and won two NBA titles, but he was the most injured athlete in the history of sports with over forty orthopedic surgeries and a spine that was collapsing. He grew up with a major stutter yet became an incredibly successful sports commentator, he considered suicide because of the pain but instead let his love for music calm his mind. Jim Gray, who worked with Walton on TV for decades said: “Bill is a brilliant man,” he said. “He has such a fertile mind. He’s probably the only person who’s ever been able to tie together, in the same sentence, Mother Teresa, Michael Jordan, climate change, the Berlin Wall, and—what’s that ballerina’s name? What I personally love most about Bill Walton is his curiosity about life.” He once said, “I am not into being remembered. I learn from yesterday, I dream about tomorrow, but I try to make today my masterpiece. I try my best to be better, to do better, and to do more. I am the luckiest guy in the world.”

Curiosity does not seek a final destination but rather revels in the exploration itself. This relentless pursuit is what helps us push past our fears. When we are curious, we cannot be held back by fear because our desire to know and to experience is greater.  Curiosity is not just a phase of youth, it is a lifelong companion that keeps our minds active and our spirits engaged. For me, two things have driven me professionally and personally. One is a love of history. I love reading about the past and learning from our human experience. The second is a desire to explore every inch of the Colorado Plateau and the American Southwest. I can’t get enough of being in the wilderness and natural world.  Life for me would be boring if I didn’t have those two outlets. And, both have guided me to where I am today.

As you step out into the world, I challenge each of you to let your curiosity lead you. Let it be your guide through the complexities of life and your shield against the paralysis of fear. Whether you are continuing your education, starting a new job, or exploring other paths, remember that curiosity is your greatest asset.

What I love most about curiosity is that it challenges us to embrace courage, to ask questions, to delve deeper, and to seek out new experiences, so embrace it. Nurture it. Let it lead you to your own apple-falling moments, and may it help you to build a life that is rich with discovery and devoid of fear.

And in the year of the Eras tour, one has to quote Taylor Swift: “I think that being fearless is having a lot of fears, but you jump, anyway.” 

Four years ago, you “jumped anyway” as you arrived on this campus. Next fall, as you go to college, you are going to jump into a whole new world. Bring with you those essential elements of the CA mission. Being kind. Being adventurous. Being a leader. And being curious.

Congratulations, Class of 2024!