Wellesley High School social studies teacher Dr. Stephanie Cacace turned a few heads last Friday (and prompted a text to our house from an observer) during her graduation speech when she mentioned being the first woman faculty member to deliver the address “in quite some time.” She went on to say “The last woman to speak at this podium was quite the radical—rumor has it she wore bloomers and a vote for Lincoln pin and extolled the virtues of woman’s suffrage.”
As was clear to me from her tone, she was being cheeky about the bloomers. Nevertheless, her talk did prompt former WHS teacher Brooks Goddard to reach out to us and pass along that last faculty speech by a woman — his wife Jeanie Goddard’s talk, titled “Books, Tea and Fastballs,” from 2001. Speakers are chosen by student vote.
You can find a partial listing of other faculty talks at the Wellesley High School website, with the oldest shown as being dated from 1980 (worth noting: Brooks Goddard delivered the faculty address in 2000 and current principal Jamie Chisum did the honors in 2003).
Books, Tea, and Fastballs
Beloved students, parents, colleagues, and dignitaries–I bring greetings to every one of you from every teacher you have ever had. As a child of the sixties, I must begin by borrowing a line from my Brooksie’s speech of last year…it is a line that deserves to be shouted out at every graduation, every year… it is a line that captures how we all feel at this moment…it is a line that is wildly appropriate on this glorious evening… it is a line from Jimi Hendrix: “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky.”
I could winnow my speech down to 5 bits of advice: take risks, keep your old friends, read books, drink tea, and believe somehow that our Red Sox will win the World Series. I could stop with just this brief list. But why would any self-respecting English teacher willfully walk away from an open microphone and a captive audience after only a minute or two? Not I, not on my best day.
I remember keenly the spring of 1989 (you seniors were in kindergarten) when we all watched breathlessly as a lone young man, armed only with a briefcase, stepped directly in front of the line of tanks roaring into Tiananmen Square to squelch the student revolution. His courage, his willingness to risk all, stopped those tanks dead in the streets. As we watched and hoped that these glorious students with their dreams of freedom could somehow win the day, I heard a noted scholar explain the traditional role that students play in Chinese culture. He said that, in China, students have always been revered as the guardians of truth and virtue. I was stunned by the simplicity and what seems to me even now the power and accuracy of that tribute. It applies, of course, to all of you. You are our guardians of truth and virtue. Because you are not fettered by the complex obligations most adults must shoulder, because experience has not taught you caution and despair, because you believe that you just might be immortal, you can question and act and risk, and thereby see the world with a unique purity of vision. Age, alas, tempers idealism. My sense of what can be done or should be done is affected by 56 years of living and recognizing that purity is not always possible, that issues have many faces, that risk can sometimes not be worth it. Of course, I do not intend to demean the wisdom of age; after all, now that my fastball is losing its zip, wisdom is all I have to look forward to. But wisdom needs to be prodded by the urgency and single mindedness of youth. So I urge you to seize that student role of risking all for principle, for justice, for truth. Help those of us who might be mired in the limits of our present world by dreaming the dreams of what does not yet exist.
No one can weather all this risk-taking without the support of old friends. One of the great joys of attending a public school is that your friends will forever connect you to the community, to the neighborhood, to home. Who but old friends know your history? Who else was there when you knocked over the fish tank in second grade? Who else sat with you in the middle school cafeteria when you struggled to understand the vagaries of puberty? Who else wept with you in the high school corridor when some wretched person broke your heart, or in the locker room when you lost that last game, or in your car when the college letters or the job applications did not say the words you wanted to hear? Who else laughed and conspired and pondered and complained endlessly with you about the minutia of everyday life in Wellesley? Who else sat with you in English class just last week and listened to the brave truth of your Self Paper? Who else recognized the fire at your heart’s core when you faced all those adolescent ghosts and spoke your mind about who you are and who you wish to be? Who else sits with you tonight and rejoices with you that this day when the future begins has finally arrived? Everyone over 18 knows that keeping old friends requires stamina and thoughtfulness and resilience. Call, write, email, even if the calls, the letters, and the emails are not always returned. Welcome old friends, even if years of silence separate you…one of the best weekends of my life was during my 25th Needham High School reunion when I sat in our living room drinking tea with my elementary school classmates, most of whom I had not seen or heard from in 25 years.
Drinking tea…a transition to my next point…As many of you know, tea, real tea, not teabag tea, is at the center of my life. Without tea, life would be a mistake. Every decision Brooks and I have made together has been accompanied by a cup of tea. It stirs the soul…it clears the mind…it cleanses the spirit…As John Prensner reminded me this week, Jack Kerouac in his novel Dharma Bums goes even further than I do in his praise of tea: “The first sip is joy, the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy.” and, just think, by drinking tea you get all that Kerouac promises, and tea drinkers never get into trouble with the Wellesley Police. So anxious am I that you come to know the delights of tea, that I have taped to the bottom of your chairs a packet with enough tea leaves to make a pot of tea to share with your soon to be old friends and, of course, with your sainted parents and grandparents, sitting in those bleachers tonight, overwhelmed with untold emotion. Reach under your seat, and you should find the packet. (do it now) Tuck it away and brew a pot of tea someday soon.
Please, please–do continue to read books….do continue to know that books teach us to become more human. They stretch the skin of our isolation. They extend our experiences and help us understand better how to live inside ourselves. The books you have read during your high school life and this year in particular, will continue to speak to you, I hope, forever. Sweet Celie will remind you never to walk by the color purple without noticing it…Tim O’Brien will insist that stories are indeed things that you carry and that these stories can save your life…. Siddhartha will say, “Listen to the river.” (of course, those guys from Deliverance might just advise you to stay away from rivers at all costs).. Meursault would want to tell you something, but he might fear that it wouldn’t really matter. Puck might alert you that, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” Hamlet, bless his heart, will tell you what you know tonight of all nights–he will tell you that “the readiness is all.” –and Odysseus, that man of pain, that man of twists and turns,–he will urge you to seek the shores of your own Ithaca.
Odysseus brings me to my last tidbit of advice: believe in the Red Sox. Like Odysseus, baseball’s goal is home–home plate. Here the journey begins, and here, if the gods are good, it ends with enough runs to bring victory. When we leave home, the base paths are fraught with dangers and hardships. Whether they be the threat of the Cyclops or the heartbreaking Yankees, we Sox fans know that since 1918 these dangers have dashed our October dreams of dancing in the street. But because we are resilient, because we hail from hardy New England stock, because believing in the Red Sox is an emblem for negotiating the disappointments of life, we return every spring to Fenway, our spiritual home, with hopeful hearts.
So–dear hearts–it is time…go on…”light out for the territory ahead of the rest”…just be sure to let us all know where you are, so we can write and send you our love and these words from Walt Whitman. “This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals…despise riches, have patience and indulgence for all people, stand up for the stupid and the crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, re-examine all you have ever been told, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very life shall be a great poem.”
Thank you….I shall miss you more than words can say….
—Jeanie Goddard, June 1, 2001