Georgetown Day School celebrates this important milestone in the lives of our students. We are grateful for the many ways these students have enriched our school community and we look forward to their continuing leadership as GDS alumni in both our immediate community and in the world beyond.
George Washington University
730 21st Street, NW
Reception to Follow
Lerner Health & Wellness Center @ GW University
2301 G St NW, 3rd Floor
Washington, DC 20052
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- How long is graduation?
- Class of 2019
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- Class of 2014
- Class of 2013
- Class of 2012
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Class of 2014 Graduation
June 8, 2014
Russell Shaw, Head of School
Louise Brennan, Faculty Speaker
Rachael Schneiderman '14, Student Speaker
Nicholas Biniaz-Harris '14, Student Speaker
William Treanor, Parent Speaker
Good afternoon. It is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to the 43rd commencement exercises of Georgetown Day School and to the graduation of the Class of 2014. Today we are privileged to celebrate these tremendous young women and men and to send them on their way.
Graduates: Here we are at last. The Big Day. I want you each to take a moment to try to conjure up your first day at GDS. Remember how big the school seemed? Remember how big the seniors looked? They were adults. They were rock stars. They were these fully formed human beings. And now … they are you.
Take a moment to look back on your journey. How has GDS changed you? Several weeks ago, I wrote to you and asked you what you’ll take with you from GDS. You emailed me a wealth of answers, far too many to share here. So here’s a brief sampling:
Kira Schulman is taking the courage to ask questions. She writes:
I moved to America in 5th grade from London, England. In London, I went to a very typical British school. We wore uniforms. We addressed teachers as "Ms." and "Mr.” There was very little diversity. And it was strict. So strict that at the age of seven, I convinced myself that it was best to just be silent when teachers were in the room to avoid getting in trouble.
So, when I came to America and began GDS it was a shock. I remember walking into Judy Brown's 5th grade classroom on the first day to a sea of students running around yelling and hugging each other after a long summer holidays apart. The kids were addressing each other’s parents by first name. And then ... they were addressing "Ms. Brown" as Judy.
The first few weeks were hard. I sat in the back of the classroom keeping silent most of the time as I was used to doing. But I watched how the other kids acted. Everyone seemed to really want to be here. They spoke up and expressed their opinions in class and even disagreed with the teacher sometimes. Over the years at GDS, I have been slowly shedding my British schoolgirl identity and finding my own.
What I will take from GDS above all is the knowledge that I do not always need to confine myself within the rules. To be clear, I am not taking from GDS that it is ok to be a criminal. (And Kira—I, for one, am delighted to hear that). But, it is OK to test the lines and more important to question the lines. I am taking from GDS that it is not OK to just accept things as they are. GDS says it wants students to love learning. But I think what GDS ultimately instilled in me along with a love of learning is a curiosity and a need to question and understand. I will go off to Penn next year not as the quiet girl in the back of the classroom but as the student in the front of the classroom, participating, asking questions, engaged.
Mark Ashin is taking his books. He writes:
GDS allowed me to fall in love with literature, and as I write this I'm looking at the stack of novels that changed my whole perception of books and reading. My fascination and, frankly, obsession with literature was sparked by the GDS English department, and when I finally leave this place behind I know I'll be taking my books with me.
Fatima Fairfax is taking community. She writes:
As an entering freshman I was extremely hesitant to change schools. From the moment I stepped inside GDS however, I could see myself immersed in the school’s culture; sitting in the chaotic forum, staying in the building for all hours of the night and on weekends, talking to teachers in the hallways. The communities built from sports teams, music groups, and the class of 2014 shaped my time here. I want to keep this community long after high school, a community that goes on beach trips, dominates men's volleyball and is so musically, athletically, and academically talented that we can't not be successful. I hope I never lose the ideas and ideals and people that make up the communities I've found at GDS.
Aaron Fisher is taking curiosity. He writes:
I will take from GDS an interest in those around me. In my many years at the school, I not only learned about other people through the countless books I read in class and historical figures I studied, but also through theater at the High School, where I learned the challenges of working hard and having fun while trying to portray someone who is not me. I will take (I actually did take) from GDS the crucifix necklace I wore in the musical, because GDS allowed me to finally become a Catholic priest, a calling traditionally unattainable for a nice Jewish boy.
Jack McIsaac writes: I will take two Expo markers, a highlighter, 74 "great jobs" from Harold Newton, and the belief that I can handle anything that college—or life—throws my way.
Emily Vogt will be taking a love of learning with her. She writes:
I will be taking a GDS mind to college: a mind that has been whittled and shaped by my peers, teachers, and coaches over the past nine years. A mind that never takes any idea for granted, and is always primed to question. A mind that opens itself to other voices and other perspectives, but that never loses sight of its own. A mind that loves to learn. And learn. And learn some more. I will be around other students next year who have taken more APs than I have, who have perhaps started their own non-profit organization, or who have even led their sports teams to National Championships. But, despite their notable accomplishments, they don't have that same love of learning that I do, a love which I owe entirely to GDS and a love which will last me a lifetime. How could I not love learning after being surrounded for the past nine years by teachers who spend their snow days looking up different TED talks to weave into our class discussions and who use Aretha Franklin's song "Chain, Chain, Chain" to help their Calculus students remember the Chain Rule? How could I not love learning after being part of a diverse student body where everyone is encouraged to voice their own opinion? GDS makes this love of learning contagious; we all seem to leave with a GDS mind, primed to impact the world with the same general premise but in strikingly different ways. And it is this GDS mind that will keep us connected to the institution, that will keep drawing us back for alumni events or lunches with teachers, because we want to stay close to those who harbor that same love of learning and who helped to shape our love of learning. In short, GDS has helped me change not just the way I think, but the way I think about myself.
Sydney Morris is taking her voice. She writes:
GDS has taught me to have an opinion, and to fight for it. My voice matters. I came into Elaine and Joanna’s class on the first day of kindergarten excited to make friends, but I had no idea I would have friendships that would last for 13 years. Thank you teachers and administrators for giving me the best school environment I could have asked for. You all pushed me further than I thought I could go and helped me to be my best self.
Sam Klein will take with him an appreciation for diversity. He writes:
Everyone knows that our school was established on pillars of diversity. Many schools emphasize diversity in their mission statements, but what distinguishes GDS is that our diversity isn’t just the breakdown of who’s in the classroom—it’s represented in the discussions themselves. The incredible diversity of backgrounds of students, faculty, and guest speakers at GDS in conjunction with the often-underappreciated encouragement for everyone to speak their mind means that not only is there a diversity of people in the room, but a diversity of opinions as well. I’ll leave the school with a strong appreciation for communities like this one, and in the rare times in my life when I find myself in such an environment I’ll be sure to take full advantage of the broad perspectives surrounding me.
Lily Gasperetti will take with her “the drive to work diligently, the desire to try new things, knowledge, amazing friendships, and words of wisdom from teachers, including: ‘You can't truly love someone before you learn to love yourself’ and ‘Never eat at Jack in the Box!!’ ”
Holly Morgan writes:
I cannot possibly express all that ways that GDS has been perfect for me. Through GDS theater I learned how to run, build and design a show. This taught me responsibility and leadership in a hands-on, active and real-life way. We learned how to work under pressure and, through this, how to gain self-confidence and self-worth. At GDS, our teachers don't look down on us. They teach us and treat us as equals. GDS stands for Greatest Damn School. I will miss it dearly, but I know that it has prepared me to confidently step into my new college life.
Seniors, as I think about you settling into your college dorm rooms and unpacking your laptops and running shoes and various musical instruments, don’t forget the other things that you are bringing with you, things that you’ve taken from GDS: Your memories, friendships, and a sense of community, of course. But also courage, confidence, curiosity, a love of love of learning, an appreciation for diversity, and, last but certainly not least, a strong voice.
On Wednesday at your graduation rehearsal, I added one more thing to your list, when I gave you each a book, Andrew Solomon’s, Far from the Tree. The book explores a number of rich themes, perhaps most powerfully the theme of identity. Like our School’s founders, Solomon is an anthropologist, and believes we learn from engaging different voices and life experiences. And Solomon has the right approach to his different subjects—he’s curious, nonjudgmental, and not too politically correct. Solomon understands that while he may carry his own prejudices into his encounters with difference, he is, in the words of one reviewer, “only too willing to have them demolished.”
It heartens me that even with your end-of-year business and various graduation parties to attend, a number of you have found the time to begin reading your new book. A few days ago, I received the following note from one of your classmates, Natalie Edwards.
Thank you for the book you gave each of the seniors. I admit to only having read the first chapter but I am already enthralled by it. I spent my senior quest reading one book a week for every week of the second semester. Yet, this book is very different from the "classics" I have been reading such as Catch-22 and On the Road.
Only at GDS would the seniors receive a 900-page book for graduation. And only at GDS would there be seniors who are really excited about this. (My friends have already been asking me if I've started "the book" yet.)
I've been thinking about GDS a lot lately. At St. Stephen's, the school I attended last year for my junior year abroad in Italy, I realized for the first time how profoundly GDS had shaped me. I realized that I took for granted close friendships with each of my teachers and I assumed that every student would be as enthusiastic about school as I was. I got a little bit of a shock. I enjoyed the year I spent in Italy. I learned about a new culture and made a lot of new friends from all over the world. But, when I look back in ten years at my adolescent years, I know that GDS is the school I will remember as the place that made me who I am. My GDS kindergarten teachers must have been taken aback by my somewhat bossy nature. I told the other kids at my lunch table each day that we were going to play "the silent game" and that at the end of the year I would hand out awards to the winners—a plot to allow myself to dominate lunchtime conversation. While my teachers let me continue with my diabolical ways, they did urge me to use the "Peace Rose" more than once. At any other school, my teachers would have rushed to "put me in a box" and would have attempted to tame my more unruly habits. Fortunately, GDS let me figure out on my own that bossing other kids around wasn't the best way to get what I wanted or to cultivate lasting friendships. That's what progressive education is all about, isn't it? Progressive education is child-centered, where the teacher is not a taskmaster but rather a guide who lets kids become who they are meant to be and allows us to learn from our peers without always standing over us and telling us how to behave. I'm so grateful for the chance that GDS gave me to figure it out on my own sometimes.
And now, we come back to "the book." That's what Far from the Tree is about—it's a book that showcases different identities and argues for a more restrained approach to parenting—or at least a more humane one, one that allows children to form their own identities and be proud of them.
On that note, of course GDS hasn't been the only guiding figure in my life (I do have two loving parents), but it's perhaps been the most profound; especially because, as I grew and my life changed, GDS didn't. GDS has been my home for all these years and even though I chose to explore something different last year, I was able to make that choice happily and with much excitement because I knew that for my senior year, I would be returning to the place I loved the most.
Seniors, we count on all of you returning to GDS often. For those of you who spent your early years on MacArthur Boulevard, this may mean returning to a unified GDS campus on Davenport Street. (And yes—we’re very, very excited). And yet know that while our school has had seven different campuses in our 68 years, you will still be returning, like alumni before you, to GDS. To a GDS that understands that young people should be at the center of their learning, that knows that diverse learning environments are superior learning environments, that believes deeply in each child’s unlimited capacity, in his or her unique genius.
