Corinne Shaw ’19 gave the following Chapel Talk in January 2019 as a sixth former reflecting on her time and the lessons she has learned at Saint James.
Knowing the right thing to say at the appropriate time has always been challenging for me. I think that is true for most of us. For three-and-a-half years I sat in these pews watching and listening as students, faculty, guests, and Father spoke. I am honored to have the opportunity to speak to you all now and the profoundness of this moment isn’t lost on me. So, as you can imagine, writing this chapel talk has been especially difficult.
I didn’t think I had anything compelling to say, or so I thought. While considering this talk, I realized that two things stand out in my life: Dance and Saint James. And these two experiences have taught me extremely valuable lessons that I will carry with me. I want to touch upon some of these lessons today because I believe there may be some value in you learning from what I have learned.
Think about your first moments here. You got out of the car and stepped on campus. What did you feel? Were you nervous? Excited? Timid? Or a combination of emotions? How would you describe yourself back then? Now, think about who you are today compared to that first day. How have you changed?
I know I’ve changed. For example, those who knew me in 3rd form would probably describe me as quiet and shy, which I know surprises a lot of you because I’m naturally pretty outgoing.
So, as I started writing this, I realized that what I learned and how I changed can be summed up in a few key lessons. So, I am calling this “Corinne’s guide to life at Saint James and beyond!”
Lesson 1 - Confidence: This isn’t about arrogance or conceit. It’s self-assurance and a belief in yourself. Since I was 5-years-old, I have danced on twenty different stages in approximately 150 performances. Although I felt comfortable on stage, I feared performing in public in any way that was not dance (so you can imagine how I’m doing right now…)
The year before coming to Saint James, in the 8th grade, I was assigned a presentation on Aruba, an island where I had just vacationed. And being me, I was very excited to work on the project. I mean, I brought back actual sand to put on the poster board! But, when it came time to give my presentation, I froze. Instead of words, there were tears. I cried in front of my entire class. Some of the kids laughed and I was so humiliated. I vowed at that moment that I would never do anything like that again.
Well, you can see how that worked out for me. Arriving at Saint James, with this fear of performing in public in a way that wasn’t dance – I know now was actually a fear of being vulnerable or being judged – I was assigned a project early my first year here where I have to deliver a speech. I was truly mortified, especially because I was in a new school where I didn’t know many people. But that was the most important presentation of my life. In this environment, we treat each other with compassion and respect and we’re given the opportunity – even encouraged – to try new things without fear of being ridiculed if we look silly or if we’re not very good at it. I realized that I could not give up, I had to keep trying and learning and improving and now look at me! I actually think I’m pretty good at this! I hope… you can tell me after how I’m doing… Saint James gives you the opportunity to develop this sense of self-confidence. I will remember what I learned here and take that confidence with me into my life.
Lesson 2 – Self-Reliance and Ownership: When I first arrived at Saint James, I wasn’t sure I wanted to come. The previous year, my life was all about dance and school was sort of a second priority. The summer before I entered Saint James as a 3rd former, I attended Miami City Ballet School’s summer program and was asked to stay and train with their pre-professional company. This was a really tough decision for a 14-year-old me to make. But I turned down Miami City Ballet’s offer and decided I would give boarding school one year. When I arrived, adjusting wasn’t easy. I had a hard time making friends and rarely participated in any school activities. An upperclassman once said to me, “You either see Corinne and Elsa together or you don’t see them at all.” After a few weeks of this, I finally decided enough was enough. I needed to take ownership of the situation I was in and get involved. I went to the winter soiree and connected with my first Saint James friends… yes, the winter soiree… it took that long.
Taking ownership of my situation, instead of moaning or having someone else advocate for me, enabled me to truly experience what Saint James has to offer and take control of my life. No one ever said going to a new school was easy or that anything would be handed to me. I have no doubt that life only gets more challenging from here, but I feel perfectly prepared to face whatever challenges come my way, and take ownership of them from the beginning. No one is going to do it for me.
Finally, Lesson 3 – Gratitude: I don’t think I really learned what this meant until I heard Father speak about appreciating your parents as they visit for parents’ weekend. I mean, I always said thank you, don’t get me wrong, but the words were sort of superficial and empty. What does it mean to be grateful? Was I grateful when I first came here in 3rd form, leaving Miami behind? Certainly not the way that I am grateful now and being able to recognize the value of both experiences. I am learning to be grateful for what I have now, rather than wait until it’s gone, and to recognize and share my gratitude now, rather than wait until it’s too late.
I find myself growing increasingly grateful as I reflect upon my three years here. So here are some thank you’s that are long over due:
Thank you, Amelia, for always having my back. You are my best friend and I know you really wanted me to mention you so, here you go. Mom and dad, for being constant supporters. What you’ve done for me is more appreciated than you will ever know. Father Dunnan, for providing me with a forever home and all of the lessons in your chapel talks (yes, I actually listened). I am so thankful for all of the opportunities at Saint James. All my teachers and friends, thank you for this amazing moment on this part of the journey. My life is forever changed because of you.
And to all other Saint James students now and in the future, appreciate what you have right in front of you and know that you will leave here with the self-confidence, self-reliance, and gratitude you need to continue onto the next part of your journey. I guarantee you’ll miss it when it’s gone but the lessons will stay with us for the rest of our time.
I want to close with an excerpt from one of my favorite poems, “Santiago” by Irish writer David Whyte, because I think it says much better than I can what I’ve learned from this experience and what it holds for all of us as well:
The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall,
and the way forward always in the end
the way that you followed, the way that carried you
into your future, that brought you to this place.
Saint James School is a coeducational boarding school with a day student program for students in grades 8-12 located in western Maryland.