Friday, May 30, 2014

To the Class of 2014

Each year we watch another class of students walk across the stage to graduate and every cohort differs from the year before. I've composed addresses to each of these classes based on their personalities and my experiences with them. (2013 , 2012 , 2011 ) Below is this years edition of our "graduation speech that wouldn't be".

To the Class of 2014:

I am hopeful about your future. But I’m afraid that some of the important lessons of life that you should have learned by now are going to happen before you’re able to go boldly into that future. I’ve taught some of the brightest and hardest working students of my career this year, but I’ve also watched many students struggle to cope with the changing demands of our current context.

This year I discovered that many of you have learned the unhealthy coping mechanism of avoidance. While my normal absence rate was around 6 or 7 percent, that number magically went up to over twenty percent on every test day. Somewhere along the line you’ve learned “why do it today if I can put it off until tomorrow.” And I’ve had to tolerate giving you the chance to make it up on your own schedule and timeframe.

Educators point out it’s about the learning and find it clever to point out SATs, MCATs, LSATs, etc., can be taken over and over until you pass. But if you don’t perform next year to the standards of your school, they won’t let you come back, at least for another year. Some decisions are final and all decisions have consequences. So I hope that you take advantage of second chances without assuming beforehand that you’ll always have them.

This year I discovered that many of you have adopted the unhealthy attitude of American adults that glorifies “21st century” excess. The excess of our century is busyness, activity, and work. You take eight classes, participate in a sport, maintain a social life, and leave town for a four day field trip with your band just a few weeks after Spring Break and just a few weeks before AP and End of Year testing and wonder why you’re so overburdened with work.

There’s nothing wrong with experiencing all that you can while you’re young, but time is not limitless. We reach a point where participation in something is going to affect our performance. An adult must work a little harder to plan for and then work a little harder to catch up from a weeks vacation from work. Along the way, you’ve learned that you should be able to do it all—the coach should give you playing time, the teacher should give you an A, you should have time to practice your part in the play, and your social life shouldn’t suffer.

You have a hard time handling life when it doesn’t work out this way. I’ve had to provide more weeks of material for your homebound instruction this year than at any point in the past. And the reasons for homebound instruction have not been physical recovery, they’ve all been psychological. We’re quick to treat your mental health, but slow to question whether your mental health is fine, perhaps the environment is toxic.

More likely than not, you’re going to be fine. Most of you were accountable for yourselves even when you didn’t have to be. Some of you will learn that after leaving this place, that only you are accountable for yourself. No other institution is going to take the blame for your bad behaviors, lack of preparation, or the fact that you just choose to not show up.

Of course every person is different, but based on my time with you collectively, if I had to offer one piece of advice to help you into the future it would be this:

“Simplify. Life can only progress one moment at a time. Learn what you can handle in those moments and make them count. There is only so much in life that you can be responsible for, but taking on more than that is no excuse for being irresponsible. Despite what you’ve heard, you can’t have it all, but you can have enough.”

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