‘When opportunity meets preparation’

Editor’s note: This is Head of School Dr. Mike Davis’ 2021 Commencement speech, delivered on June 3, 2021, to the Colorado Academy Class of 2021.

I want to start by thanking all of our families for their tremendous support this past year and for many years before. It has not been easy for the past 18 months, but I have constantly found strength and support from CA’s culture of kindness and courage. Graduates, your parents and families have given you the tremendous gift of a remarkable education. Even in the pandemic, you have been afforded opportunities that millions of other American children did not have. There’s responsibility that comes with a CA education. I hope that, as you leave Colorado Academy, you can pay this forward by doing good in the world and being your best self.

I also want to recognize the highly talented and dedicated faculty and staff of Colorado Academy. This has been a year and half like no other. Our teachers have worked exceedingly hard to serve our students and continue their learning and connection. They have carried our students in this moment and they have supported one another. The scholar Joseph Campbell once said, “The job of an educator is to teach students to see vitality in themselves.” We know these students have that vitality and that energy. Let’s all give our teachers and staff a round of applause in thanks.

Finally, sincere thanks to Dr. Jon Vogels for his fantastic work as Upper School Principal. Jon has served as principal for 18 years with distinction. He brought a student-centered focus to his leadership. I love his compassion for students and warm sense of humor. He has a wonderful perspective on young people that has informed his decision making and leadership. Jon, you have shaped the development of hundreds of students over your years as principal, creating opportunity for learning and growth. We are so honored that you will be staying at CA to teach and lead our debate program. On behalf of the entire CA community, thank you.

Starting with the Kindergartners

Today brings a special milestone for me, as well. When I first started here in the fall of 2008, many of our Seniors were Kindergartners. I fondly remember my first Kindergarten Giant Relay Day race. I was in a knee brace because of ACL surgery. We have welcomed many classmates over the years. I have watched each of you grow into young adults, taking on everything that life has thrown your way. I am optimistic for next year, and I am so happy for each of you that it should bring a sense of normalcy.

Recently when watching the University of Arizona women’s basketball team beat the U. Conn. Huskies in the NCAA Final Four tournament, one of the announcers had a great line: “Opportunity has met preparation.” I love that. It’s actually paraphrased from a quote attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca, who said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I actually like the sports broadcaster’s version because we really can’t count on luck to get us through our lives: “Opportunity has met preparation.”

Think about all you have done to prepare for this moment. Starting in early childhood, you learned to read and write. In Third Grade, many of you went to the Plains Conservation Center on our first experiential trip; in Fifth Grade, you went to Crow Canyon; and in Eighth Grade, you enjoyed an outdoor retreat. Along the way, other students joined this class and added to its distinctive and positive character. As you entered high school, your intellectual abilities were challenged by your teachers. You grew as artists and athletes, showcasing your talent in all kinds of ways. And, then the pandemic hit!

It’s important to acknowledge just how challenging the past two years have been on all of our students, but in particular, for this class. Your last two years of high school have been upended. Sports seasons disrupted. Arts performances and shows affected. You have had to approach the college admission process in an unprecedented manner. You made sacrifices in terms of seeing friends and family. And even when we were able to be in school, we had to wear masks and keep safe distances.

I strongly suspect that the experience of living through this in a pivotal time in your life will result in your not taking for granted all that we once did: going out to dinner in person, going to a concert, to a sports game, gathering with friends, seeing people without having to wear a mask.

You have experienced your final year of high school in the wake of national events that will be forever discussed in history classes. When you look back on all you witnessed—more than 500,000 American deaths caused by COVID, a country responding to social injustice, an insurrection at the nation’s Capitol—you will no doubt always recall the year they happened. And you will recall the year that forever changed you. You can look back at the hardships and how they shaped you, but you can also reflect on the new opportunities they led to.

You have proven that you are resilient and can muster the strength and creativity to come out better than when we started. You will handle what life brings to you with the same kind of courage and kindness that have defined how so many of you interact in your daily lives. That capacity to be kind is one that is so critical. It takes patience and unbelievable dedication to be kind in a world that can be cruel. Learning to listen and to have conversations with others is important, too. Just as one also needs the courage to take action and speak out. As you leave CA, know that you are prepared for anything.

Wonder and wisdom

Beyond being courageous and kind, I hope that you will also be curious. Socrates said, “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” Recently, I spent some time with CA alumnus Greg Lewis from the class of 1966. Like so many CA alumni, he has lived an interesting life. He went to Middlebury College, was a long-time Aspen Ski Patroller, and also had 40-year career as a TV broadcaster, including covering nine Olympic games. He primarily covered sports, including extreme sports, and is an Emmy Award winner. He has just written a really fun children’s book called Chasing Wonder. It’s all in verse, and it’s a charming story of curiosity. I thought I would leave you with his marvelous words:

Deep and wide as the very vastest sea
Inside a place called Curiosity
Things are different yet just the same
Even if known by an unknown name
Curiosity, you’ll quickly realize
Strips all things of their disguise

So, close your eyes and open your mind
Who knows what’s there that you may find
This story welcomes all inside
Wonder ensures an amazing ride

He goes on:

Six ideals for life, every day
What he learned from those he’d met
What he knew he must not forget
Truth is always most essential
Beauty makes you reverential
Goodness leaves you feeling great
Justice for all must never wait
Equality belongs to everyone
Freedom’s quest is never done

I wish you well and god speed on your life’s journey.