Graduation 2021 | Head of School Address | Midland School

Graduation 2021

Head of School Address

Head of School Christopher Barnes delivers his speech at graduation.

Spring 2021
Presented at Midland’s Graduation 2021

How do we sum up an extraordinary year and an extraordinary senior class? How do we find closure for a group who has shepherded us all through the long night to the dawn of a new beginning? How do we honor the class of two thousand and twenty-one whose senior year was a year of firsts and lasts?

To do so, I’m turning to Jerry & Renny Russell for inspiration. The Russell brothers wrote a book called On the Loose. So, with great appreciation and apologies, I have riffed on the introduction to their wonderful book.

Have you ever shivered at the beauty of a sunset across the golden grasses here in this valley?

Have you ever made dessert for a hundred people? Or made homemade strawberry ice cream for 90, and then hauled it to the summit of Grass Mountain?

Have you ever installed solar panels to harvest the sun for electricity?

Or planted, weeded, harvested, washed, and prepared the vegetables that you eat from the salad bar for lunch?

Have you ever attempted to cross a stream, only to realize you can’t, and then spent the night in the rain waiting for the swollen river to shrink?

Speaking of shrinking, have you ever crammed the whole school into Commons for a dance party?

Have you ever had sweat dripping down your back during chapel in September and then shivered in the exact same spot in January?

Ever helped a friend build a half mile of trail just because it sounded like fun? Or built a beautiful wooden deck in the middle of nowhere because maybe others might want to sleep on it?

Have you ever run to satellite hill for the Midland Olympics while the seniors that year got a ride?

Have you ever shot an arrow for physics class or learned to surf from your chemistry teacher?

How about cleaning a dirty toilet? Unplugged a clogged one? Or just prayed when you flushed that it would actually flush?

Have you ever hiked to the seven corners of the property on All Saint’s Day?

Have you ever eaten one, or more likely twenty-one, of Gloria’s taquitos? Or maybe pretended to actually like the Head of School just to get an extra brownie?

Ever had a rotten tomato fight in the garden? Or been beaned by a green tomato in said rotten tomato fight and laughed off the pain, and then been so very happy to sit next to the culprit right now?

Have you ever noticed that two days after the first drops of rain, little bits of green grass start shooting up and everyone starts watching for the Alamo Pintado to run? And when it does, been captivated by it?

Have you ever felt profoundly guilty because you forgot to light your shower fire? And then felt profoundly grateful for a friend who covered for you and lit the fire?

Have you ever had a wrestling match during group check in? Or a group snuggle?

Have you ever played knockout or volleyball during tea time? Or talked about philosophy while drinking tea?

Have you ever cajoled other students to actually wear a mask and stay six feet apart so that you could kinda-sorta have a normal-ish senior year of high school?

Have you ever walked a “run lap” with me? Or spent lap period weed whacking, cleaning the library, working in the garden, or raking leaves?

Ever woken up with flu-like symptoms and hidden them from the faculty at the morning health check because you didn’t want to get quarantined? Ever wished your quarantine was over? Or wished it was longer?

Have you ever confused a want for a need, or a need for a want? And stayed up late thinking about it?

Have you ever crammed five people per chair into Commons to watch a movie on club night? Or watched a really bad one in Long House? Or watched one in your cabin when no one was looking?

Have you ever wondered if it is normal for teenagers to volunteer to do someone else’s job just “because” and for no discernable benefit? Or what it means to live in a community where that is normal?

How about wearing gloves and blankets to class in Lumberyard on a January morning?

Have you ever moved Midland cattle on horseback?

Had a fermentation fair for biology class and shared your concoctions with the whole school?

Ever created your own field guide to local plants? Or birds? Or loved the project so much you did it again for your senior thesis?

Have you ever wondered if your work job was just a way for a school to save money and then realized that having a job, doing your job, and helping others do their job was one of the very best parts of your high school experience?

Have you ever driven up Figueroa Mountain Road to have a snowball fight? Or know a teacher crazy enough to bring a truck full of snow back to campus so we all could have a snowball fight?

Have you ever brought your dog to school? Or cared for your friend’s dog while they were on an OL trip?

Have you ever poisoned your friends with gross culinary concoctions to consume in a running race? And laughed hysterically as they struggled to eat and run at the same time?

Have you ever spent an Experiential Saturday surfing? Making empanadas in the garden? Screen printing? Drawing comics? Making ketchup? Or going to UCSB Arts and Lectures?

Have you ever fasted with a friend for Ramadan?

Have you ever walked around in Trash Canyon for half-holiday? And returned later to use trash to make art?

Have you ever done math in a hay barn? English in Long House? History under a black walnut tree?

Have you ever learned to write by ruthlessly eliminating “to be” verbs at a picnic table?

Have you ever made your own fun because there was just nothing else to do?

Have you ever let a tarantula walk up your arm? Or tried to eat crickets, or fried superworms?

Have you ever crafted a beautiful local bug out of found local material? Or noticed the appearance of plein air art at the end of every spring on campus?

Have you ever slept under the stars on Grassy Knoll with your classmates and made it back in time for breakfast? Or rolled out of bed in your cabin and then sprinted to Stillman, just in time for sign in?

Have you ever had a teacher who literally believes in the power of sparkles and sequins, and who thinks tests are really celebrations of learning?

Have you ever gone to the garden after dinner to eat the very best strawberries you have ever tasted?

Have you ever hated your roommate? And later come to love them, faults and all anyway?

Have you ever had classes outside for an entire year?

Have you ever gone swimming with a rattle snake in the Reservoir?

Have you ever gotten home for a break and woken up wondering why the bell ringer was late today?

Have you ever gone to a school with a 12-acre garden that grows kids into adults?

No. I don’t suppose you have. But the Midland Class of 2021 has. That is how they have grown up.

That and a thousand golden glimmers in the grass, a thousand words written, and a thousand puffs up the trail. Everybody goes about it differently, of course, but they wouldn’t trade any of it.

Midland is not an escape from anything, but an escape to. Not to forget, but to remember — to remember what is really important.

And as the Russell brothers wrote, “Most important is an imperishable attitude, a philosophy if you like, a way of laying out the world and of planting ourselves in it. Now we know what is trivia and what is real.”

To the Midland class of 2021, you know what is real and you know what matters. We wish you — I wish you — all the very best as you take on your next adventure, your next chapter, whatever that may be.

Thank you all.


By Christopher Barnes
Head of School

Read more about Christopher.

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