To paraphrase Groucho Marx, if a school actually invited me to give a graduation speech I wouldn't want to be associated with that type of school. But the annual graduation address has a long history at the Teaching Underground, and I would hate to see the tradition die. So...
To the Class of 2016,
Congratulations, your mortar boards are straight, you make the gown look good, and in short time you'll have an official piece of paper in your hand. But you're smart enough to know that these things aren't the things that you've worked for. These things are the things that mark an achievement.
Some people scoff at the symbol and the ceremony. Some people scoff at the system and it's goals. Grades, deadlines, bells, rules... But we know better. We've worked hard together. And behind all of the veneer-- under the cap and gown, behind that official piece of paper-- that's where we find all of the effort that you put in and all of the shortcuts that you've taken. The relationships that helped you grow, and the pain caused by others. The way you changed your thinking about some things, and dug in your heels to resist certain others.
The classes you enjoyed, the classes you endured, and the classes that you skipped.
Outside looking in, it's easy to just see the cap and the gown and the paper. But you know what's underneath.
As you go out into the world remember that. Remember that humanity and its experience has depth. Both virtuous and flawed. You haven't participated in a perfect system for the last thirteen years, but you have been a part of a system that has strived to support you into becoming the best person that you can be.
We've had successes. We've had failure. Yes, there has been the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Now you embarq on a new stage of your life. Hopefully you'll learn that schools are not broken, government is not broken, religion isn't broken, the world isn't broken-- they're just made up of people, like you, like me, a complex mix of virtue and flaw. This means that we work on the flaws, and strive for virtue, learning as we go.
Just like what you find underneath that cap and gown is a complex mix of virtuous and flawed humanity, the systems that we create are the same. That means that we work on the flaws, and strive for virtue, and continue learning all the way.
I wish you the best on your way.