And now, I close with a story.
A group of villagers travelled several days to visit the big city. They stayed in an inn and spent their days marveling at the sites and the sheer numbers of people they saw. On their last night in the inn, they awoke to the sound of drumming. The innkeeper shouted that they should quickly leave their rooms and gather outside. When they did so, they asked the innkeeper what was happening. He explained to them that the drums meant there was a fire somewhere in the city that needed to be put out. After a while of standing outside listening to the drums, they were allowed to return their rooms and go back to sleep.
When they returned to their village, the travellers were asked about their visit to the city. They shared stories of big buildings and busy commerce, and, most memorably, of being awoken in the middle of the night by drums. Upon hearing this last story, the village’s elders decided to buy a drum for every household in the village.
Several months later, there was a fire in the village. And the villagers all stood in front of their homes and beat their drums. And while they were beating their drums, the village burned to the ground.
Class of 2014, today’s graduation is a celebration and marks of an important transition for each of you. It is also, however, just the beating of drums. There are still a lot of fires burning out there. They need your skill, your talent, your character, your courage to put them out. The world needs you. We are counting you. We believe in you. And we are very, very proud of you.
Faculty, administration, parents, honored guests and friends, and members of the class of 2014—
So we’re leaving. And it’s both exciting, and—at least for me—a bit daunting. We may have complained about the GDS bubble at times, but it’s a pretty nice bubble. We’ve come to love it, in fact, and maybe even to take it for granted. We’ve breathed its air for some time now, and—so the science department tells me—when we breathe the air of a place, it makes its way into our cells. In short, GDS is now in our bones.
So what exactly does that mean? What parts of us are so deeply “hopper” that we don’t even notice them? How has living in the GDS bubble created our values and our ways of thinking?
If someone asks us to define the culture at GDS, we may talk about being on a first-name basis, about students and teachers conferring in the hallways, about hard courses and fine preparation for college and no cafeteria and our famed football team. But I’m talking about something even deeper in us—it has to do with how we think and what we value.
First, I think there’s a unique attitude toward learning at GDS. Yes, we work hard, and, yes, we get into great colleges—but what distinguishes GDS from other fine schools is how much fun we have when we’re learning. As I’ve said often, at GDS we’re smart—but we’re funny-smart. We’re laugh-out-loud-in-the-middle-of-class smart. We think it’s fun—on a certain senior prank day, for instance—to sit on the floors of our classrooms (since the desks have somehow disappeared). The learning is just as real, and perhaps there’s a sense of old-school GDS about it. Anyway, there seems to be even more laughter than usual—and there’s a lot of laughter on a “normal” day. For example, we could be immersed in a serious discussion of existentialism or acid rain or the use of the subjunctive—and we can move immediately to a witty remark or a hilarious personal story, and then back to the serious subject. We’re a place where there’s a running joke in most classrooms, where the sport of choice—at least in the winter—is either speed chess or pickleball. It’s just plain fun—and often funny—to be smart here at GDS. And I strongly suspect that we’ll carry that sense of fun with us wherever we go.
Second, we’re questioners. As all of you know (though it comes as a surprise to people at other schools), each of our classes is filled with questions. These are not just the clarifying questions that one might find at other schools; they are probing questions in which we try on new perspectives, where we test out what we think is true. As teachers we try to ask you hard questions, and you invariably ask us questions that make us re-think our own premises. It seems to me that we are at our smartest when someone else offers us a perspective that we hadn’t yet considered. We line ourselves up with Socrates who says that the unexamined life is unfit to be lived by man, and with Walter Lippmann who argues that the “opposition is indispensable”—or even with my brother-in-law who says, “If the two of us agree about everything, then one of us isn’t thinking.” That ability to ask great questions—of others and of ourselves—is definitely part of our hopperness.
Third—and here I’m definitely speaking from my own heart—we love putting whatever truths we discover into words. Some of you may have felt a huge sigh of relief when you turned in your senior paper, but I’m going to argue that you also felt the pleasure of having written something that Oskar Schell (from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) would have called, “both beautiful and true.” Julia Fisher’s recent article in Georgetown Days reminds us that GDS turns out great writers—and at a higher percentage than any other school in our league. She recounts a story (which may be apocryphal, but which most of us have heard related to us by more than one alum). “Some years ago, a new GDS graduate headed off to college, where he was asked to write a paper. He knew how to do this. He remembered his lessons from his teachers, but, more vividly, he knew he loved to read and to write, and that he had something important to say. He wrote the paper and turned it in, just as he had done at GDS. A couple of weeks later, the professor handed the essay back with an A and a question: ‘Did you go to Georgetown Day School?’ ” That’s a story that is likely to happen to all of you.
So that’s who we are; so of course that that’s who we’ll be in the “real” world. We’ll still laugh while we learn; we’ll still ask questions of ourselves and others; and we’ll still capture our thoughts in words that move the world in new ways. We’ve breathed the air of this bubble, and it’s in our bones.
Given that fact, what advice do we need to offer ourselves as we stand on this threshold today? What will help us hold on to our “hopperness” as we move forward? To answer that question, I turned to you, the class of 2014, and asked you to offer advice to your future selves. What do you want to remind yourselves as you leave the GDS bubble?
First, you said, remember to “change your mind.” This one should be easy for hoppers since we are in the habit of questioning, but it’s good advice to remember. One of you put it this way: “Change your mind as many times as you want—your opinions, what you want for lunch, your career. Do it for as long as it takes you to be sure that it’s the right thing for you.” Emerson warned that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” and our minds are definitely not little.
Second, a number of you said, “read to your children.” Margaret Atwood once remarked, “I was one of the lucky ones; my mother read to me,” and one of you put it even more forcefully: “Read to your kids every night before bed, go broke paying for private schools, teach them to love learning. There is nothing more important you can give them.” I don’t know about the going broke part, but we do know the value of reading. Neuroscientists are currently documenting what many of us have believed for years: reading expands the brain, develops new pathways, lets us experience ourselves and the world in irreplaceable ways. A recent NY Times article acknowledged that “Amid the squawks and pings of our digital devices, the old-fashioned virtues of reading novels can seem faded, even futile.” But, its author asserted,” new support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience. Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. People who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.” We know from our time here at GDS that great literature crystalizes truths that can be elusive, inspires us with the music of language, and lets us see deeply into our own humanity. So keep reading—no matter what your career may be—and read to your children as well.
Finally, you said—and this is perhaps my favorite advice of all—Build your own happiness. We know that we did not earn many of our privileges, and, in the same way, that we cannot simply inherit happiness. As one of you put it: “Happiness does not appear suddenly, put into your hands from fate or time or as a gift from your friends or family as we might have imagined. Instead, we work at it, imperfectly, less like building a palace and more like carving out a statue of ourselves.” That’s advice that is “both beautiful and true.”
So there you go: We know who we’ve become here at GDS; we have dreams for how those selves will grow into our futures. Today is the moment in between, the moment when we pause. Pooh, when Christopher Robin asks him what he likes best, replies, “ ‘Well, what I like best . . . ’ and then he has to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey is a very good thing to do, there is a moment just before you begin to eat it which is better than when you are, though Pooh doesn’t know exactly what it is called.” That’s what makes me love this moment today—when we can look back at our own hopperness and forward to our about-to-happen encounters with the world beyond this bubble. It’s the moment before Pooh’s snack, the moment before you and I leave.
But it’s not a moment of sadness; after all, we’ll always be hoppers, won’t we? As you probably remember, in another of A.A. Milne’s stories, Piglet asks Pooh, “Will we be friends forever?” And Pooh says, “Longer than that.” We could just as easily say, “Will we be GDSers forever? Longer than that.”
So we’re ready to go. Because sometime soon someone will say to us, “Did you go to Georgetown Day School?” And we’ll say, “Of course.”
Rachael Schneiderman '14
Good afternoon, parents, teachers, families, friends, and fellow members of the Class of 2014. I want to thank ALL the teachers and administrators, from Lower School to High School, who have made it possible for our class to make it to this auditorium today. We all have that special person or two who have impacted our lives and without whose support, today’s graduation might have seemed an elusive dream.
I also want to extend a special thank you to my grandmother, Oma—better known as Karen Schneiderman. Without your influence and love for Georgetown Day School, I might never have had the opportunity to experience GDS and have it become my second home.
Speaking of Karens, on behalf of all my fellow Hoppers here today, I would also like to gives thanks to Karen Epstein for her love and dedication to GDS over the past 25 years. I feel sad for all those future high school students who won’t have the opportunity to discuss with one another the pressing issue of every GDS day—what color outfit tomorrow will bring.
It is a great honor to have been chosen by my classmates to represent them as one of today’s speakers. While it is not in my nature to stand up in front of so many people and speak, I do so because I am truly flattered, and I know how much our School and how much today means to all of us. Class of 2014, I thank you for the compliment and for your confidence in me.
Earlier this week when we had our graduation rehearsal, C.A. reminisced a little about our first days as seniors. Well, she sort of stole my thunder as I, too, had intended to look back on that preparation for our first day. Most of you know there is a tradition that the senior class starts the new school year with a bit of a show known as “senior run-in.” Last summer when we were away for one of the last weekends of the summer, the Class of 2014 spent time deciding what theme we wanted to start off the year. After many possible options, our grade decided to have the theme be “Senior Military.” Per tradition, we were announcing to the entire school that as seniors we were now the leaders of our school. But because we are GDS students, we questioned what message we would send by shooting water guns while dressed in camouflage. We debated the subtle difference between calling ourselves the “Senior Army” rather than the “Senior Military.” After carefully considering whether it would be disrespectful to the men and women in the US military who put themselves in the line of fire and willingly sacrifice their lives to protect our country. So in the end we chose to stick with our military theme but to use the word Army so as not to be disrespectful. We ran in wearing all types of military-inspired clothing. But unlike other schools in upper northwest Washington, DC, who storm into gyms wearing camouflage clothing without thinking, we thoughtfully took time to consider the power of words and actions and how they impact others.
Learning is at the heart of being a member of the GDS community. It happens every day and in many ways. We don’t just learn from our textbooks and lectures but also from dialogue between our teachers and ourselves. After assemblies, community events, or guest speakers, our teachers have on numerous occasions put aside their lesson plans to engage in follow-up conversations. I cannot imagine that there are schools where there are better classes with smarter or more experienced educators who help students like us prepare for the next steps in our lives as adults. But what makes a GDS education unique, and for me what is perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned here, is the importance of being sincere and authentic, of being true to ourselves and to those around us.
Since my first year at GDS in Pre-K when we would pass “the talking rose” to give everyone involved during a argument a turn to speak to the anxious days leading up to tests and exams in high school when our teachers would spend countless hours outside of class helping us study, we have been learning by experience how to be genuine with others and with ourselves and how to be authentic in our hearts and actions.
Many people will argue that being authentic is an innate human trait—and I agree. We all have it within us, and it is up to each of us to decide whether we want to honor ourselves and utilize this trait. GDS cultivates in all of us a sense that we should be honest with our emotions and opinions. But it is up to each of us to choose to be accountable to the world and to live an authentic life.
