Graduation Address for the Class of 2020

Hello P3ers and honored quests. It has been a strange year, with traditions great and small cast aside while anxiety and fears gripping the hearts of many.  Joy and hope, however, endures. It always does. Always. I often end my school year with a graduation address delivered to my P3 class at NFA but, alas, that is impossible. Therefore, I have decided to post it here – so, for my P3 class and any visitors who find their way here: this one is for you. Let this be our last lesson.

A Wonderful Place to Start

The great Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, “I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come” (Mandela 460).
Consider that thought, especially as you prepare to leave the campus of the Norwich Free Academy for the last time as a student. The campus is a beautiful place, so breath deep and enjoy the “glorious vista that surrounds.” Come for a final walk and allow the grandeur of Slater Museum (we have a museum on campus for crying out loud) to impress rather than simply be the place you waited for a ride home. Allow the cherry blossoms to serenely guide you to the center of campus like an old friend simultaneously saying hello and goodbye. Your campus can be looked upon with fresh eyes if you push the mind beyond familiarity.
Please do, however, consider this idea: a place’s beauty is never the physical surroundings alone. A building, no matter how impressive the architecture, is an empty husk without the people who bring soul to cold stone and brick. They are part of your story and you, part of theirs.
This is your last lesson but I would not be me if I did not assign some homework. As you marvel at the victories won, obstacles overcome, and the memories created allow me to posit this idea: an appreciative heart adds joy to your life. I challenge you to test my hypothesis by considering the people who made a difference for you along the way. Maybe your parents, an uncle or aunt, a (heaven forbid) teacher, or coach. The list is almost limitless. If a particular person brings you a sense of gratitude why not send that individual a heartfelt text, email, or letter? (Old people like letters by the way). Do this not only to express your thanks but because joy felt can only be increased by joy shared.
There is more to this moment than looking back, we must also look ahead…

The Road Goes Ever On and On…

Unknown-28

Early in The Fellowship of the Ring Sam pauses as he and Frodo begin their quest. He notes, “If I take one more step I will be farther from the Shire than I’ve ever been.” I wonder how many of you feel that way? Many reading this will never be back to NFA (or another high school) as a student again. You are about to go farther than you likely realize. Again we turn to Mandela: “We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step in a longer and even more difficult road…” (Mandela 460). Your road will be difficult, make no mistake. I hope I (and all the teachers you encountered along the way) gave you something useful to help you on your way.

An Important Question

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) posited this important question: “Is man, as in his nature till now, prepared to assume dominion over the whole earth?” Heidegger’s intensity is unmistakable – perhaps even off putting – but what an important idea. Not, to be clear, that any individual will have (or should have) dominion over the earth: but can you be worthy of such a position? Can we (can that ever elusive ‘we’ even be found at this point) be worthy of ascending in such a manner? What would that look like and why does it mater?

Too Big a Question…So It Goes

Wouldn’t it be nice if we can simply lift a magic hammer or pull a sword from a stone to confirm our worthiness? That’s not how it goes, but becoming people of character…becoming and training ourselves to be what Philip Zimbardo calls “heroes in waiting” may be one of the most important ideas to consider.

In the movie Lincoln the 16th President extolls his inner circle to garner the final votes needed to pass the 13th Amendment. He declares, “The fate of human dignity is in our hands!” I’m a history teacher. The fate of human dignity will likely never be in my hands. My part in the river of time is not that grand. Such is the case for most people. That, however, is what we call a macro-story – where thousands to millions of lives are in the hands of one or a few. There are also micro-stories – those small stories where an individual’s personal dignity or emotional stability will be in your hands. Will you be ready for that moment? That’s an important part of education and learning. That’s one of the underlying purposes and glories of human interaction; to be of service when another is in emotional, psychological, spiritual, or physical distress and you are equipped to aid him or her. When you do that you become a hero. I hope everyone reading these words shines brightly in those heroic moments.

 

 …Now Far Ahead the Road Has Gone, and I Must Follow it if I can

Follow it if I can. If I can. That’s the whole ballgame. Do you have what it takes to follow the road. Hidden in that phrase, however, is an important nugget of wisdom. You can fall and stumble on the road. You can suffer defeats and have short comings revealed. After all, it doesn’t say “follow the road perfectly”! When the hardships on the road of trials knock yo down, get up and keep following the road…or blaze a new path if necessary. So many stories in P3 focus on the necessity of getting up. Alfred asking Bruce Wayne,“Why do we fall?” The answer, “To learn to get back up.” Rocky Balboa’s famous “It ain’t how hard you hit” speech or Jackie Robinson “living the sermon”in 42. The final word on this topic, perhaps fittingly, goes to the iconic Morgan Freeman speaking in Shawshank Redemption. Simply put, “Get busy living, or get busy dying. Damn Right.” 

Back to Today’s Purpose

Thankfully, this is not that moment. You aren’t here because you have fallen on the road and need inspiration to rise. No, this is a moment to say goodbye and to wish you well.

Unknown-31

This is a time to say thank you. As my students know – even those who had their time with me interrupted by a pandemic – my classroom is a place for discussion and dialogue; and I will miss out conversations.

Unknown-32

This will be our final “conversation.” So goodbye and farewell. Go find your place in the field. In the circle of life. Things won’t always be easy, but just keep swimming with the knowledge a gray haired wizard roots for you from the Shire. Perhaps a token has been granted to you that maybe…just maybe…will help you earn the right to make your mark.

Unknown-33