Pursuing Talents

Wes Goldsberry, Academic Dean
So get out there, and as one of my cousins likes to say, go out there and carpe yourselves some diem. The world awaits your greatness.
After playing “Ashokan Farewell” beautifully on his fiddle, Wes delivered the following remarks to all of us at Morning Meeting.
 
You know, one cannot cultivate a talent unless one possesses the opportunities, the motivation, and the DNA with which to do so; therefore, I would like to dedicate that applause to my parents, without whom I could not have played that — nor would I exist.
 
Music has changed my life. If I hadn’t ever played the violin, my family probably could not have afforded to send me to the college I attended; if I hadn’t attended that college, I probably would not have ended up with a scholarship to attend seminary; and so on and so forth, such that I almost certainly wouldn’t be here this morning, privileged to work in such a beautiful setting with such remarkable people, students and faculty alike.
 
Sometimes we see in hindsight what may as well be the fingerprints of the Almighty on our lives. Last November, during my first semester as a member of the Harvard University Choir, I was invited to sing at an evening service with a small choir at an Episcopal Church in the town of Milton, Massachusetts. A woman from that church was kind enough to pick me up, along with three of my vocalist colleagues in Cambridge, in the middle of Boston’s rush hour, and drive us down to the church.
 
Fast forward to two weeks ago, wherein I had been speaking in my office for several minutes with a current White Mountain School parent, who herself is presently a resident of Milton, Massachusetts. I told her I had sung with a choir in Milton back in November, at which point she recognized that I had once been in her car. Indeed, the woman who drove me out to sing with her choir in November 2010 is better known to this community as Whill and Sam Conant’s mom.
 
I guess I tell that story for two reasons: one, to encourage you to keep awake for moments in your life that make it seem as though there’s a God out there whose plan for you is being inscrutably engineered, even as we speak, and maybe even with a dose of humor. The second reason pertains to something that this school aspires not only to encourage you to do, but to help you do: to see that you find and develop a passion that is authentically yours. Because everyone — everyone in this room has a gift that merits exploration, one that could change yours and others’ lives for the better, and sooner than you ever imagined.
 
This past summer, I made a small semblance of a living playing violin on street corners, in parks, and near town squares from Boston, Massachusetts up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I received a handful of requests for certain tunes this summer; but the only tune that was requested more than once was a tune called Ashokan Farewell, which I played a few minutes ago. That tune was composed for a music camp in 1982 by a fiddle player named Jay Ungar, whose daughter I happened to meet back when I was in graduate school.
 
“That song basically put me through college,” she said, noting that her father had no idea when he wrote it, that “Ashokan Farewell” would eight years later become the theme song for a famous PBS mini-series about The Civil War, causing his tune to become arguably the most widely recognized and beloved fiddle melody of this generation.
 
The takeaway lesson, then, is this: Whether you’re a singer, a writer, a composer, a scientist, a dancer, a culinary artist, a rock climber, a freestyle skier, or a patient listener, the answer to whether you should give passionate pursuit unto your talents is a resounding yes — and the answer to when you should begin pursuing those talents, is today.
 
In her book The Writing Life, author Annie Dillard writes:
 
One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. . . Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
 
After Michelangelo died, Dillard continues, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of Michelangelo’s old age: The inscription said, “Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.”
 
So get out there, and as one of my cousins likes to say, go out there and carpe yourselves some diem. The world awaits your greatness.
 

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