“Authenticity” can be defined in many ways. But at its core, being authentic allows us to connect deeply with others. It requires us to be transparent and, perhaps more important, to be vulnerable. But at the same time, it is also liberating. Our teachers have been open with our community; they’ve shared about their personal lives and experiences they’ve had. By watching them, we’ve learned about the difficulties that come with being completely honest with one another, but also about the rewards that follow. Being authentic gives us the freedom to make mistakes and to admit them, to be more engaged and honest with others and allow us to embrace our talents and abilities. And, most important, being authentic helps bring us closer to our core values.
We all start our GDS education, no matter what age we are, and whether we even realize it, learning the mission of our school—to value the integrity and worth of each individual through respect, equality, and sincerity. Whether it was in first grade as we marched into the Martin Luther King Assembly with protest signs or in 9th Grade Seminar when we talked about social justice and equity, we have been learning the important legacy of GDS, which is to be true to ourselves and to others.
And you, my fellow members of the Class of 2014, embody these values that GDS has instilled in us. We are an extremely diverse class, both on the surface by appearance as well as in our thoughts and feelings. We’ve created small, nuclear families. We have embraced our differences and despite them—and sometimes because of them—we have come together, supported one another, and become a bigger extended family. We have employed these values that we have learned throughout our years at GDS. The Class of 2014 has enjoyed success everywhere: We dominated the school in boy’s volleyball, powder-puff, and the school-wide Olympics during our junior year. We supported each other as we climbed the ropes course on the boat at Calleva. We created spaces that have become homes to our school families around campus: in Sparta, at the chess tables in the Internet Café, in the library, the locker rooms, and countless other locations. We’ve even cleaned up after ourselves on occasion: taking initiative on Good Friday to clean the forum allowing our cleaning crew to go home early and spend the holiday with their families. We’ve struggled over decisions—like the t-shirt discussion at the Senior Trip—but we learned to come together as a class to make decisions that we can all be happy with, from something as simple as our run-in plans to deciding our legacy gift to the school.
It is obvious to me that no matter what our class chooses to do in the world after we graduate, we will all be successful. How can we not? We are smart, we are driven, and we have been prepared by teachers who are rooting for us to succeed. Sure, there have been countless GDS alums who have achieved a traditional definition of success—becoming famous and making money—and our class most certainly will add to this group. In addition to this conventional ideal of success, GDS and our teachers have taught us another version: Becoming people whom people can count on, who care as much about other’s successes, and who take time out of their day to do little things that wouldn’t occur to just anyone. Our teachers have shown us by example how to achieve this type of success in our life: they have given their lunch periods to meet with us about everything from homework to what they did the past weekend, they’ll pick up a lone pizza box in the Forum and throw it away on their way to their next class. All of our experiences at GDS, both good and bad, have provided all of us with the foundation to become people who will influence and make an impact on the world after we graduate. What makes GDS different and what has been imprinted on our hearts is that our teachers have given us opportunities to be authentic in all our actions and interactions.
In the words of John F. Kennedy: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” If we act upon and live the values that we have learned throughout our time at GDS, we can and we will make a difference, a difference that will transcend the traditional definitions of success. So fellow classmates, remember what our School has taught us: Be authentic in all you do and success, however YOU define it, will surely follow.
CONGRATULATIONS, CLASS OF 2014, AND THANK YOU!
William Treanor, Parent Speaker
Russell, C.A., Faculty and Staff of the Georgetown Day School, Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, Friends, and, above all, members of the Georgetown Day School graduating Class of 2014.
It is a privilege to be here, marking this great day in your lives. I am pleased to be accompanied by my wife, Allison, and my daughter, Katherine, and I am honored to be speaking on behalf of all the parents, who are so proud of you, our graduates.
I recognize that the most deeply honored tradition at GDS is that no tradition is honored. We just saw it here: I don’t think there is another graduating class in the world that enters to the sounds of the Pink Panther. But one tradition of high school graduation speeches will be continued today: no one will remember this speech.
I have a friend who recently gave a law school commencement speech and he was very nervous. His son, who is a doctor, reassured him, saying, “Not only will no one remember your speech, I don’t remember who any of my graduation speakers were.”
And his father said: “You graduated from high school, from college, and from medical school, and you don’t remember who any of your speakers were?”
The son said: “Not a clue.”
And the father said: “I was your high school graduation speaker.”
So, Liam, please pay attention.
Most of my career has been in legal education, and law school classes typically don’t involve lectures; they use Socratic questioning. There is an hour of back and forth of challenging hypotheticals, without any answers. At the end of the class, however, I like to take a minute and say: these are the four key points from this class. There is no significance to the number four; it just always seems to work out that way. And that is what I would like to do here. Members of the graduating class, as you get ready to leave GDS, I know you have learned a great deal about many subjects, but I would like to talk about four life lessons that GDS teaches, and then, I would like to make a final request on behalf of all the parents.
First, do good.
While that might be a standard piece of advice at any high school graduation, at GDS, it is particularly appropriate. This is a school that has a commitment to justice in its DNA.
GDS began because Aggie O’Neill knew segregation was immoral, and she founded GDS, the first integrated school in Washington, D.C.
And, for almost 70 years, graduates of this school have used the lessons they learned here to make the world a better place. To give you a few examples of people who not so long ago walked across this stage to receive their diplomas: Because Laura Spero ’98 created Eva Nepal, 18,000 people in rural Nepal have received dental care. Ian Yaffe ’05’s work at Mano en Mano has helped immigrants and farmworkers in Downeast Maine get the housing and education they need. Dickson Chan ’07, Program Director of the Aslan Project, has fought childhood cancer in the developing world. And because Nick Cuttriss and Jesse Fuchs-Simon, Class of ’98, started AYUDA, children around the world have learned how to lead happier and healthier lives with diabetes.
It is a stunning list, and I have picked just a few among many. GDS is a school dedicated to educating graduates who will make the world a better place. I hope you carry on that great tradition.
In the years ahead, you may do it in different ways—as doctors, lawyers, business people, journalists, activists, filmmakers, teachers, and as parents, friends, spouses, siblings—but you will each have the capacity to help others. And when you teach a child, or bring a story of injustice to the attention of the world, or mentor someone who needs guidance, or hire someone who just needs a chance to get ahead, you help not only that person, but all the people whose lives are touched by that person. When you help one person, you are helping a world of people.
And, so, do good or, to paraphrase the advice that Anthony gives our track and cross-country teams, in the race of life, run good.
Second, don’t be afraid. GDS is a school that inspires you to try new things, even though you may not succeed. In fact, one of the goals in the strategic plan is: Teach students to take risks, tolerate failure, learn from failure.
We all fail in our lives. I don’t want to be autobiographical here, but my mother, Peg, is in the audience, and she can probably fill you in at the reception.
We all pursue goals that we do not reach. What GDS does is to create a secure environment for people to try new things. You are encouraged to stretch in your classes, as you pursue subjects that are novel and difficult, and in sports, where you try new activities. I have seen your fearlessness in the art and photographs on the walls and in the adventurous literature in Grasslands. I have seen it in the cabarets where people who have never sung alone in public, close their eyes and then sing in front of a room full of classmates and are cheered.
GDS has taught you to be unafraid.
Many of the places you will go to in the years ahead may not be supportive in the way that GDS is, but I urge you to continue to be unafraid.
Let me tell you a story about resiliency. In 2000, Barack Obama was an Illinois State Senator who taught part-time at the University of Chicago Law School. He ran for Congress and was defeated, badly. Many of his friends thought his political career was over.
At a political fundraiser after the defeat, Geoff Stone, the Dean of Chicago Law School, went up to him and said, “I can’t believe you’re doing this. Why not settle down and be a law professor?” . . . Obama responded, “I really have to do this. I think I can make a difference. I’ve got to try.”
Dean Stone looked at his friend, who had been President of the Harvard Law Review, someone who could have been a rich law firm partner or a leading legal scholar, someone who had just lost a disastrous electoral bid but who, rather than giving up, was trying again because he “thought be could make a difference.” Stone looked at Obama, reflected on his friend’s determination to persevere against all the odds, and he thought to himself:
“What a putz.”1
So try. As noted educator Ms. Frizzle of the Magic School Bus so memorably said: Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.
Don’t be afraid of failing. If you never fail, you have not risked enough.
When you fail, you may pick yourself up and become President of the United States. You may transform the world. Or you may never reach your goals. But, regardless of whether you succeed or fail, you will transform yourselves into the person you dream of being.
And don’t give up because your friends think you are a “putz.”
Third, look out for each other. When you come into the upper school building, the first thing you notice is the backpacks scattered everywhere. It is a small thing, but I have never seen anything like it. It shows the faith you all have in each other, and the care you have for each other is the stuff of your daily lives. You see it in so many ways. You cheer for each other at musicals and dance recitals, and choir performances, and debate competitions, and It’s Academic. You hug each other at athletic events, win or lose. This is a community that rallies together in times of loss, and that celebrates with joy when one of you succeeds. And this is a community where everyone—faculty, staff, students, everyone—is on a first-name basis. You are so much like a family. You leave GDS today, but I hope the ties that you have formed here will last, and that, as the years ahead brings sadness as well as successes, you will continue to cherish and care for each other.
Fourth, have fun.
Let’s go back in time.
As you prepare to leave GDS, think about what brought you here.
You didn’t come to GDS because it has a great football team . . . or a good football team . . . or any football team. You didn’t come to GDS because of the delicious food in the cafeteria. You didn’t come to be inspired by the rolling hills of the campus or the stunningly beautiful Gothic architecture, or because of the exquisite quality of the acoustics in the gym during the assemblies, or the efficiency of the drop-off and pick-up at the lower school, or to pal around with members of the first family, or because of the terrifying ferocity of the mascot.
And, if one or two of you came here for any of these reasons: I am so sorry. You must be so glad that it is almost over.
You came for the academics—but there are other schools that have great academics.
You came because this is a school with a great heart and a commitment to making a difference.
And I think you came here because this is a school that realizes that it is important not only to be serious, but to have fun. Senior Run In, Senior Prank, and Twin Day, and Powderpuff, and First Friday, celebrating Halloween, and the memorable faculty flashmob. This is a school that is irreverent and that treasures a sense of humor.
Now, as you prepare to leave GDS, you may be feeling sad because you realize that the years ahead will not bring you another Senior Run In, Senior Prank, or Twin Day, or Powderpuff, or First Friday. You may never again see a faculty flashmob.
But I hope that you have learned here that, while you have a moral obligation to pursue the serious work of the world, you can find joy in that work. I hope you have also learned that you can be both morally serious and irreverent and that you should seek the humor in life and the joy in friendship.
So, have fun. In a world of pomp and circumstance, may you always march to the beat of the Pink Panther.
And, while there will not be a final exam, let me summarize the four life lessons of GDS:
Don’t be afraid.
Look out for each other.
Finally, I will close with parental special pleading: call home.
You didn’t hear any of the other speakers remind you to call home on a regular basis, and I wouldn’t have expected them to. But I am here representing the parents. Parents in the crowd—parents, you are my peeps—and, so, I am reminding you, graduates, to do what every parent here wants you to do. I am not the first parent speaker in GDS’s history to remind graduates to call home, and I won’t be the last.
