Read on as 2021 valedictorian Jack Hogan charges his graduating class to “just keep swinging.”

“Success and failure are bound up together. We learn from failure; it is part of the journey, it is necessary for growth. Class of 2021, I exhort you to trust in Christ, to find a mentor who will speak truth into your life and get friends who will encourage you and build you up. Rely on the one who never fails you to pick you up when we fall. And remember, just keep swinging.”

Good evening everyone. On behalf of the class of 2021, I want to thank the Board for generously giving of their time and talents to make the Habersham school an excellent place to learn. Thank you to the Administration, who guide the school with patience and prayer. Thank you to the faculty, who work tirelessly to create lessons that not only impart valuable knowledge to us but imbue us with wisdom. Thank you to the staff, who keep us organized and on schedule. Thank you to the coaches, who have invested in our lives both on and off the field. We have learned some of life’s greatest lessons under your mentorship. Thank you to our families, who have loved, supported, and sacrificed for us to provide us with a quality education. Thank you to those of you who have prayed for us without ceasing, loved us unconditionally, and have been there for us whenever we have needed you. We truly could not have made it to this point without you.

Looking back on the past 10 months, it is impossible not to acknowledge that The Habersham School has had a banner year. In this strange and unprecedented time, when schools across our nation have been unable to meet face to face, by God’s grace, we have not only been able to have in person instruction but have also avoided any major outbreaks of COVID-19 in both the upper and lower schools. While navigating COVID protocols, our volleyball team brought home its 5th state championship in 6 years. Our cross country team ran a complete season, finishing 3rd overall at state. Boys’ Basketball had a record season, making a state run into the final four, the farthest in school history. With the flexibility and ingenuity of our house leaders, we were able to hold all of our major house events. The pool patriot Sam Parker won his 12th state championship, earning gold in all three events he competed in for the fourth year in a row. Quiz Bowl captured its first state championship. Our theater department creatively put on a theatrical performance outdoors in our courtyard that received rave reviews. Our dancers pirouetted across the stage in a performance of The Wizard of Oz at the Savannah Theatre. Tennis took the courts by storm securing a boys State championship and girls second place finish. Our Latin students have earned 31 medals as a result of their exceptional scores on the National Latin exam, the most in school history, And perhaps my personal favorite, the Baseball team captured its first state championship with a run-rule victory. From arts to athletics to academics to house leadership, the class of 2021 played an integral role in all of these successes. Congratulations.

In light of all these accomplishments, it is only natural that I am going to talk to you today about … failure. As many of you may know, I love baseball. Throughout my years on the diamond, I have learned that baseball is not only a microcosm of life, but is a sport full of failure. Both the statistics and the language surrounding baseball juxtapose success and failure, whether it be strikeout rates, batting averages or on base percentages. Yankees legend Alex Rodiguez summed it up perfectly when he said: “Failure is part of life. When people think about my career — and I played for over 22 years — they think about the 2009 championship, the home runs, the RBIs, 2000 this, 2000 that. But what they forget to tell you is I’m also fifth all-time in strikeouts. That means I have a Ph.D. in failing.” Failure is an unavoidable aspect of life. It is natural and normal, and no one can escape it. Let me give you another example that hits a little bit closer to home. Our very own Thomas Tift led the Habersham baseball team this past season with an insane .484 batting average. He is probably the best hitter I have ever played with. Ask any baseball player, and they would tell you, they would give anything to hit that well. But here is the truth: what that .484 really represents is that more than 50% of the time Thomas steps up to the plate, he fails to get a hit. His incredible success is seen in light of how often he fails.

Now the question is, what are we supposed to do? If failure is normal and natural and a part of life, and the best of the best fall short more than they succeed, what do we do? What’s the point of pressing on, when it is far easier to give up? A-Rod didn’t finish his quote just pointing out his failure. He finished by saying “I have a Ph.D. in failing, but I also have a master’s degree in getting back up.” Braves legend Hank Aaron had a similar mantra throughout his career: “My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling bad or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was to keep swinging.” But getting back up is easier said than done. How do these stars keep stepping up to the plate knowing that more likely than not they won’t get a hit? Where does their courage to keep trying come from? Baseball, like life, is not an individual sport. A-Rod and Hank Aaron didn’t have to face falling short by themselves. They have teammates who stand behind them, telling them there is nobody better for the task. They were built for this moment. Reminding them to simply do their job. We need people in our lives that not only celebrate the big hits, but more importantly stand beside us and build us up when we strike out, who remind us to keep our heads up and believe we can get ’em next time. In a similar manner, we must surround ourselves with mentors to cheer us on. When I had a slump this past year, my coach would always tell me, just keep doing what you’re doing, hits will fall eventually. He would say, “baseball is a 1 in 3 sport. You’ve missed one opportunity. Hits are coming due.” And he was right. Having mentors who speak truth into our lives, who point us in the right direction, who believe in us when we don’t see how, and who give us hope that our best is yet to come are essential to getting back up. For the past 18 years, your team has been your family, and your mentors have been your teachers, coaches, your pastors. As we transition into the next phase of our lives and venture away from this close knit community, we must add new members to our team, find new mentors, so that we too can keep swinging.

If I ended there, this speech would be filled with some good advice and a little truth, but it would not be the whole truth. You see, the truth is the history of man is riddled with failure. From Adam and Eve to Moses to David to Peter and Paul, God’s people fall short over and over and over again. Yet God did not let them flounder in their failure. He gave Adam and Eve the promise of a redeemer, showed Moses the promised land, made David into a king, called Peter to care for his sheep, and made Paul into one of the greatest missionaries of all time, and most importantly sent Christ who never failed, to redeem all who trust in him from their sins. He does not leave us or forsake us because we fall short. He meets us where we are. He doesn’t require perfection, because he is perfect. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

As we move into this next season of our lives, we will fail. We may fail a test. We may fail to be a good roommate or friend. We may fail on the job or in the classroom. We may fail our future spouse or children. We don’t have to run from it. We don’t have to be ashamed of it or hide from it. Success and failure are bound up together. We learn from failure; it is part of the journey, it is necessary for growth. Class of 2021, I exhort you to trust in Christ, to find a mentor who will speak truth into your life and get friends who will encourage you and build you up. Rely on the one who never fails you to pick you up when we fall. And remember, just keep swinging.

The Habersham School