Our Life Journey: Nat Barrows delivers 2019 Graduation speech 60 years after own graduation
What a gift it was to welcome Nat Barrows '59 back to campus on graduation day 2019, a full 60 years after his own graduation from The Country School. In a speech that was as profound as it was humorous, Nat told the school's most recent graduates to follow their own internal compasses as they seek to find their true direction in life.
Nat addresses the class of 2019 and their guests as Board Chair Mary Didiuk and Head of School John Fixx look on.
A few months before the Country School class of 2019 was set to climb up on the stage to receive their diplomas, we received a letter from Nat, an award-winning writer, publisher, and editor from Maine. He wrote that he had been cleaning out an old desk when he came across the five index cards on which he had written the valedictory speech he delivered at his own Country School graduation in 1959. Nat wondered if we would welcome a visit from him on the 60th anniversary of his own graduation.
Nat, at left, and classmate Walter Greene on campus in 1958.
Of course, the answer was a resounding yes, and so on graduation day 2019, Nat joined members of the class of 2019 on the stage in DeFrancis Gymnasium, sharing his thoughts about the journeys we each take during the course of our lifetime. In addition to his words of wisdom, he gave the soon-to-be graduates a small present to help guide them on their own journeys: a compass encased in a wooden box with a red heart on the lid.
"Your heart is an internal compass," Nat told the graduates. "Feel that compass, follow it, find your true direction. ... Find the courage to hold on to your core values, even if the world around you chooses to behave differently. ... Surrender to your heart on your journey and it will take you where you need to go." What could have been a better send-off gift for these 22 young people as, just back from their adventures in Utah, they prepared to set out on their next journey?
Members of the class of 2019 discover the gift waiting for them under their chairs on stage.
Nat, a longtime resident of Stonington, ME, has served as owner, publisher, and editor of Penobscot Bay Press for 50 years. Named Journalist of the Year in 2007 by the Maine Press Association, he was recently inducted into the Maine Press Association's Hall of Fame. In addition to the compasses he brought for the graduating 8th Graders, he returned to The Country School with an armload of books he has either written or published, some of which now reside in the alumni library in the Alumni Office and others of which live in Elmore Library.
Nat also brought the original index cards upon which he wrote his 1959 graduation speech, complete with hashtags to remind him to pause for emphasis, a technique he learned from his then-Country School teacher, Charles Twichell. "It's kind of fun to go back 60 years and to remember that day," he told the 2019 audience."It was my first public speech. But with some help from Charles Twitchell ... I made it through and l'm standing here."
Nat shared a few memories of his time as a Country School student, recounting, for example, how he and his friends would spend time clearing rocks from the athletic fields and then describing how he continues to do the same thing on the island off the coast of Maine where he lives. "You never know where things will lead you," he said.
Nat closed his speech with a wish for the graduates and a disclosure that drew a chuckle and applause. "May you all have a journey of discovery full of happiness and joy and fun," he said, as he reached down to pull up his trouser leg. "What I wanted to show you is this — a TCS sock! Have fun on your journey!"
The socks were produced by Andrew and Ryan Epprecht, classes of 20012 and 2010, with the design by Kayla Uzwiak '18.
Thank you, Nat, for sharing so many gifts with The Country School. May you also have fun on your journey! Click here for a video of Nat's 2019 graduation speech. (If only we also had a recording of the 1959 version!)