We, your parents, have known you since before you were born. We heard your first words. We saw your first steps. We dropped you off for your first day of school. We read you stories, watched you play sports, helped you with your homework, argued with you, taught you, learned from you, watched you grow into extraordinary adults. We have seen you every morning, as you hurry off to school, and we have, more than once, worried until you came home late at night.
This chapter of your life—and ours—was a chapter that, in our hearts, we thought would never end. But today it draws to a close as you graduate from GDS and prepare to leave home.
You will always be the center of our lives.
But you will never again be the center of our days.
And we will miss seeing you, every morning and every evening.
So call home.
Congratulations to the Class of 2014. We are so proud of you, and we love you.
1 David Remnick, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, 359-60.
Class of 2013 Graduation
June 9, 2013
Martin Bullock, Faculty Speaker
Russell, C.A., Nancy and Gloria, Hilary and Michael, parents, grandparents and siblings, family and friends, and teachers of these graduates – welcome to the Graduation Ceremony of Georgetown Day School’s class of 2013. This is a special graduating class, beloved by many but especially by me, and I am thankful for the opportunity to speak today. If for no other reason than this: today is the first time, in my six years of attending GDS graduations that I actually arrived on time!
They lock you out if you are late – did you know that?
Seriously though, I don’t mind telling you that in my 14 years of teaching high school, being selected by YOU to speak at your graduation ceremony is the highest honor I have received, and I am truly grateful for it.
It is also a heavy responsibility, though, and has caused me no small amount of anxiety. I sought advice from graduation speakers of years past, but it wasn’t that helpful. Louise was trying to be helpful when she gave me her insights and copies of old speeches to read, and Topher and John Burghardt were trying to be helpful as they gave me sage advice. In the end, though, it all just made me feel even more nervous. How could I hope to come up with a speech as meaningful and as beautiful as theirs? Lost, I turned to Sarah (as I often do) and she gave me some great advice (as she always does) and I found my voice.
I am sure many of you have had that same experience.
I know that most graduation speeches tend to focus on looking forward or looking back – optimism for the future or nostalgia for the past – those are the most common themes. For the class of 2013, there is a lot of material in those two themes.
Surely you have a lot to be optimistic about – you are about to join the ranks of some pretty awesome alums! Oscar winners, Grammy winners, Pulitzer Prize winners—peacemakers, trendsetters, commentators… Let’s face it—with the talent, intelligence, and determination in this room, you guys are pretty much destined to run the world! Imagine walking into the National Gallery in a few years to see the latest works of art by Juu Coventry, or the thrill you’ll get when you hear that superstar Tiana Walker has just been named to head the panel of celebrity judges on the 33rdseason of American Idol? And will anyone be surprised to see an aging Barack Obama sporting a “Darwin for President” T-shirt? These are just a few examples of the achievements you are all capable of.
Yes, there’s plenty of optimism to go around, but there’s no shortage of nostalgia either. During your time at the high school you have taught everyone the meaning of triskaidekaphobia, you’ve played laser tag against an ex-Marine—AND WON, and you’ve had some REAL class meetings where you hashed out social issues that most grades would prefer to avoid. Finally, this year you managed to get Chris Levy into a kiddie pool in the middle of the forum! Who else could pull that off but the class of 2013? You won’t be forgotten any time soon—that much is certain.
So, although the past and the future are promising directions for this speech, I would rather talk to you about the present. The here and now. We have a tendency to overlook the here and now, but that is a risky proposition, because, no matter how comfortable your past was and no matter how bright your future may be, the present is all you really have. If that sounds a little too ominous, you can flip the script a little: no matter how awful your past was, and no matter how daunting your future may be, the present is the one thing you really have. Sometimes, dwelling fully in the present is a great comfort. It behooves us, therefore, to be mindful of it and to experience it completely.
Those of you who have had me as your teacher know that I like to start every class with a moment of silence. In the hectic pace of a GDS day, I find that just a brief moment of silence is enough to hit the reset button and prepare our brains for learning. After all, before my class started, a student may have just sprinted up the stairs to the third floor all the way from L2 because the elevator was already above capacity. Or another may be hoofing it back from Safeway with a bag of steaming hot chicken tenders in his hands, or maybe an ice cold can of Refreshe. Or perhaps you just took an AP French test and you aren’t even THINKING in English, much less ready to LEARN in English. In times like these, a moment of silence can play a critical role in your learning. It gives you a chance to be mindful of the present.
As important as it is, though, being mindful of the present is really hard for humans to do. It is especially hard for people like us. We spend most of our quiet moments planning and strategizing, working on moving forward. “Where should I apply to college?” or “Which career path is right for ME?” The wiser ones among us probably also spend time reflecting on the past—learning from mistakes, considering the effects of choices we have made. “I should have known this would be one of the essays on this test” or maybe “Well. I’ll never try THAT dance move again!”
On the rare occasions that we have to sit in silence and be alone with our thoughts, most of us suffer from a condition some Buddhists refer to as “monkey mind.” Instead of placidly considering the world around us as it is right now, our minds prefer to jump into the tree canopy of our thoughts and swing from vine to vine. The human mind can be trained through practice, however, to dwell in the present. Some of you may already have experience with this if you have done yoga or meditation.
Before I started using the moment of silence in my classes, I actually used an image given to me by my yoga teacher about twenty years ago. She told me to think of my mind as water and my body, or my life, as a chalice holding that water. If the chalice is agitated, the surface of the water will be rough, choppy and broken. If the chalice is still, however, the surface of the water will be smooth and calm. We must look upon the surface of that water to see reflections of truth in the world, and we can only do that if the chalice is calm and the surface of the water is quiet. Only then can we savor the details that make moments like this one so important.
Graduation from high school is a rite of passage and it is worth paying attention to, because after today, you can no longer be considered a child.
Look around you for a moment. Make note of exactly where you are in this room … in this city … on this planet. Who is sitting next to you? Where is your family sitting? Why are we all here? This is one of the first of many important moments in your life that you are old enough to pay attention to, so if you have never practiced mindfulness before, today is a good day to start.
I’ll share an image with you that might help, if you’ll allow me to geek out a little. In chemistry, we call moments like this “transition states,” when the reactants have just come together and the products are about to be formed. In math, you might think of it as the inflection point in a function—the point where a curve changes from concave down to concave up. However you choose to look at it, it is clear that today, right now, is a time to make note of.
Well, let’s do that. Together.
In just a moment, we’re going to try our own moment of silence. It may feel awkward or strange at first but remember—this is important. It’s important for everyone in this room. Everyone in this room is experiencing a transition of some sort. FOR THE PARENTS … it may be the transition to an empty nest, or it may be the first time one of your children moves on to adulthood. FOR THE TEACHERS … this may be your first graduating class at GDS, or maybe your last. FOR THE STUDENTS … it is one of the most significant milestones in your life so far.
After today, you are truly no longer a child.
In the stillness that follows, try to be aware of exactly where you are, of what your senses are telling you at this moment. Is your stomach grumbling with hunger, or maybe tight with anxiety? Are you shoulders tense or relaxed? Can you hear people fanning themselves with the Graduation Program? In the stillness, your mind will wander toward the past or to the future, but gently rein it in—focus on now.
After a period of time, I will break the silence and we’ll continue with the rest of the Ceremony. But for now, its time for us to have our moment of silence.
Thank you. And congratulations, Class of 2013.
Class of 2012 Graduation
June 10, 2012
Tom Yoder, HS Principal
John Burghardt, Faculty Speaker
Rachel Levy '12, Student Speaker
Henry Brown '12, Student Speaker
Don Baer, Parent Speaker
Russell Shaw, Head of School
Tom Yoder, HS Principal
Good afternoon parents, faculty, guests, and members of the Class of 2012.
In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, the protagonist Jean Valjean faces a moral dilemma: to hide his identity and allow an innocent man to go to jail in his stead and thus be forever free or to reveal his true identity, save the innocent man, thereby putting himself back in prison. In the musical adaptation, this dilemma is played out in the song “Who Am I?” As you may know, Valjean reveals his true identity and as a result places himself once again in the clutches of Javert, his old jailer. Most of us will never face the kind of soul-testing moment Victor Hugo created for Valjean; however, I mention this fictional dilemma because I think there is great value in looking inward at various times during life’s journey and asking: “Who am I?”
On this graduation day, the day you, the Class of 2012, are symbolically handed your ticket to your next destination, I ask you to consider what may help you answer the question: “Who am I?” You have just completed a foundational phase of your education at a school that values its commitment to social justice and diversity. The founding families of Georgetown Day School, in a sense, asked themselves “Who are we” as they bonded together to create an institution that stood four square against racism and segregation in a city and country steeped in inequality and injustice. They answered the question “Who are we” with a commitment to try to make the world more just and more equitable for their children and for children in generations to come. We have tried to imbue within you a sense of the urgency regarding issues of injustice and inequality, an urgency that we hope will compel you to challenge immoralities as you venture into the larger world.
As you move through college and into your adult life, I expect you will discover that your sense of who you are, what you value, how you live your life, what your goals are, and how you deal with the more challenging hurdles life places in your path is rooted, in part, in your academic experiences and in the social interactions you had while a student at GDS. In order to help you discover who you are, we gave you the time and freedom to make decisions, holding firmly to the belief that adolescents learn to make appropriate decisions for themselves and for the community they are a part of when they are given the opportunity to do so. Ultimately, as you bound down life’s path, who you are emerges from the decisions and choices you make and from the values that underpin those decisions. So, some time over the next eight weeks, certainly before you leave home for college, consider carefully the question “Who am I?” Take the time to reflect on what you have learned, especially about yourself, during your time at GDS. We happen to be very proud of who you are today.
At this point, I’d like the faculty to stand. And I would like you, the Class of 2012, to acknowledge your teachers for their inspiration and support in your educational journey thus far.
John Burghardt, Faculty Speaker
The first inkling I had of what I had to say came in the staff room.
You must wonder what we talk about there. Sometimes it's about you.
Sometimes it's about spinach dip.
This time it was about the separation of powers. Sue Ikenberry was making a point about the way the Constitution lives in us: Her point was that the president takes a risk when he scolds the Supreme Court—even when the Supreme Court would seem to deserve scolding—because people care about the separation of powers, whether or not they ever use the phrase. I saw in the paper that weekend that Sue had been a couple of days ahead of the pundits, but even when we were talking I could see that she was doing something she does, something amazing: Making a page of the newspaper open up like a page in a textbook to show how history keeps teaching the lessons of history.
I said something of the kind. She cocked her head and said, "Well.... I don't read as much history as I used to, but I do read the same history—over and over." We laughed. "Yeah that's our life." But walking away I realized that our lives of re-reading are a little different. The stories Sue keeps sending through her mind seem to reveal something stable in their depths, their deepest grain, the abiding principles behind what happens—and that make things happen. I read the same poems and plays over and over, but they keep changing, maybe as I change.
When I was in my 20s, still resisting the idea, but also facing the fact, that I was going to be a teacher, there was a poem I loved, by William Butler Yeats, a poem about school.
