Yesterday was graduation day here at the Phillips Exeter Academy. A wonderful, emotional, difficult day.
It was a beautiful, sunny day here, and graduation was held on the lawn in front of the main academy building, where the dog Sunny and I have walked so many times. My daughter Lydia—intelligent, beautiful, poised, gracious—was among the 318 students who received their diplomas from Principal Hassan. Lydia graduated with honor, a member of the Cum Laude society, the students with the highest cumulative grades. My wife Masami and I had many of the customary emotions of parents at high school graduation. “When did she get to be a beauty? When did he grow to be so tall? Wasn’t it yesterday that they were small?”
But our emotions were somewhat different because we have been so intimately involved in Lydia’s four years here at Exeter. We live in a small apartment together in a girls’ dormitory; we see Lydia not just morning and evening, but during the day when she comes back from class, sometimes walking on air and sometimes in tears. We hear about Lydia not just in formal evaluations but around the dinner table from our faculty member friends. We were at Lydia’s prom, as chaperones, and to her horror, we took to the dance floor once or twice.
Yesterday was also our last full day here at Exeter, after six school years. We are moving to California, perhaps for just a school year, more likely for many years. So we are saying goodbye to many Exeter friends, both adult and student, whom we have met and known and taught and loved over these years.
In my case, I said goodbye yesterday to the four senior leaders of the mock trial club: Rohan, Alice, Audrey and Grace, each of whom is so special to me. One expects to be saying goodbye and good luck to seniors at graduation. But I also had to hug and say goodbye to many younger students, including Danna, Drew, Rebecca and Yena, mock trial students who will be here again next year. I intend to try to remain involved in Exeter mock trial, from a distance. But I know, and they know, that it will not be the same as when I was here on campus, could talk about mock trial or history or life face to face.
There is another line from Fiddler on the Roof that came to mind yesterday. As the second daughter prepares to leave for Siberia, to join her exiled husband there, she says to her father: “God alone knows when we will see each other again.” And the father responds: “Then we will leave it in His hands.” I hope to remain involved in the lives of each of my students: but I also leave them in God’s hands.
Yesterday was also a day for family. My mother, my brother Fritz and his wife Erin, my sisters Gretchen and Karen, and my nephew Altay: they were all here from the West Coast. It was wonderful to see them, to have them be part of this weekend, to honor Lydia and help pack the apartment.
But there was also one notable absence: my father, John Stahr, member of the Exeter class of 1950, was not here. He has been having breathing difficulties, and his doctors advised, instructed, that he not travel here this week. It would have meant so much to him to see Lydia receive her Cum Laude pin, and receive her diploma. We sent him lots of pictures, called him, but it is not the same.
So: for the next week or so I will be on the road west to California. I do hope to do some Stanton research on the way, at the Ohio Historical Society, but mainly Stanton is on hold for a while. Life, sometimes, gets in the way of history.