Parents, family members, colleagues... and graduating class. For a moment, let’s just savour that last phrase from every perspective: as parents, family members, friends, teachers, and students. It’s been a long haul at times, hasn’t it? I think the character Jeremy from the Zits newspaper cartoon speaks for many of you when he said high school isn’t about education, it’s about endurance. And at times, it has sure seemed like it... for us as parents and teachers as well, students, lest you get too wrapped up in your own angst and self-importance. So it’s a milestone. A rite of passage. And I get to toast you, the students, in this milestone. Thank you for that honour.
I believe many of us find writing a speech not unlike an execution in some ways... in that being personally involved certainly focuses your attention on the matter at hand like nothing else. So as I took a strategy from my students and finally focused my attention, sitting down this afternoon to write this toast --- just kidding, the basic ideas have been on a post-it note for at least a week --- I thought to myself, what, exactly, do we need to toast? And the answer came pretty much right away: how about the qualities and attributes you have demonstrated over the last few years, and will need to continue demonstrating as you set out on the next chapter of your lives? I think it’s appropriate because some years, parents, as teachers we watch in dismay as the student crop withers on the vine despite everything we do. But this year, and I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true, the crop of students has been a bumper harvest, and we have all watched them develop attributes in the crucible of high school that will stand them in good stead.
First, I toast your sense of wonder and imagination. Do you recall beginning school a dozen years ago? The excitement of learning to read and write? Of accomplishing something on your own? And finding, to your surprised pleasure, that you could do it well? For some of you, twelve years of hacking away at the walls of wisdom has blunted that sense of wonder and imagination, and if it has, I urge you to rediscover it, because it is a powerful force in this world.
I toast your courage and sense of adventure. It can be a difficult and dangerous world out there, folks, and you will need to take risks at times. To push your comfort zone. And that can be hard, because most of us aren’t very good with change. But seize opportunities as they arise --- not without some reflection, because not everything you come across will be a good bet. Have a plan, or you’ll drift through life, and wake up thirty years from now wondering what happened. However, be aware that that plan will --- at the very least --- require tinkering with from time to time, and that your control of your life is pretty much limited to the choices you make. That’s a very counter-cultural idea in a society that’s obsessed with the concept of control, I know. But it’s true. Filter ideas through your friends and families. Most of you know by now that your parents are your staunchest supporters, and for many of you, they’re slowly emerging from the ghetto you consigned them to a few years back of being the stupidest people on the planet.
I toast your resilience and endurance, for life is very seldom calm --- too often, it can be a raging tempest. There will be times when things will not go well for you. And you will make mistakes. Because we all do. That’s part of the human condition. At those times, what matters is that you don’t bow or buckle under the crushing weight of adversity. You correct your mistakes where you can. You endure. You persevere. You don’t give up or give in, because things will get better eventually. If you are resilient. If you can endure.
I toast your compassion and your caring. Look around you. You’re not in this alone. You were created to live in community, and it is imperative that you extend your empathy, your comfort and your support to those around you --- both known and unknown to you --- or we are all truly lost. Your compassion for others, your ability and willingness to extend grace, will keep you grounded in a world that all too often seems cold and bleak and uncaring.
And finally, I toast your passion and your sense of humour. You can spend your life just going through the motions, if you want. But it’s so much more desirable to approach everything you do with enthusiasm and a desire to do the very best you can, all the time. Never take life so seriously that you can’t laugh at the humour present in just about every situation. Sometimes, it may be pretty ironic humour. That’s okay. It’s still funny. And never take yourself so seriously that you can’t laugh at yourself. For example, sometimes I look at the colour-coded student seating sections I’ve arranged in my classroom, and I think to myself, really? And some of you are going to have to stop by tomorrow and check, right? Yeah. Well, don’t forget to take yourself with a grain of salt.
You know, there’s a tiny four-line poem I use at just about every grade level I teach. It was written by an American poet named Edwin Markham, and it’s called Preparedness. He writes:
For all your days prepare
And meet them ever alike;
When you are the anvil, bear
When you are the hammer, strike
May your anvil days be few, and your hammer days many. On behalf of my colleagues, I tell you it has been a pleasure and a privilege to briefly share paths on your walk through life.