I WALK through the long schoolroom questioning;
A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading-books and histories,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way —the children's eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.
Sixty. At G.D.S. he'd still be coaching. Here are the lines that used to make my hair stand up:
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
If I had to be a teacher, this is what I wanted to teach: that our labor didn't have to be torment. Poems by William Butler Yeats, the separation of powers. Calculus. Among those monuments of unaging intellect, a person could have a pretty good time.
What I wanted to bring to any school that would hire me was the sheer delight of reading, thinking, and writing. The joy of it.
What I found of course—what all of us found, was that we couldn't bring it because it was already here. You brought it to us.
A few weeks ago, on a day that began for the faculty like most days, hauling our books and bookbags up from the parking garage, jingling our carkeys, on a word, you turned us into a dancing flash mob. Celine, Annie, and Chloe taught us to dance.
Andro and Julian taught me to freestyle—to spit dope rhymes to a hip-hop beat. Don't' worry. I'm not going to actually...But I want to say a few words about the Freeestyle Club. For three years I have been its faculty advisor. And my advice has been, "Keep the door closed." I particularly did not want the Development Office to get wind of you. They would love you too much. A dozen clean-cut kids sitting desks in a history classroom, big smiles, bobbing heads, one person starts to do this...everybody else laughs. It's a calendar shoot—boys and girls together, and even if over the years there seems to be an ethnic advantage in being Croatian, the group is notably diverse. The visuals are perfect. The soundtrack though could be tough. Because when fifteen- and sixteen- and seventeen-year-old minds freely associate, and the only really pressing decorum is the beat, they can wander into perilous territory. Though even here, even transgressing, we have Anthony Head to guide us.
Anthony is an amazing improvisational artist, and he says some amazing things—so funny and so wrong. Hard to be laughing so hard when it's so hard not to laugh, but every time, just when the pangs of conscience and the pangs of laughter were starting to pull in opposite directions, Anthony would save us, would correct himself with a deft politically correct disclaimer, and a little homily straight out of freshman seminar, all in two bars, all on the beat, and it would all rhyme.
You can learn how to freestyle there—just show up every Thursday at 2:45, but you can learn a lot more: how to live across difference—with amazement, in torrents of laughter, with respect and accountability all around the cirque, also love.
It's hard not to learn at this school, but maybe we learn most by teaching. I teach Shakespeare and between plays read maybe three background books a year, but the sentences laden with insight that I'm carrying into the summer, and will carry into class next year's class, are mostly not from Stephen Greenblatt, but from Isaac, Jordan, Molly, Andro, Isabel, the unending sentences of Aaron Slater...
I teach Creative Writing and know a lot about it, noble accents and lucid inescapable rhythms, but I also know that Rachel, Kali, Alexandra, Alec, Jude, ... Maria Paz, Nicole, Courtney, Lisa ... Conor, Daryl, Riley ... are involved in what I know.
That poem by Yeats has a big finish:
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
I'd like to go out on that line, but it's the wrong image. Yeats' dancer is a soloist. Celine, Chloe, and Annie do ensemble work—a little like Fata. What we do most days though is touch dance, you move we move. That's the way I've been dancing here for a long time, and I'm about to sit down any minute. And any minute, you're going to dance out of here, with your genius and your joy, into a world that badly needs it.
Rachel Levy '12, Student Speaker
Good afternoon students, teachers, families, and friends.
I am honored that you chose me to speak at our graduation today. Since I was little, it has always been a dream of mine to give a speech to an audience of more than 700 people ... a speech directly following John Burghardt.
While the reason you chose John is clear to me, I'm honestly a little confused about why I was chosen to speak here today. It was only in the last year or so when I realized something that many of you still may not know: the library is not the only room in our school. I know, I was blown away too.
And I'm serious. Before school: Library cubby number three. Every mini break: Library cubby number 3. During lunch period: cubby number 3. And after school? You guessed it! Cubby number 3 ... but at the Tenleytown Library.
I can only assume that I'm speaking today because of my unparalleled attendance at GDS dances and my athletic prowess and leadership. Women's volleyball, men's soccer, and track & field won the MAC championships this year. And for that, I say you're welcome.
I had very specific intentions when I wrote this graduation speech. I wanted to say something that would break boundaries, do what no speech, lifetime movie or commercial has ever done before: not make my dad cry. Now, that sounds like it should be easy, but if you've ever seen him watch that Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercial... You know how hard it is going to be.
So, to avoid fatherly tears, I'll keep it simple. Graduation speakers are supposed to give advice about how to go out into the real world. Well, during my time of library hibernation, I've learned a couple of vital skills that I'm more than happy to share with all of you. For example, I think I've mastered the face that says "ahem, this is a library. No talking!" without actually having to say, "This is a library. No talking!" Seniors: This face may come in handy for many of us later tonight when our family members reminisce for far too long about our awkward middle school years.
Still, I am in no position to give you all any real advice. But that doesn't matter because I don't think the Class of 2012 needs it. All the "real world knowledge" that a graduation speaker could give, we already have stored up in our own little library—a library full of advice and life lessons rather than Hamlet and the Hunger Games. You may be wondering, "How do I access said surplus of information—this database," if you will? Well, it's simple. We can remember what GDS has taught us in the same way that we gain access to information in our library: an off-campus password!
In our case, the password may be a teacher's name or a favorite memory that brings to mind something that we've learned and experienced during our time at GDS.... So step aside Evelyn and Allison—our beloved librarians—while I take the Class of 2012 on a tour of the stacks.
From the Current Events Forum, we know how to argue. Throughout high school, we've learned how to engage in professional and constructive debates about some of the most important issues of our generation: vandalism and upkeep of a communal space, openness to other political perspectives, and those squirrels that kept eating the globe made out of seeds outside the forum during freshman year.
We know how—and how NOT to—dance from our assemblies. Karen Epstein has been gracious enough to describe and demonstrate certain dance moves in so much detail that we don't even need to go to dances to be made "appropriately" uncomfortable.
Now, finding the information we want is not always so easy. Sometimes, our search results come up with too much information. Well, GDS has even prepared us for that. I know many of us seniors have spent hours of sifting and skimming before we can find just one of Oladipo's tweets that doesn't make us laugh.
Even though we have learned never to trust a source without a qualified author, we can learn a lot from the anonymous feedback that we have received during our time at GDS. For example, one day I was about to ride my bike home, and I found a note in my bike basket, my big red milk crate, which many of you have come to know as "parking lot trashcan." The note said, "sweet ride. signed winkey smileyface." It seemed I had a poet on my hands—maybe even a secret admirer! But I was too frustrated with the fact that my bike had become a communal wastebasket to appreciate the complement and threw away the note once I got home.
So here's my advice: disregard the trashy feedback that people give you, but keep the winkey smileyfaces. Also, if you have the choice between saddle bags and a big red milk crate for your bike, choose the saddle bags.
Even if I can't offer any inspirational advice beyond library and bike etiquette, there is one thing I'm sure of. The library has taught me that no matter what we discover and remember when we research, we must always cite our sources. So, seniors, this is what I can tell you. After you scold you parents for making you be in too many pictures with your weird cousins, tell them how much you appreciate and love them.
Also, remember who is responsible for what we have learned at GDS: the teachers. Whether it is their dance moves during the flash mob or the way our teachers bring both humor and compassion into the classroom, we owe it all to them. I will never meet more caring, supportive and brilliant people. So let's give our teachers a round of applause...Dad, I know your affection for my teachers rivals my own, but you almost made it the whole speech without crying! So try to keep it together!
Because I had all of the information I could ever need, you may wonder why I decided to leave the library. Just like I eventually had to spend lunches on the patio or at Peete's Pizza instead of at cubby number 3, we have to leave the comfortable corner cubby that is GDS sooner or later. It's our time. Lucky for us, we will always have our own off-campus password to all that we've learned and all that we've shared.
So GDS Class of 2012, I love you guys and Congratulations!
Henry Brown '12, Student Speaker
Good afternoon parents, teachers, family, and fellow students.
I'm honored to have been picked as the second speaker to represent the Class of 2012. And a bit surprised. But mostly honored. Rachel and I were interesting picks, in that we didn't know who was expected to provide the laughs and who the sentiment. We decided that we couldn't decide, and chose not to force those categories upon ourselves, leaving us with no structure whatsoever to speak of. This made it quite difficult for us to write our speeches. To make matters worse, I'm not a big fan of public speaking, and while my writing is okay, I don't write in my own voice; I don't use any contractions, and say things like "insomuch as" and "notwithstanding" (which happens to be my favorite preposition). I toyed with a number of ideas to try and make the speech-writing process easier. I wanted to construct a speech the body of which would be completely titles of songs. It was going to be called "On The Run" (Pink Floyd) or maybe "Here We Go Again" (Ray Charles), and it was going to be great. Unfortunately, I didn't have the patience, and gave up before starting. My peers suggested I wear one of my award-winning Halloween costumes today, and let it do the talking, but I was afraid we would be told about the importance of religious symbolism, or I would end up having to vacuum popcorn off of the floor of Lisner. In the end I decided to start by talking briefly about what I experienced at GDS, and see where that took me.
Have you ever heard that it's not a good idea to eat potassium right before rigorous exercise? Well, thanks for letting me know! I figured a banana would be a good breakfast before I had to put my skills, (or lack thereof) on display on the first day of soccer preseason freshman year. The combination of my athletic prowess, excellent breakfast choice, and outgoing nature when I meet new people made for quite an enjoyable time. While there were no cuts made to the roster that year, every party involved was surprised I made the team. My number was this close to being retired, but the process wasn't completed because of some minor technicalities, such as the coaches not agreeing to retire my number.
After the season ended, I found it troubling to be leaving school at 3:30 every day, so I decided to commit my winter to theater. I attended the lights workshop, at which I knew there would be upwards of a dozen students, all of whom were fairly knowledgeable on the topic of lighting. As it turned out, I was the only one in attendance. Lighting was pretty fun, but I never meant to get so involved in theater. I tried out for the tennis team, notwithstanding my elders, who I looked up to in more ways than one, threatening to break my knees if I chose sports over theater. My "elder" was pretty convincing at 6' 7" or 6' 9" or whatever, so I tried to balance theater and tennis. Fortunately, (I guess,) I was even worse at tennis than I was at soccer, so I didn't offend anybody too much.
At the same time that I was committing all of my free time to theater, while trying to stay in the sports realm, as well as getting involved in the local and regional math teams, and moving into the world of visual arts, it became apparent what is so special about GDS.
It's not an easy thing to do to maintain strong grades or to stay awake and fully present in class when a student is delegating all of his time to each of four or five extracurricular interests. After all, each of us only has one "all of our time." However, you couldn't pick a better group of people at making the impossible happen than the class of 2012. Whether regarding the sports teams, the debate team, It's Ac, Quizbowl, language and culture clubs, math team, theater, or any of the other communities at GDS, our class' involvement was impossible to ignore. Part of the reason we were able to excel to such an extent was our ability to manipulate stress into a polished end product. No matter what endeavor we took on, we were able to produce amazing work knowing that the FReP or Senior Paper is due in less than a week; that tonight is opening night; that these are the MAC Championships, and now is the time to leave it all on the field. We can easily identify the adrenaline rush that comes from this realization, and we know what to do with it to make sure that we write a strong paper; put on an above-high-school level production; and become the MAC champs. We did all of these things and should be proud knowing that this is unique to GDS and that our class is especially productive in this manner. I'm comfortable saying that we're a pretty good group of kids, all around.
