As I consider the Compass School and this Churchill quotation, I am struck by how perfectly these words both describe and embody the spirit of this community. As a School that demands that each child reach his or her highest register, this quotation imagines a child, through adversity (and cleverly taking advantage of its circumstances), achieving. In addition, the image of a kite tussling with the wind, going against it, reminds me of this School as well. The students learn and embrace the idea that questioning allows one to grow; simply put, running against the grain, questioning authority, inquiring incessantly define the Compass experience.
One of my former colleagues at school where I taught for 16 years coached wrestling with me. He was the head coach, and I was his assistant. We prepared our charges for their matches not only physically with rigorous exercises and drills, but also, and equally important, mentally. Steve Ward told the students succinctly, “You can only control two things in a match: your effort and your attitude. You can’t control your opponent—how big he will be, how swift he will be, how experienced or well-prepared he will be—and you can’t control the referees. But can control your effort and your attitude. Give your best effort each day here in practice and in the match, and take the best attitude possible into each match.” I would add to his great advice something similar: one must also have faith, must believe. This story illustrates the third idea:
A great Japanese warrior named Nobunaga decided to attack the enemy although he had only one-tenth the number of men the opposition commanded. He knew that he would win, but his soldiers were in doubt.
On the way he stopped at a Shinto shrine and told his men: “After I visit the shrine I will toss a coin. If heads comes, we will win; if tails, we will lose. Destiny holds us in her hand.”
Nobunaga entered the shrine and offered a silent prayer. He came forth and tossed a coin. Heads appeared. His soldiers were so eager to fight that they won their battle easily.
“No one can change the hand of destiny,” his attendant told him after the battle.
“Indeed not,” said Nobunaga, showing a coin which had been doubled, with heads facing either way.
Indeed, we do control our destiny. We do have say in our lives. We have to believe that we can achieve. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot rise, that you cannot reach your highest register. Give a full commitment to each experience in your life, making the right choices, and learn to trust your instincts. You will fall and you will fail, but the true measure of who you are will be measured not by how high you climb, but by how high you rise after you have fallen. One of my favorite proverbs is “all down seven times, stand up eight.” Know you will fall, but trust that you will rise.
Finally, I want to finish these words to you with a quotation from Hamlet. When Polonius sends his son Laertes to France, he plies him with typical fatherly advice, finishing with these poignant words: “To thine own self be true / And it must follow, as the night the day / Thou canst not be false to any man.” Trust your instincts, believe in the strong education that you have received here, and look to rise highest against the wind, not with it. You are well prepared to soar.