Head of School delivers Thankfulness message at 2016 Dedication Service
The following message was delivered by Mr. David O’Neil, Head of School, at the 2016 Dedication Service on August 19.
It truly brings me great joy to be with this incredible community this evening. I can hardly wait for classes to commence on Monday.
The psalmist charges us to “Give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast love endures forever.”
Currently, the world is competing in its 31st summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. As is Olympic fashion, the games have been an impressive display of individual and team athleticism, steep competition, encouraging displays of national heritage, and commitment to excellence. To train for the gold, each athlete (many of them teenagers, like yourselves) made significant sacrifices, enduring countless injuries and setbacks, committing to strict diets to finely tune their bodies, putting their friendships and relationships on hold—missing out on going to the movies on a Friday night or on vacations with their families—really, sacrificing any semblance of what we may consider a normal life.
A star of this year’s Olympic Games has been the gymnast Simone Biles. With a combined total of nineteen Olympic and World Championship medals, including four gold medals in Rio, Biles ranks as the most decorated American gymnast ever.
At age eight, Biles began training with her long-time coach, Aimee Boorman. For eleven years, Boorman pushed Biles to her limits, seeing just how fast she could run, how high she could jump, and how precisely she could land. Aimee taught Biles about her weaknesses and how to overcome them while developing her strengths, teaching her how to maximize her efforts and her results. The outcome of Simone’s training was excellent. The outcome was beautiful. The outcome was good.
Was Biles path to the title of the greatest female gymnast easy? Was it without hardship or setback? Did she, at times, doubt herself, her trainer, or the process? I wonder, did she want to quit or give up? My guess is, undoubtedly yes!
At Pacifica, we are not training Olympic athletes, rather we are training and equipping young people for lives of faith, character, service, purpose, and significance.
My dear students, your teachers, coaches, and administrators are your trainers, serving as your personal sparring
partners, dedicated to engaging your mind to think well and shaping your heart to live well. An athletic trainer will take an athlete through consistent workout routines that tear the muscles of the athlete knowing full well that the muscle will rebuild itself, this time stronger, faster, and with greater endurance. This year, your teachers will lead you on a journey through history, science, art, math, literature, Christian thought, economics, and philosophy. You will be asked, what do you think; and why? Why do two hydrogen atoms react with one oxygen atom to form H20? Why can’t we divide a number by zero (I still have not quite figured that one out)? Why was Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey relevant during his time, and how is it relevant in our culture today? This year, your teachers are going to lead you through a thrilling exploration of human experience, asking you to strive further and dig deeper as you mature from childhood to adulthood.
Please know we are for you, and for your good. We are training you to run your life’s race with excellence, with endurance, and with grace. And it is important that you know you are not running your race alone. The Pacifica staff, along with your family, church, and others are running this race with you. We are here to cheer you on, to carry you when you experience moments of extreme fatigue, to develop and refine your academic skills and abilities, to serve alongside you in our community, to welcome you into adulthood, and to celebrate with you on that glorious day when you turn your tassel from left to right upon your graduation from Pacifica.
Now, as we run alongside you this year, at some point we may have to reduce your minutes on the volleyball court because you are routinely late to practice, or give you the B you earned when you (and maybe your parents) believe you deserved an A. We may give the chorus solo to a student who worked harder than you, or hold you responsible for cheating on your exam.
We also will be there to rejoice with you when you earn that A on your term paper or make a connection between the beauty of the intricacies of the human body and the majesty of our Creator. We will be there to give you hugs and prayer when you experience defeat in the championship game, or to give you a flower as the curtain closes on the final performance of Taming of the Shrew. We are those same people who will share our lives with you as we speak in chapel, take you on retreat and join you on the Slip-and-Slide, paint our faces and dye our hair, enter the annual belly flop contest, and embarrass ourselves during the faculty skit night.
And why do we run together through all of this; because we know God uses all of these things for our good. His grace and his truth is worked out in our lives over time—and in particular moments. Sometimes what we think are tragedies, simply are not; in fact, they are experiences that make us stronger, more effective, and moldable for God’s great purposes in our lives.
This year, as you experience both triumph and disappointment, I encourage you to keep perspective, seeking the truth of your life, who God is, and what He is doing. Recognize that life is not always fair. This year, some of you will go through, and some of you are already going through, some very complex experiences that have little to nothing to do with your own decisions or actions. Please do not lose heart, because God is in the process of redeeming you and will use these experiences for good in your life. As I have said before, and you will hear me say again, at some point this year you are going to fail at something, and that failure will be a good thing, but only if you use it as an opportunity for growth and maturity. God is bigger than your failure. Do not look back with bitterness, but press on, fighting to experience joy in all things.
I count myself fortunate in that I had the distinct privilege to play collegiate athletics. My favorite moment of each day was my cool-down run at the end of practice. The sun was ducking behind the hills of Montecito as if it was melting into the sea, the dew was beginning to form on the blades of grass and make a most beautiful fragrance, and I was alone to reflect on my day. And no matter how successful or unsuccessful my efforts seemed to be, in that moment I would take a deep breath and remember once more…it was good. It was good, indeed. I had made my offering to the day’s work and the Lord was redeeming my efforts with his grace and his truth over time in my life. As the sun would set, I found myself thankful for the opportunities I had and that tomorrow a new day would begin, giving me a fresh start.
Friends, we are all running this race together. On this side of heaven, perfection does not exist, so each day God grants us grace as we practice, train, and hone our skills, not solely for the efforts of this world but for our glorious birth into the next. And as I consider this, I conclude that we cannot endure challenges or failures, or fully appreciate great joys and all of life’s many experiences without truly thankful hearts.
I strongly believe, being thankful for every aspect of our lives creates a foundation for thinking and living well. As we become increasingly thankful for our ability to think, reason, and explore the world God created, we become better students. As we grow in thankfulness for the people with whom we share life, we become better friends, children, parents, spouses, and citizens. As we grow in gratefulness for our failures and the trials we encounter — that God is in the process of redeeming — we enjoy a deeper experience of peace. As we grow in our thankfulness for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we experience true joy.
You see, It is nearly impossible to do life well, to do school well, to do anything well, without this true and authentic spirit of thankfulness.
Thankfulness is our theme for the year. As we continue this important pursuit of thinking and living well, we must do so with thankful hearts. This year, and for the years to come, I encourage each one of us to live abundant and joyful lives anchored in giving and receiving thanks. As we respond to everyday events, may we fight for joy, experience true grace, and extend compassion and understanding to one another. May we become increasingly thankful. Only then will we begin thinking and living well.
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