In addition to his studies at SAS, salutatorian Daniel McNair took courses in biology, Japanese, and religion at the University of the South. He also participated in theatre and varsity soccer. Dan was a Proctor and a member of the Cum Laude Society. Over the years, he received awards for his writing, including the Danny Griffiths Award for Excellence in English, and for academic achievement in Chinese. Dan plans to attend the University of Chicago in the fall. Dan is the son of Sam and Emily McNair of Monteagle, Tenn. and the brother of Eliza McNair '14.
Good afternoon class of 2017, teachers, family, and friends; thank you all so much for being here with us. It is an honor to be given this brief window of time today to impart overly simplistic, adolescent wisdom. However, before I go forward with any sappy high school anecdotes or such, I would first like to take a moment to invoke a core principle of Daoist philosophy. From chapter eleven of the Dao De Jing: "Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;/ It is the center hole that makes it useful./ Shape clay into a vessel;/ It is the space within that makes it useful./ Cut doors and windows for a room;/ It is the holes which make it useful./ Therefore benefit comes from what is there;/ Usefulness comes from what is not there." In essence, this passage highlights the extremely relative nature of things, the inescapable connections between total opposites. North can only be north thanks to south; big can only be big because of little. As my fellow seniors, Elliott Duncan and Wyatt Lindlau, keenly elucidated to me: "Someone only gets to be valedictorian and salutatorian because of us and our bad math grades." Obviously it was a joke, but I did think that they raised a valid perspective. Life, in any school or setting, state or circumstance, is defined by the environment of the individual, ecosystem and relationships. As students, we are characterized not just by ourselves and our endeavors, but are given shape by our peers, our teachers, our advisors, even our school buildings and our campus.
Moving on can definitely be tough, especially from such a wonderful institution, a place I have already sunken my roots into, an eccentric yet thriving community that has nourished my growth over the past seven years. Here's a story about moving on from chapter 18 of the Zhuangzi:
Zhuangzi's wife died. When Huizi went to convey his condolences, he found Zhuangzi sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. "You lived with her, she brought up your children and grew old," said Huizi. "It should be enough simply not to weep at her death. But pounding on a tub and singing – this is going too far, isn't it?"
Zhuangzi said, "You're wrong. When she first died, do you think I didn't grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there's been another change and she's dead. It's just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter."
"Now she's going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don't understand anything about fate. So I stopped."
Instead of mourning the death of his deeply beloved wife, the master bangs on a tub, sings, and cheers. Deep and inspiring advice from a revolutionary Daoist philosophical text: 'Get over it'. Now, I personally am an incredibly sentimental person and I have neither the intention nor the ability to just painlessly move on from Saint Andrew's-Sewanee, still, I know that I will be helplessly uprooted anyway and transplanted into another community, just as a potted plant outgrows its own vessel and must be moved. It's hard to just 'get over it', but I think there is some comfort in perceiving change as a constant instead of as a variable, to expect it and to continue growing and thriving regardless. Further, although our time together as students is coming to an end, our bonds need not be severed, only reformed. I am sure that we will meet each other again in the future as graduates, as doctors and scientists, as lawyers and businesspeople, as members of society, as adults, as friends.
Saint Andrew's-Sewanee has carved an indelible mark on me as well as how I think, love it or hate it, like it or dislike or just tolerate it, SAS has cultivated our growth as people, and I think we should be grateful for that.
Finally, before I hand the microphone over to that other guy, I want to share a few last pieces advice: Always give yourself opportunities to be alone and just think (preferably outside); Books definitely aren't as bad as I used to believe; No one will ever think exactly like you do, no one will ever believe exactly what you do; and Never stop appreciating art, even if you don't consider yourself an artist, find ways to interact with it and appreciate it, no matter what.
"I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?" Human or butterfly, student or adult, we keep living, growing, and dreaming, forever.