Chapel Talk Archive

Anne Gildroy '94

“In Service to Others”
I am humbled and honored at the opportunity to speak to you tonight on the eve of a very important transition for you and for me.
I started Groton in the second form as a day student, and by the fourth form I was a full-time boarding student. I wasn't a rich Groton kid, and I wasn't a poor Groton kid. I came to Groton from a nearby town called Westford and was proud to be the first "Gildroy" to attend this mysterious and elite boarding school. As a result, I studied very hard but was no academic superstar, and in the sixth form was flatly rejected from all of the Ivys. So as that spring approached in 1994, I never would have imagined that I would find myself on top of a war-torn building in Iraq 11 years later.  Tonight I would like to share with you a bit of my story. It is simply a piece of one journey, and it is only one perspective on how this place called Groton may affect your life.
In January 2005 the first Iraqi national elections were scheduled for the end of the month. The media and the coalition were preparing for an expected explosion of violence on election day. As a result, for that whole month you could feel the tension as the day got closer and closer. The rifle company I worked with was actively pursuing insurgents in the area in order to create an environment of peace and stability.
On this particular night, we were stretched very thin. The main body of the rifle company was committed to a mission far away from our location. We could only afford 14 Marines to guard a building of particular importance in downtown Karbala. As darkness fell around us, every Marine was focused on the plans we had set in place to guard the building knowing there was no back-up. I set the riflemen in their positions on the roof. I walked the empty building frequently and took several trips to check on the Marines on the roof and the Iraqis at the main checkpoint in the front of the building. The rooftop was silent and the Marines were scanning their fields of fire. I knelt down and tapped on one of the Marine's shoulders. He was not much older than any of you.
"Lance Corporal, How 'ya doing out here?"
"Fine Ma'am, I'm fine."
I turned to leave, and the Lance Corporal said, "Ma'am, can I ask you a question?"
"What's on your mind?"
"I heard you got into Harvard, and that you are staying here in Iraq when we leave. Is that true?"
Without wanting to know how the word of my acceptance to Harvard Business School had spread so quickly, nor of my extension in country, I simply responded, "Yes,that is correct."
He looked intently at me as I knelt by his side. "Ma'am, you can't stay here longer now, your life is too valuable to lose."
I had to repeat the statement in my mind. What….my life is too valuable to lose? I was stunned. A Marine I barely knew, in a tense situation, was contemplating this? I tried to explain to the junior Marine that it is impossible to place a greater worth on one Marine's life versus another. I stumbled over my words and attempted to talk about the importance of service in one's life.
His statement about the "value" of my life has not left me. He was not implying that my life had more "monetary value" than his, but rather that he had an expectation that I would "do something" or giveback in a significant way.
So what would have been your response to the Lance Corporal that night? Would you think your life was too valuable to lose? The response is not easy, but it is a statement that demands examination. What is a valuable life? How important is service to you and to your community? Does service obligate all people, regardless of whether they go to Groton or Westford High? How often do we consider what we can give of ourselves?
Cui servire est regnare was not simply a school motto for me, but it became an underpinning of the way I tried to measure the value of my life. Groton teaches us the importance of service, and through that service, the ability to create value for yourself and your community. At Groton I began seriously to consider the impact of my actions on those around me. Living in a community where you interact constantly with the same group of people forces you to challenge your preconceived notions and beliefs. The community at Groton makes each student aware of his part in it, and therefore his contribution to it. Groton completely transformed the way I thought. It opened my mind and encouraged me to listen first and not to make hasty judgments.
Groton was the first place I ever experienced diversity. Mario Malcolm and Mark Schulman, two of my form mates, were my very first black friends. I had never before been in a classroom with such a variety of colors and nationalities. I learned to embrace our differences and appreciate them.
I am sure many of you too have had similar experiences at Groton that will stay with you forever. I still remember how angry I was that one of our peers refused to accept a design on our Spring Fling T-shirt with a pig on it. She was Muslim, and wearing a T-shirt with a pig was unacceptable for her on many levels. My first reaction to her protest was to think about how overly sensitive and dumb her request of the rest of us was to abandon the design. After all, it was just a picture on a T-shirt, or was it? She was right, and I could not have been more wrong in my reaction to her. The experiences at Groton teach us about the importance of respecting each others' beliefs and considering each others' right to dignity and self-respect within the community. The answers to these issues beyond the gates of Groton are complicated, and you will find you have the resources to begin to tackle them.
The ability to keep an open mind, learned over the years at Groton, has proven invaluable in all areas of my life. I was able not just to hear the perspectives of my form mates or my colleagues, but to deeply consider their opinions and viewpoints. In Iraq it enabled me to listen and consider the thoughts of citizens from many different tribes and regions. I know this skill will be critical to achieving future successes and understanding future failures.
In the next decade, all of you will face a unique challenge. You are soon to be Groton graduates. You will join a pool of some of the most prestigious alumni in this nation's history. Many of you will have resumes marked with Ivy League schools and internships and jobs at the top companies in the world. Your legacies of success and achievement will begin the moment you receive that high school diploma. From hereon, parents, family, friends, and colleagues will comment on how much you have accomplished, how gifted you are, and how wonderful you all are.
You will need to be conscious of not pursuing a life that only preserves that success. You must define success for yourself. For many of you, the people around you will decide that heading off to Doctors Without Borders, the Marine Corps, Teach for America, the Peace Corps, or whatever other wild endeavor would be "bad timing," "a waste of your potential," a "waste of a valuable life," "foregoing a lucrative career path," etc., etc… The people you most expect to encourage you to be bold and to sacrifice when it is most difficult to do so will not.  Instead, many will defer to protecting and "enabling" the path of success you will create. They will want to shield you from failure and keep you on a narrow path considered "acceptable." Challenge them! I encourage you to do something uncomfortable, something with a piece of your life where you are in deep service to others, and where it is tremendously difficult to give. You must define the value of "your" life for yourself. Do not let the institutions and your quest for the "perfect resume" define it for you.
It is critically important that over the next 10 years you fail a lot, because from those failures will come your deepest learning for future success. My soccer coach and hockey coach at Groton, Fred Beams and Cathy Giles, made me get back up after lost games and get ready for the next ones. Failure was not an excuse on the athletic field to stay down or lose confidence. Those two coaches drove tenacity into me and taught me that perseverance will triumph always. Take what I am sure you have learned on those fields at Groton and bring it with you into your life beyond Groton. Do not be afraid to fail. Take risks!
Groton has given you a toolbox and an ethical compass to tackle whatever you may face after Prize Day. Few people in this world are afforded the resources and opportunities provided to you at Groton, and even fewer ever have the mentorship and leadership of such an incredibly dedicated and passionate faculty. As you shake hands and bid your mentors and friends farewell, promise yourself that you will reflect on what you have been given and what you have worked so hard to achieve at Groton. You will not know on Prize Day what your greatest passion in life is nor where or how it is best for you to be in service o others. However, when and where the opportunity arises, seize it. Keep the Lance Corporal on the rooftop in your mind and constantly ask yourself what a valuable life means for you.
I want to share with you my favorite quote. It is from Theodore Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strive valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
Before I close tonight, I'll be honest and tell you that on Sunday morning it will not be easy for me to get back on the plane to Iraq. In fact, bidding my family and my country farewell this time around may be the hardest thing I have done in my 30 years. However, looking at you all tonight, knowing that Groton has equipped a group of people to do great things for this nation and the people the world over gives me a deep sense of peace. So for that I thank you. Best of luck to you all, and of course, my deepest congratulations to the Form of 2007!

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