That's not to say that we didn't have our fair share of encounters with the administration. From music in the forum, to the possibility of offending the Mayans and their wonderful, rich culture with our run in theme, Tom & Karen seemed ever-present in our day-to-day affairs at GDS. However, I have to concede that when I tried to burn down the school with the fog machine, they were pretty chill about it.
As we have been at GDS for some of the most formative years of our lives, there are experiences we will carry with us forever. I believe these are the most important things we are taking with us from GDS. Kevin Barr, would he were here, warned me against asking you to invoke anything in my speech today, but as the day comes to a close, I'd like you to think back on those little snippets that you know you will never forget. In my case, since I can only speak for myself, it's telling Will Ley not to worry about it when you've shoved some bare wire in a socket, Yka's [give peace sign] "Hey!" when she sees you in the hallway, and the sense of fulfillment at the end of a significant event--be it strike, the recovery of our weather balloon, or the end of this ceremony today. To one looking in at our lives, these mementos may seem random, but they will stick with us for the rest of our lives and continue to define who we are as people.
GDS has given each of us a lot. GDS has given me a lot. We're taking a lot of gifts out with us into the real world, be they gifts of morality, gifts of curiosity, or, as the case may be, gifts of the supply room. It is for these gifts that I would most like to thank GDS. I'd also like to thank our teachers, family, advisors, friends, mentors, and anybody else that I somehow haven't included in my speech today. It would have been a helluva lot harder without you.
Congratulations to the Class of 2012!
Don Baer, Parent Speaker
Thank you, Russell, for this great honor. And for giving me something to worry about—I mean look forward to—all these months.
It will be a miracle if I hold it together emotionally up here, [wave handkerchief]. Recently, my friend and our former Board President Carolyn Martin, whose own son graduates today, reminded me how hard this would be; but she also tried to make me feel better: She noted that the only parent speeches that have actually been memorable are those when the parent does choke up. So, if the standard of greatness is how much I choke up, there is a chance this will rank up there with Henry Von St. Crispin's Day, Lincoln at Gettysburg ... , who knows, maybe even John Belushi in Animal House.
I know some of you are worried, too, that, because I was President Clinton's speechwriter, this might run a tad long. I did once help him with the longest State of the Union speech in history—89 minutes. Not exactly our finest hour ... and a half. I was relieved later when he gave another one that ran 91 minutes—and I had nothing to do with it.
I am aiming for shorter today.
So, I want to state right now the only thing you are likely to remember. Georgetown Day School Class of 2012: To all you artists, actors, athletes, scholars, musicians, debaters, community servants, and all-around outstanding kids, to my beloved Green Devils [you know who you are]—and to every lovable Hopper who has meant so much to us: Let's face it—You are the greatest graduating class in the history of high school. [cheer.]
Thank you, and have a great life. Just kidding. Not done with me yet.
I wish I could give a shout out to each person here who deserves it—but we would be heading into President Clinton range.v
So, thank you to the amazing teachers, coaches, college counselors, principals, deans, directors, staff, and, of course, ... to that rocking flash mob [Tonys are tonight]. To borrow from Russell at Senior Night: Every one of you who has inspired, cared for, and simply loved our children, we will hold you in our hearts forever. Tom Yoder and Kevin Barr, thank you for guiding the high school with such devotion. To Russell in particular and to our dedicated board: I wish my children could be here for the next ten years, because, with your leadership, the best is yet to be.
On a very personal note: To all the generous families, our friends, who have nurtured and literally fed our son Adam all these years, we owe you big time—as in six feet, five inches big time. And Adam has asked me to thank his friends for years and years of tolerating his Lactose intolerance. [I warned you it was a very personal note.]
To you parents, I feel a deep sense of responsibility about speaking to your children. So, I want to say to the children we all share in this community: You should never stop appreciating what your parents have done for you, but we are grateful to you too. Seeing your moms and dads has made us better women and men—more exhausted, yes—but better, and we mean that.
Speaking of doing better, 1 heard a story about five people flying in a twin engine plane, when they realized both engines had given out, they were going to crash and they had only four parachutes. Five people, four chutes.
The first person to speak up was the pilot. "Only I know the engine's design defect," she said. "And I have to survive so millions of people don't die in similar crashes." So she took the first parachute and jumped.
The second person was the President of the United States. "Whoa," he said. "This is tough. The world faces dire crises. If I were to die, it could bring the whole thing down." He took the next parachute and jumped to safety.
The next person was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a very important—and self-impressed—man. "I am the smartest man in the world," he said. "It has been many years since I was in office, but I still constantly give sage advice. My death would be a huge tragedy for the world." Then he took the next bag and jumped.
That left two people, an old priest and a GDS student. "My child," the priest said, "I have lived a long life, sacrificing for my fellow human beings. I want you to take the last parachute and save yourself." And the GDS student said to the priest: "Father, my man, no worries. The smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack."
I tell that story for a few reasons. One, is I can only remember two jokes- and let's just say the other one would not be right for this crowd.
Also, if your family is like ours, then your parents need a better reason to explain why it is bad to lose your backpack—again—than simply saying: "Because I said so."
Beyond that, this story touches on something more meaningful I want to discuss: You should never worry that you will ever be all alone in life.
Today, with all the excitement, I know it is hard to imagine you might ever feel alone. And, I promise, many, many happy things are going to happen to you. You will have enormous success. One of you could win an Oscar someday. The girl behind you could be a future President of the United States. The guy to your right could be a future Nobel laureate. Okay, maybe not that guy, but certainly one of you.
But, moments of doubt and disappointment will also come—hard moments. Or, as one of the great philosophers of our times—Conan O'Brien—has observed: [quote]"Nietzsche, famously said, 'Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' But, what he failed to stress is that IT ALMOST KILLS YOU."
So, a few lessons from the plane story that might help.
You are not alone in facing uncertainty about your future. More often than you will know, many people struggle with vast change, out of their control—and sometimes even within it.
This definitely applies to your career. I suspect, as children of Washington, you are already thinking about your careers. First off, stop it. For crying out loud: This is graduation day, so chill out.
Still thinking about it, aren't you? I want to tell you to find your passion and stick with it. If you can, then more power to you. But, every walk of life is changing at warp speed. So, in the face of the certain uncertainties in your life's plan, it is worth remembering two truths: First, you are going to have ups and downs. And, second, you will almost never know until years later which are the ups and which are the downs.
I started my career as a lawyer in New York—for three years, five months, and three days. It was pretty clear after about a year that law, however noble a profession, wasn't for me. I was frustrated about letting precious time pass without getting on to work that mattered to me—but afraid to take the leap. Yet what I learned in those extra few years as a lawyer gave me a grounding that has helped every step of the way. I learned I could leap and not crash. And, more crucial, one day in my final months at my law firm, I was lucky to meet the most important person I ever met in my life—the person who has been my wife almost 25 years and the mother of our two wonderful sons.
One thing about never being alone is that, sometimes you should make yourself that way anyway—away from the frenzy of the crowd, just like that GDS kid who stayed calm. We are living in the Age of Social-media, networks, everything. Much good comes from this. Yet, it is worth trying, perhaps every day, to be alone for a bit—in silence, in solitude. Collaboration is critical, but so too is thinking by yourself, for yourself.
Another reason you will never be alone is because the world isn't going to leave you alone. It will expect you to help make it better, indeed to lead it to unprecedented solutions for unexpected challenges.
I heard a recent report on public radio about the Raw Deal this year's graduating class faces. You know about this, as the first one for which all four years in high school have been in the shadow of our economic downturn. But, as one senior said at the end of that report: In some ways, every generation gets a Raw Deal. Think about the Class of 1932, graduating into The Great Depression and the rise of fascism. Or the Class of '72, with Vietnam and social unrest. Those classes, and in some ways every one before and since, turned what seemed like raw deals into better deals. It has never been perfect, and we have made plenty of mistakes. But every one of us is blessed to inhabit the world those who came before us could only imagine. You—especially you with your talents and opportunities—have the gifts to imagine and to create yet another better deal for the world.
When you do, I hope you will avoid the fate of that smartest man in the world and stay humble. At another graduation last month, our family watched civil rights leader John Lewis receive an honorary degree. He once helped lead a revolution and was nearly beaten to death, has served in Congress and stood up for what is right for decades. But all he said for himself at graduation was: "I only try to help. I only try to do some good."
The people who founded your school as a place of searching, who were bold enough to make it the first integrated school in the nation's capital, still had a humility about progress. They understood progress—in the world and in life—is a long journey, not a fixed place: After all, the place they named Georgetown Day School has never even been in Georgetown—I guess Tenleytown Day School was taken. They knew we would still be working, years later, to do better to understand and appreciate one another. Their message still matters: Be patient with one another and never stop pushing ourselves further. In that tension, it seems to me, lies the best of GDS.
GDS also means you will never really be alone, as long as you remember you have everyone here—especially those classmates you sit with now. None of these people will ever give up on you. So, don't give up on them either. Believe me, especially for your parents: All you ever have to do is throw us a grin, raise an eyebrow, or mumble a syllable or two, and we will always be there. Because, everyone here, old and young, through whatever happens, we are all in it together.
That is how our family has always felt at GDS. This is our last official event after 18 years—or, as I count them, 27 separate tuition years. For all the "nobody's different from you and from me" Assemblies, the classroom inspiration, the sports triumphs and defeats, the Black Box and Blues Alley performances, the Ethiopian adventures, the sports banquet Popeye's fried chicken, and even the gym's audio system—for all the joy and the friends who have been there through all the ups and a few downs: We will hold you in our hearts forever.
Class of 2012, I want to leave you with the best goodbye I ever knew- actually not a goodbye at all, but a hello to every day's possibility. It is a simple way to say what I have talked about: That life holds many things you can count on and many things you cannot control. What matters, as much as anything, is what you do about it all—how you stay strong facing the challenges, while always holding onto your sweet, kind side as well.
I learned this little farewell early, from my own father, who said it to me every morning I could hear his voice. So I have said it to our sons every day they could hear mine. Here it is for you: "So long. Good luck. Knock 'em cold. Be good young men and women. Be careful. Don't get hurt. Have a good day. And we love you very much." And one final important thing, especially for the extraordinary Class of 2012: Always remember that GDS kid on the plane and the difference between a parachute and a backpack. Congratulations, Class of 2012.
Russell Shaw, Head of School
Good afternoon. It is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to the 41st commencement exercises of Georgetown Day School and to the graduation of the Class of 2012. Today we are privileged to celebrate these tremendous young men and women and to send them on their way.
Graduates: I will not be the first to remark upon the fact that you are a remarkable class—in fact, you’ve told me this yourselves. As seniors, you set a tone for GDS, and we as adults could not have asked for a better tone to be set. Your voice, leadership, talent, passion, integrity, and deep commitment to our mission have enriched our school community and set a high bar for those classes that will come after you.
