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Academy’s Veteran Teacher and Coach, Joel Davis, Delivers Cum Laude Address

Long time biology teacher, Joel Davis, delivers Cum Laude Address to the Class of 2019. (Andrew Barren’22/Media editor)

The following written address by Mr. Davis can also be seen on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efDQpZpAlfo&t=172s

CA students, faculty, staff, administrators, family, friends, and most importantly the class of 2019: WELCOME!

It is a true honor to be able to speak to you today!

In coming together in an honors assembly we are following a tradition honored for many years at Columbus Academy.  But it is the term ritual that I would like to discuss today.

I follow important daily rituals to guide my life.

I start my morning with a accompanied by the noble canine “George.”  We share much in common. We both enjoy eating. We both enjoy our long walks. As a side note, we differ in that George can smell a rabbit from a half mile away, and I can’t tell that my classroom stinks from recently dissected fetal pigs! 

Rituals define my school day. I start my classes with a whistle and compete to break yesterday’s time trial. Within my class, when I am showing a PowerPoint, my students are well schooled in the competition to be the first to turn off the lights (“Can somebody turn off the lights?”- I think I just saw 10 people getting out of their seat to be the first to turn off those lights.”)

I finish my teaching day by the changing of the quotes. A quote written on a piece of colorful construction paper is moved from whiteboard to the wall, and by the end of the year in my classroom I have a quote representing every school day affixed to those walls.

This year I have already put some of these quotes up, given to me by this year’s seniors. 

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit  . . . Wisdom is not putting a tomato in a fruit salad.” Thank you Courtney Batchelor.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why they call it the PRESENT.” Thank you Mira Bhasin.

My year like my day is defined by rituals.  We celebrate Charles Darwin’s birthday on February 12th.  We make 3d models of eukaryotic cells. We celebrate Autumn with the Community ecology outdoor experience.  I have gotten used to shrieks and screams as students lower an unsuspecting grasshopper into a jar.  And I look forward to the moment when, after a 9th grade community ecology group has misplaced their plant collection, a student reacts with the accusation of: “Somebody stole my plants.”   Thank you, Abhi Ramesh for completing the ritual 4 years ago! 

Certainly you as students have your own rituals which have made you successful.

Eric Menq and Will Mathews make a ritual of creativity. Three years ago on a snow day, instead of making snow angels, they completed their 3-D model of the eukaryotic cell out of that recent snowfall.

Maddie McAfee makes a ritual out of kindness. She teaches us that there is no such thing as being too kind.  Her kindness to animals is overshadowed only by her kindness to human animals.

Sydney Hill makes a ritual out of manners showing us that manners are still important in this fast-paced world. She thanked me after every class, even when she had taken a challenging biology assessment that day.

Callista Popp has made a ritual out of baking. She knew that the way to a person’s heart may be through their stomach as she, to celebrate Charles Darwin’s birthday, baked the entire Galapagos Island chain out of cupcakes.

David Barren, Malcolm Klingbeil, Evan Scott, and Hayden Compton make a ritual out of strong friendship.  They understand the power of this friendship- whether they were playing on a 7th grade basketball team or together rebuilding a retention wall at a Leesville Lake cottage.

The ritual of illustration can be seen in the work of Sophia Tidwell, Courtney Batchelor, and Cole Walker.  Sophia did a masterful job of personifying a leaf cutter ant working in the garden, Courtney made the inside of a dissected rat come to life, and Cole put the finishing illustrative touches on “The very short life of Marvin the Mayfly,” a children’s story penned by the ever creative Ryan Milbourne. 

Katie Anderson, Cheyenne Sullivan and Cali Poulon honor the ritual of hard work. They realized long ago that a strong work ethic smooths the way over challenging academic bumps. They came to school just about every day and never, ever missed an assignment.

Suriya Sundurum continued to amaze me by honoring the ritual of competing to turn off the lights, showcasing his athleticism and quickness by leaping tall lab tables with a single bound to get to the lights first.

You don’t have to remind me that the class of 2019 believes in the power of tradition and the ritual of vigorous living as they played their way to state championships, produced a huge number of merit scholars, and put on one of the best musicals of all time in performing RENT

 You will go off to college soon.  Much has changed since I went off to college in 1974.  Still many universal truths still exist of which you need to be reminded.

 Do these things daily, in ritual fashion:

-I heard in my first CA commencement in 1997 to “eat breakfast.”  Since I don’t eat breakfast, I have amended this advice to “Go to breakfast.”  Drink a cup of coffee with a few close friends to start your day.   

-Get outside, get exercise. My dog George reminds me daily how important that is to both of us. 

-Go to ALL of your classes. Being present will be 60% of that class (and that’s a passing grade at Academy!).  As Yogi Berra used to say:  “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

These next pieces of advice are for the long haul:

-Do something for someone besides yourself.  At the very least-Clean up your room for your roommate, at the most-get involved in Service to others by volunteering. 

I know this took me outside of my own self-centered self as I found that I enjoyed tutoring kids living in a Washington, DC housing project.  This act of service helped to reveal my future interest in teaching.

-Take advantage of travel opportunities:

In the words of Britney Spears: “You may get to go to lots of overseas places . . . like Canada!”  These travel opportunities will stretch you and teach you about the diversity of the world in the most beautiful of ways.  This would make Mr. Dow very happy!

 This last piece of advice in my opinion is the most important and reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

In the words of Richard Haliburton:

 “Technology is merely the art of rearranging the world so that we don’t have to experience it.”

The advice is:

Have a shallow and casual relationship with your electronic device. 

I recently took a CA group to the Caribbean for a spring break trip and noticed as we were sailing a 42 foot catamaran through the Sir Francis Drake channel surrounded by tropical blue water and 4 million year old volcanic islands, 2 students were looking at their phones.  Don’t let this electronic device control you the way Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos insist that it must.

DARE TO BE HUMAN!  DARE TO HAVE HUMAN INTERACTIONS!

I do have the solution right here in my pocket though few will recognize this as the solution. Recently, when I broke my flip phone, given to me 20 years ago, I was very pleased that my wife was able to order a new flip phone for $45!

I know you will be challenged at the next level. But I also know that you have done your job in listening to and learning from your teachers, parents, and surrounding community.  Your current rituals are strong and powerful and you will only get better at enhancing and adding to those rituals.

With your rituals, you have helped to make my career what it is today.  You have reminded me that teaching is not just a vocation. It is a calling. For that I thank you. Also know that you have made an impression on me and made my life richer by being who you are!

That being said . . . I will also remind you . . . It’s been real, it’s been fun, it’s even been real fun! Now, when you have graduated, get out of here and do great things!

Good luck class of 2019! I love you!

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August 18, 2019