“You have learned to be a seeker”

Excerpts from Head of School Tim Bazemore’s commencement address to the Class of 2018

June 16, 2018, Cabell Center Theater

You have experienced 14 or so years of formal education, at Catlin Gabel and elsewhere, designed to make you more skilled, more insightful, more knowledgeable, more self-directed at learning than you were when you were three or four. How did that work? You certainly know more, can do more, have more opinions. Do you still ask as many questions? Are you as curious about the world now as you were at four years old? 

One of our Catlin Gabel core values is spirit of inquiry. Our approach supports students' open inquiry, independent thinking, and respect for diverse views. The spirit of inquiry lies at the very heart of a well-educated person. We encourage student questions, and we foster curiosity, openness to differing perspectives, and the desire to keep learning.

The word inquiry is based on the Latin root quarere—to seek. If we, and you, have done our jobs well, you have sustained your curiosity, you have learned to be a seeker—of information, of experience, of understanding. We have taught you the inquiry process, critical and logical thinking, writing and speaking skills, and empathy and compassion so that you can always have a next question, always be a seeker. Based on our experience with you, you are not shy about asking tough questions of teachers, Aline, and me. Question such as: 

•    How do we define freedom of speech? 
•    Why aren’t we teaching more about climate change?
•    How can we protest for change?
•    Why do we play the national anthem? 
•    How do we create more understanding of mental health? 
•    Do grades matter or not?

I appreciate these questions, although they do not have easy answers. They challenge the status quo and challenge the school to examine our assumptions and blind spots. 

A spirit of inquiry feels especially important now, when people seem more interested in shouting answers than asking questions. On college campuses, in public spaces, and in the media, we are listening less and talking more. In a highly politicized and racialized environment, it’s harder to be curious. But being a seeker means you must ask questions, listen, reflect, and, as our value says, be open. 

I worry that here at CGS, where we aspire to create a marketplace of ideas, it can feel more like an echo chamber of fellow travelers. Are we too quick to indulge in group thinking or tune out those who have different views? Do more conservative or religious community members feel inhibited or silenced by others? Are we truly willing to consider differing perspectives on important or personal topics about which we care deeply?

Many of you are heading to college in the fall, or into life adventures which, like senior projects, will put you into contact with people who don’t share your world view. How will you respond when people challenge your opinions? When their life experience has given them very different beliefs? When you fundamentally disagree with how they think about politics, economics, the environment, or religion? The answer may be to rediscover the four-year-old in you. Ask questions! Be persistent! Be the classmate or colleague who really wants to understand, the one who asks the questions everyone else is thinking.

Lively curiosity opens your mind, attracts others to your company, and fills life with surprises, revelations, and epiphanies. Asking good questions leads to success and happiness more than having all the answers. If you want to be one of the most interesting people in the world, stay curious my friends.