There are so many moments, I know, for each of you, that will embody your GDS experience, and so many moments, for us, that have helped to define you as individuals and a group. Your astonishing choral, theater & dance performances. Your championships in soccer, cross country, volleyball, and track & field. Your national prowess in math, debate, quizbowl, and more. Your stunning visual art. Not to mention the fact that you were pretty good students. But I want to talk about a different moment, one that unfolded just a few weeks ago. The Flash Mob.
For those of you who have yet to see the viral video, 3 of our seniors (Annie Ottati, Chloe Rotenberg, & Selin Odabas-Geldiay) decided to try something different for their Senior Quest, the project with which they conclude their GDS experience. They secretly plotted with our High School faculty for a memorable send off gift to the GDS community. Through weeks of top-secret rehearsals, they choreographed a dance and taught it to their teachers, a dance that would be performed in the midst of a GDS assembly.
The surprise worked beyond their expectations. During a presentation on security at the High School, music started playing, HS science teacher Martin Bullock started dancing, and soon scores of teachers were moving in relative unity to “Call Me, Maybe.”
Of course, our High School students loved the performance. One said as the Flash Mob came to a close, “I can never be truly happy again because this was the happiest moment of my life.”
The faculty was transformed by the experience as well, saying that participating in the flash mob had done more to build authentic connections among colleagues than anything in the past decade.
And the Flash Mob had an impact beyond our campus, reconnecting many people to GDS. The video has been watched more than 3200 times (and counting) by current GDS community members but also by alumni from around the world. Many alumni, upon seeing the video, wrote to us to rave about a performance that recalled for them their own time at GDS & what it meant to be part of a uniquely wonderful school.
The Flash Mob was students teaching teachers, creating community, and extending community. It was building connections between people and helping people to see the world differently. And that, I would argue, is the GDS way.
As you embark from our community, seniors, and prepare to head off to college and your next adventure, I’ve been reflecting on what you’ll need for your journey, and what GDS has given you to take along. Several weeks ago, I wrote to you and asked you what you’ll take with you from GDS. I received a wealth of answers, far too many to share here. Here’s an abridged version:
Kiana Khozai writes:
I'll take a piece of candy from the college counseling office. I'll take a cool sweatshirt I discovered in the lost and found. I'll take the knowledge that Tony is always watching. But most importantly, I'll take a step towards the rest of my life with fourteen years worth of GDS weirdness in my back pocket. All those numbers and dates and formulas that we've crammed into our brains are going to allow the class of 2012 to build bridges one day. But it's the quirky confidence that GDS taught us outside of the classroom that's going to help us cross those bridges.
Kate Cullen writes of a Hopper lens. From Kate:
I will take a life-long love of learning and exploration. I will take perseverance and problem-solving from my math classes, curiosity from my science classes, open-mindedness and worldliness from my language classes, understanding and awareness from my history classes, analytical thinking from my English classes, creativity and collaboration from the arts, and finally, discipline and community from athletics. After thirteen years at GDS, these tools are a core part of who I am. On top of all that, GDS has provided me with a "Hopper lens" through which to view the world. This green "Hopper lens" tinges my view of the world with great compassion, a quest for quirkiness, an eagerness to build community, a spirit of inclusion, and an understanding of difference. The formation of these tools and the creation of this lens is entirely the product of my relationships with teachers, coaches, school administrators, and classmates.
With my GDS treasure chest of memories, tools, and a "Hopper lens" I have no doubt that I'll be able to walk on to a campus of strangers next fall and build myself another invigorating, illuminating, and incredible community.
Jesse Gainsburg writes of passion:
GDS has taught me about going after what you are passionate about. Within our class are elite debaters, quiz bowlers, athletes, actors/actresses, and artists. Not to detract from these individuals' abilities, but I believe that GDS has greatly facilitated their success.
Leah, Caitlin, and Andrija write about voice. Leah Snider will take from GDS:
… a newfound confidence in my opinion, because of the incredible teachers who have assured me time and time again that my voice matters, and now I believe it.
Caitlin de Lisser-Ellen will take:
The belief that “all you have to do is ask.”
The world is not as mysterious as we have been led to believe, and if you are bold and take that first step, you will see results.
So in college, if I need something or I’d like to see something changed, I’ll send that one email. I mean, it couldn’t hurt.
Andrija Zuzul will take with him:
Dan Samet writes of community and mistakes. From Dan:
GDS has shown me that if a community is to succeed it needs to recognize and honor what each individual brings to the table. Similarly, I will leave with the understanding that, even though many will inevitably disagree with me, it is vital to understand their positions. Acceptance and respect are about as pertinent to GDS as the color green.
GDS has also given me a space where it is OK to be wrong. Our teachers really encourage us to take risks and to step out of our comfort zones. I have concluded that it is healthy and beneficial to not get everything we want. It may be difficult, but it’s worth it. Whether it is a grade or a girl, mysterious challenges await us at every turn. GDS is full of them, and I am so, so thankful to the school.
And finally, Isaac Stanley-Becker writes of his teachers:
My teachers made me feel as though what we were studying was the single most important thing in the world and inspired me to think, read, write, and be better. At the same time, they had the hearts to turn my gaze outward, to contemplate the world around me and consider my place in that world. It takes a special kind of teacher to impart knowledge of a well-crafted sentence or a pesky derivative while also doling out profound life lessons. GDS taught me history, math, French, and so on, and it taught me that well. But more important, GDS taught me new ways of thinking, new ways of asking, new ways of disagreeing, and new ways of arguing. New ways of being confused, new ways of being interested, and new ways of being curious.
I think this is fitting for a place that opened its doors as the first integrated school in a segregated city. Then, the act of learning served a vital political and social purpose. Today, GDS is still a place where education means so much more than a blackboard and some rows of desks. I've learned the most here in those chance encounters with a teacher sitting on the floor of the first floor hallway or that awkward moment when someone in class asks an off-topic and maybe even slightly inappropriate question, at 11 p.m. in the black box or at 5 a.m. on the way to a debate tournament.
These are the principal moments that I'll carry with me as I move onto college and beyond. I'll think about the intensity of Richard's explanation of Descartes and human existence and about the hilarity of Suzie's AP pep talks, while I reflect on a school with a soul that made me love learning and made me feel like I could do anything in the world.
Seniors, it’s gratifying to know how much you’ll be taking with you from GDS. Last week at graduation rehearsal, I added one more thing to your list, when I gave you each this book, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, a story of families from very different backgrounds and the community that they create together.
Smith’s book is remarkable for a number of reasons. First, she began writing it while an undergraduate at Cambridge and published it when she was 23—a reminder to each of you that you are ready to make an impact, even now, and for many years to come. As you learned at GDS, however, this doesn’t happen by itself. It takes lots and lots of hard work.
White Teeth is also noteworthy for the way it chronicles a world whose demographics are changing before our eyes, one in which we learned that for the first time this year in the United States, white babies were not the majority of those born. At GDS we know that who’s here is changing, and who’s here matters.
White Teeth describes a changing London, one in which Millat Ick-ball, the British born son of Bangladeshi immigrants, marries Irie Jones, the daughter of white Archie Jones and Jamaican Clara Bowden. Smith writes, ''It is only this late in the day that you can walk into a playground and find Isaac Leung by the fish pond, Danny Rahman in the football cage, Quang O'Rourke bouncing a basketball and Irie Jones humming a tune. Children with first and last names on a direct collision course.'' The book, while rife with the tensions that can arise from people with very different backgrounds and experiences bumping up against each other, presents at its core an optimistic vision. It is a vision of a world in which we can be enriched and enlivened by our differences, in which we grow and are strengthened by multiple viewpoints and perspectives. It is, I would argue, a vision that is at the very foundation of GDS, a vision not of acceptance of the world as it is, but of the imperative to create the world as it could be.
Which brings me back to you, seniors. Your capacity for creating community allows you to bring disparate people together, as you did with the Flash Mob, building connections and extending those connections out into the world. Your “Hopper lens” allows you to see what’s uniquely valuable in different individuals, to appreciate the diversity that you encounter and be enriched by it. And your powerful voices will allow you to speak up against the world’s injustices and work to create a better world for all of us, one small step at a time.
Class of 2012, I want to invite you to be present now, to pause and look around, face your parents, faculty, family and friends—look at all these people who have showed up for you today. We are for you, we believe in your tremendous capacity, we are proud of you. We know that you will pack well, and that you have everything you need for the journey ahead.
And to the rest of us here, parents, teachers, family, friends—our responsibility for these graduates doesn’t end today. These talented young people will need our ongoing support and guidance as they discover the world, make their way in the world, and change the world. Our work isn’t done. Class of 2012, you have our confidence, our support, and our profound hope for the road ahead.
Before we close this afternoon’s ceremonies, I’d like to take this last opportunity to say, on behalf of the faculty, staff, and administration of Georgetown Day School, a final congratulations to both the graduates and the family and friends who have helped us arrive at this moment.
And I would also like to invite everyone present to take one last good look around. I invite you to soak in this marvelous scene.
Thank you all for being here to celebrate with us. Graduates: fare well, and come back and visit often.
Class of 2011 Graduation
June 12, 2011
Welcome by Russell Shaw, Head of School
Comments: Tom Yoder, HS Principal
Student Speaker: Sam Hecht
Student Speaker: Leah Sarbib
Faculty Speaker: Bobby Asher
Parent Speaker: Richard W. Roberts
Russell Shaw, Head of School
Good afternoon. It is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to the 40th commencement exercises of Georgetown Day School and to the graduation of the Class of 2011. Today we are privileged to celebrate these tremendous young men and women and to send them on their way.
Graduates, I have been grateful to get to know you this year. On the first day of school, I stood in the Forum to speak to the High School. It was then that you introduced me to the Senior Run-In. You were the Georgetown Day Fire Department, storming the high school with the spirited effervescence that has characterized your class throughout your years at GDS. You placed a fire hat on my head, sprayed the underclassmen with water guns, rang bells, and generally created quite a ruckus. It was a warm welcome for me to my new school.
I’ve watched you this year, seniors. I’ve watched you congregate in the senior corner, your classrooms, the College Guidance Office, the gym, the soccer field, the theater, the art studios, and in every corner of our school, often until late in the evening. And I’ve been struck by the fact that GDS is your home. You didn’t actually sleep at school, at least not as far as I knew, except for the occasional catnap in the library or on a hallway couch. And yet you inhabited your High School fully, you made our School lived in, you cultivated a sense of community that made 4200 Davenport Street a vibrant and comfortable place to be.
Given that you’ve made GDS your home, it follows that you are preparing to leave home, multiple homes, really. As you prepare to leave our home, to head off to college and adventure and, in short order, adulthood, it’s not too soon to think about packing. I still remember packing for college the summer before my freshman year. In fact, full disclosure, I packed for college…the night before college. I had a huge steamer trunk that I filled with everything imaginable as I prepared to head across the country. Think Harry Potter. When I finally managed to get the trunk closed, it was so heavy I needed two friends to help me get it into the back of the car. I soon realized that the bathing suits that I’d brought from California weren’t quite suited to New England. What I needed was an overcoat. And boots.
