A Band of Brothers Defined

Headmaster Jim Neill gave the following remarks at the opening of school ceremony, also known as Convocation. During his speech, Neill discussed the theme and its origins chosen by the senior class for the entire school to follow in 2018-19: Band of Brothers.

During my college years, I was a big fan of Liverpool Football Club, one of the top teams in English and European soccer and a team with a storied history of some 125 years and counting. At that time, the mid to late 1980's, Liverpool was in the midst of an impressive run of titles, including League Championships, FA Cup Championships, and European Championships, and its roster was loaded with players who still hold a special place in Liverpool lore – players like John Barnes, Alan Hansen, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, and Ian Rush, who still holds the all-time Liverpool goal scoring record.

Truth be told, I was something of a band wagon fan as I haven't followed them that closely over the years until last spring, when I found myself again tracking Liverpool with their entertaining trio of goals scorers in Sadio Mane, Roberto Firminho, and the incredible Egyptian international, Mohammed Salah, who scored over 40 goals in league play last year and helped lead them back to the European Cup championship, earning the Premier League's player of the year award in the process.

Anyway, as I learned more about Liverpool in this second round of bandwagon fandom, I was taken by the team's interesting and unique motto. It does not have anything to do with winning or excellence per se, but instead strikes a very different chord. It is this: "You'll Never Walk Alone." It is emblazoned on the gates that lead into their facility at Anfield and you will often see it on Liverpool gear, sometimes shortened to "YNWA."

This motto has an unlikely source for a professional sports team as well, coming from a song by the same name in the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel -- for those of you who don't know of the musical composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, think Sound of Music. At the start of each game, the thousands upon thousands of Liverpool fans sing together "You'll Never Walk Alone." It's a relatively short tune but it is moving in its simplicity, ending with the lines,

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone.
You'll never walk alone.

I share this Liverpool tradition this morning because it is what came to mind when I heard that the senior class had selected as the theme for the year band of brothers. For a band of brothers is one that never allows its members to walk alone, and in choosing this theme, the seniors have issued to you, indeed to all of us, a call to fellowship, a call to intentionally accompanying one another along our journeys.

It's worth noting the source of the term band of brothers. It does not, as some of you might think, come from the HBO series by the same name, but instead comes from a Shakespeare play -- Henry Vth -- and is part of a famous passage known as the St. Crispin's Day speech. In it Henry is about to lead his uncertain and outnumbered troops against "fearful odds" into battle (what later became known as the Battle of Agincourt). He speaks inspiringly of fellowship, courage, the honor of being able to represent England in such a moment, and the lasting legacy they will leave in doing so. And near the end of the speech he refers to the gathered English army as, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

The source of the phrase is worth noting not because Henry is successful in inspiring his men on to victory, but instead because of the transformation that he had to go through in order to even be able to do so. You see, Henry – formerly known as Prince Hal in the Shakespeare plays that lead up to this one – was originally no leader at all and hardly a true brother. He was selfish and immature, a partier living in foolish ways in the company of a group of troublemakers, led by the cowardly and cynical drunkard of a friend, Falstaff. Hal was not serious about things and his group of ne'er-do-wells was bringing one another down by indulging their collective self-absorption. Hardly a band of brothers. And in order to get to the point where he could deliver his famed "band of brothers" speech, Henry had to awaken to this fact. He had to realize he needed to find a better way and to reinvent himself and his priorities and, in his case, find a group that was serious about being brothers to him, and he to them. So the one who is the source of the phrase band of brothers had to go through a difficult process of self-discovery to even understand what being a real brother requires.

All of which is to say that the challenge inherent in this theme band of brothers is not an easy one. The phrase is more complex than its simple and alliterative language might suggest. For it begs the question, "What does it mean to be a brother?" Or, to the broader audience here this morning, "What does it mean to be a sister?" It is too often mistaken for mere affiliation, or for blind loyalty and support, no matter what. But that oversimplifies the challenge, and the opportunity, of brotherhood or sisterhood. For it cannot mean that we support everything and anything that each of us says and does. That ignores our humanity and the fact that none of us is perfect. Doing so therefore would not be authentic support or kinship; some might say that it would instead be indifference or even cowardice.

No, true brotherhood is not that simple, it is not that automatic. It requires courage, commitment, and both self-awareness and selflessness in order to flourish. True brotherhood calls on us, because of our brotherly care, to make one another better – it calls on us, as we have heard Mr. Smith say in the Upper School many times, to be critically loyal to one another. Yes, it calls on us to be there for one another during life's difficult moments, and to celebrate one another when we succeed, but it also means that we should challenge one another when we go astray or fail to live up to our capacity, that we should redirect one another when we do or say something that is not in line with an honorable or righteous system of values.

That's to me what being a "band of brothers" means. Not only choosing to affiliate with a group (that's the "band" part), but also choosing to better that group and the individuals in it, elevating both in the process (that's the "brothers" part).

Put in a Landon context, it means not just going to this school and wearing Landon gear and hanging out with Landon guys. Being a true band of brothers who live into all the possibility inherent in that phrase means defying one another to live up to both our potential and the values of this place – honor and civility, honesty and respect, teamwork and perseverance, excellence and responsibility. It means not tolerating when a brother fails in one of these areas -- which all will do at one time or another -- but instead believing in that person enough to hold him accountable to those higher standards, leading him, and thus all of us, to a higher plane of being. It means – to bring back the Liverpool mantra – not allowing him to walk alone, but instead accompanying one another along the rightful paths and redirecting one another away from wrongful paths. I would even go so far as to suggest that it means caring not just for those in our circles here at Landon, but for those in the broader community as well, drawing the strength to do so from the affiliation we have here and the bonds that come from being a part of the Landon community.

To me that's what it means to be a Landon band of brothers.

At the end of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, the school leader Dumbledore says to Harry, "We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy. But remember this: You have friends here. You're not alone." In closing, I say the same to you. You too will face choices between hard rights and easy wrongs, both this year and throughout your lives. May you realize that you do not walk those moments alone, but instead, confident in, surrounded by, and uplifted by your Landon band of brothers, may you make choices that lead you to be the very best version of yourself you can be. We will all be the better for it.

Here's to a great year ahead.