DURHAM — Focus can be a good thing, like when hunched over an SAT bubble sheet. But, at least every now and then, it's important to let the mind drift, the Rev. Will Willimon told 100 Durham Academy seniors gathered for the school’s 40th annual commencement exercises.
“Daydreaming can be the mind’s incubator. When we’re hyperfocused, the mind has difficult reaching into that reservoir and making an unlikely ‘Aha!’ connection,” said Willimon, former dean of Duke Chapel and now pastor of Duke Memorial United Methodist Church. “In daydreaming, there’s no controlling, parent-like censor to whisper, ‘Hey, that’s ridiculous,’ ... and all the other ways the protectors of the status quo police serendipitous creativity.”
If Willimon hadn't held the graduates in such seemingly rapt attention as they sat on the stage of UNC's Memorial Hall on May 23, they might have been daydreaming of their lives’ next chapters, which will take them to 53 colleges and universities across the country, ranging from Harvard College and the University of Southern California, to closer to home at Duke and UNC.
For what was believed to be the first time in DA's history, two valedictorians were recognized: Justin Katz and Sean O'Connor. Kyle Bushick was class salutatorian.
Graduating with a class of 100 – 40 of whom have been classmates since preschool – it will be all too easy for the new DA alumni to retreat to nostalgia as they venture out into the larger world, where “it will be easy to feel anonymous,” warned Katz, who will attend Yale University in the fall.
“Even if you can’t make the great ideas, recognize the great ideas,” he said. “And even if you can’t be the one to recognize them first, make sure you spread them. Because when you reject complacency, you cease being a drop in the ocean of humanity, you shed your anonymity, and you become a living, active and recognized part of our society.”
Fellow valedictorian O’Connor, who plans to attend Duke, urged his classmates to follow the example of individuals who have lived their lives in line with their moral compasses.
He cited N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano’s legacy of raising money for cancer research and British Prime Minster Winston Churchill’s staunch resistance of Adolf Hitler – and brought many to tears with his remembrance of Justin Straus, a student who came to DA in preschool and would have graduated with the Class of 2014 had he not lost his battle with chordoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in middle school.
“Justin touched many lives, including me personally, with his kindness and positive attitude,” O’Connor said. “His perseverance and face-to-face connectivity with people has inspired the pursuit of a cure for chordoma. His life has left a legacy behind in all of us that is characterized by his generosity and care for other people.”
For more on DA's Class of 2014, see