So, Class of 2011, mindful of the dangers of procrastination, I’m going to help you with a packing list right now. In preparation for making this list, I asked your teachers what they would like to send you away with as you prepare to leave GDS. I asked you the same question.
I received a wealth of answers from both groups, far too many to share here. I know your teachers always want you, their students, to take center stage, and so I’ve decided to yield most of their time to you. I will share a few brief suggestions from your teachers, however.
Winston gives you advice to take with you. He writes, “Your biggest asset in life—more than your alma mater, your degree, your connections—will be your ability to get along with people. Without this, you won't have any friends and you'll never get hired. Most important, you'll never get a date. Now wouldn't that be a shame.”
Barbara Bergman sends you with advice as well. “You need to call home at least weekly or risk finding your parents waiting at the door of your dorm room.”
And Richard Avidon recommends that you take along with you, “your innocence. You might think you already lost it, but check the lost and found…everything turns up there, eventually.”
So what are the things you wrote to me to say that are packing for yourselves?
Hunter Fortney will bring, “a few friends that I have known so long they could count as siblings (a plus for an only child); a pretty decent education, I must admit; memories of a school with a soul; and, most important, a few wonderful items from the lost and found.” (Perhaps he found his innocence there).
Rachel Coyne writes, “I’m taking my Hoppers. I don’t know what I’m going to do next year without one. I write down my homework but I also write down when I’m visiting my sister in Pittsburgh and what time my TV shows are on. I love the feeling of checking off my finished English paper and counting down the days until the last day of classes. Now I’m going to have to find a new place to organize and record my life. I’m also taking the Astroturf in my soccer cleats and my sports bag. Whenever I see the little black pellets I think of the hot, summer days of soccer preseason and the cold, winter afternoons of lacrosse games. More important, I think of the teams I have loved being a part of at GDS and will remember as I move to a different school.”
Eva Stevenson shares: “I wanted to tell you that I will not be at my graduation ceremony. Do not worry—I am not anticipating being arrested. The reason I will not walk at graduation is that I will be in Uganda working with a women's microfinancing organization. This organization is called Women's Microfinance Initiative (WMI) and so far the organization has had a 100% success rate and has even spread from villages in Uganda to villages in Kenya. I will be working in a small village called Buyobo alongside my cousin who has been living there and working with WMI since September.”
Eva continues, “I will always remember studying in the first integrated school in DC, and learning by the values that this school was founded upon. I will always remember the phenomenal teachers that I have had—the ones who have opened my mind up to entirely new worlds of ideas and have challenged my many preconceptions of this world. I will always remember the activists I have met at this school—both students and teachers—people, who like me, (I know this sounds clichéd, but it's true) really do want to change the world.”
Ben Ernst writes, “My extracurricular life at GDS was wrestling. The GDS wrestling program has given me more than I can possibly realize at this time, and played a huge role in shaping me into who I am today. GDS wrestling taught me that with most things in life, you get out what you put in. GDS wrestling conditioned my mind and my body, giving me self-control that I was previously lacking. I know how bad it feels to lose and how amazing it feels to win. I learned how to follow, listen, and learn from people older and more experienced than me, and how to lead and teach those younger than me. I learned how good it feels to be recognized for my dedication and that it is 100% worth the work and sacrifice.
“GDS made me feel at home away from home, and I will miss it. But after spending half my life in the institution, I will be forever GDS. GDS will never leave me, the very culture of the place is branded on my values and personality, and I will wear that brand with pride for the rest of my life.”
Chris Pecaro: “More than the hideously good education I’ve received in any academic field, I’ve learned at GDS how to think and live for myself, and learned to love across the boundaries of identity that so often impede good friendships from ever flourishing. After growing up in a school that was rigid in atmosphere and wonder-bread-white in its demography, going to GDS has been a godsend. The art programs, of which photography and theater I can speak with authority, are some of the best around not because of ample resources or even because of the top gun instruction, but because of the hands-off attitude that defines them. Frankly, I’ve been treated like a kid in a sandbox. I’ve been able to create and innovate and fail without an adult telling me no, and it’s made all the difference. I’m going to Columbia next year with the full intention of becoming an artist (more specifically a writer) at an age and era when most kids have had their artistic dreams and aspirations thoroughly beaten out of them, and it’s entirely a result of the encouragement I’ve received from faculty here at GDS.
“My best friends here are Jewish, I have a black girlfriend, and to say it as simply as possible: it’s just not a big deal, as should always be the case. The same can’t be said for too many schools, and I am more than aware of how lucky I am to have attended a place like GDS. Two guys can walk down the hallways here holding hands, and rather than receiving taunts or over-exuberant encouragement, no one bats an eyelash. More than anything we learn from our classes, if we can learn to love each other we can change the world. I came to this school stunningly ignorant as to how to do so, and I leave with a fair degree of expertise.”
Finally, seniors, what am I giving you to put in your steamer trunk? I’m giving you a book—actually, I gave it to you at graduation rehearsal on Wednesday and for those of you who didn’t get one, I’ve brought extras here today. The book by Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin, won the National Book Award in 2009. It is based loosely on the story of Philippe Petit, a French high-wire artist who gained fame for his tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. Petit didn’t have permission for the walk, and spent more than six years secretly preparing for what he called “the artistic crime of the century”. He learned everything he could about the towers which, when he hatched his plan in 1968, were still under construction. He had to figure out how to get a 450 pound steel cable across the 200 foot gap between the towers, how to take into account the ways the towers would sway in the wind, how to get a 55-pound balancing pole up on the roof, and other details. He obtained fake IDs for his co-conspirators and himself, identifying them as building contractors, dressed in disguise as construction workers, and used this cover to scout the rooftops and hide supplies. On the morning of the walk, he used a bow and arrow to shoot a fishing line from one roof to the other, and then passed larger and larger ropes across the space between the towers until his team was able to pass the heavy steel cable across and use guy lines to anchor it.
Petit walked out on the wire at 7:15 AM on that Tuesday morning, and spent 45 minutes sitting, lying down, kneeling, and even dancing between the two buildings, more than a quarter mile above the ground. Police waited for him at both ends of the wire, and helicopters flew overhead. When he finally hopped off the wire and back onto the rooftop, he was arrested. The charges were ultimately dropped, however, as his act had captured the imagination first of New York City and then of the world.
I want to be clear that I’m not encouraging you to be high-wire artists—your parents would never forgive me. Petit’s feat does, however, embody a number of things that I wish for you. The idea of dreaming big, of recognizing the combination of the hard work, preparation, perseverance, and collaboration that is necessary to realize your dreams, of boldly pursuing those things that you love and being joyfully present when you are doing them. Along with this book, these are things that I hope you will bring with you to college and, more important, to your lives.
And Class of 2011, I want to invite you to be present now, to pause and look around, face your parents, faculty, family, and friends—look at all these people who have showed up for you today. We are for you, we believe in your tremendous capacity, we are proud of you. We know that you will pack well, and that you have everything you need for the journey ahead.
And to the rest of us here, parents, teachers, family, friends—our responsibility for these graduates doesn’t end today. I know I don’t need to tell that to the parents who have just written their first college tuition check. These talented young people will need our ongoing support and guidance as they discover the world, make their way in the world, and change the world. Our work isn’t done. Class of 2011, you have our confidence, our support, and our profound hope for the road ahead.
Tom Yoder, High School Principal
Good afternoon parents, faculty, friends, and members of the graduating class of 2011.
In the ninth grade, most of you – today’s graduates — had the experience of reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations; for some of you this experience with the lengthy nineteenth century prose was, as quoted in a different Dickens’ novel, “the best of times” and for others perhaps “the worst of times.” Dickens’ observations of the complexity of his world capture the nature of the world we inhabit today. On this commencement day, we want you to know that we have every confidence that you will be prepared to handle the best and worst that lie ahead.
Our confidence is based on the fact that at GDS you were given the freedom to make decisions — lots of decisions, from the mundane to the significant. Your education at GDS has helped you to develop the fundamental skills that support making choices and decisions that can benefit you and others. These include: listening carefully to one another, arguing respectfully and confidently for what you believe is just and fair, revealing an ability to be empathic, and showing a willingness to give back to your community. In order to navigate the vicissitudes of life successfully, you will need to elevate the analytical and decision-making skills you learned at GDS to levels that encompass the greater complexities of career, family, and community.
I am confident that as you make your way into and through adulthood, every one of you will contribute on many occasions to “. . . the best of times.” When you leave this auditorium today, we expect you will venture forth with an awareness and a spirit that have flourished at GDS so that whatever opportunities or challenges come your way the world will benefit from your presence.
Sam Hecht '11, Student Speaker
Good afternoon Russell, Tom, my teachers, students, friends, parents, and family. My first draft of this speech was a spoken word poem that went a little something like this. My name is Sam and I’m here to say, I welcome you to graduation day. K through 12th, those were the years. Did first twice, now I’m older than my peers.
But that’s as far as I got. So I began again. I thought about what I wanted to say. I know that as long as GDS has a Head of School like Russell Shaw and teachers like Laura Rosberg, Bill Wallace, John Burghardt, and Richard Avidon, who teach from their hearts and not from a playbook, that GDS will stay the same way it has always been, a place where weirdness reigns. I am here to celebrate that, but more important, I am here to celebrate what makes our class special.
In Lower/Middle School, the Class of 2011 was almost always in the spotlight. When someone vandalized the bathrooms in third grade, we were blamed. When Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties got out of hand, we were blamed. And when someone, or something, pulled that fire alarm in fifth grade, we were blamed. We were always known as the “bad” class.
During our 8th grade graduation, I talked about how that opinion of our class was incorrect. We weren’t bad, we were just out of the ordinary. We had so many unique kids in our grade. What many people had mistaken for problematic was actually a very skilled and interesting, but quirky, group of people. I said we needed to celebrate who we are and keep ourselves weird.
Four years later, and I stand in front of an even larger group of skilled and quirky students. We have ping-pong champions, congressionally honored photographers, master debaters, Olympic-class skaters, a nationally ranked kayaker who has joined the Navy, and even a Croatian. However, our grade still has an undeserved reputation. When the name JMAZ was written all over the school, we got blamed. When someone had an innocent late night dentist appointment, we got blamed. And when a room was mysteriously filled with sand after our senior prank, we got blamed. We rarely showed up for assemblies. We rarely participated in class votes. And we rarely went to the Haunted Forest together on Halloween. The word on the street was that our class was a bunch of slackers. A bunch of kids who came up short when compared to other classes.
But, they should never have compared us to other classes. They should have compared us to Charlie Sheen. “I’m different. I have a different constitution,” the actor extraordinaire says, “I have a different brain, I have a different heart. I got tiger blood, man.” Charlie Sheen is saying that he is a new and improved part of the human race. The same can be said for the Class of 2011. With our frequent barbecues in Rock Creek Park, our class used Facebook events and charcoal chimneys to build a grade community our own way. We are independently creative, starting things like the freestyle club, PAWS, and the Moustache Gazette. No past class has created more than we have, and that is because we are not like past classes. We are what future classes should aspire to be.
Justin Beiber, the bard and spokesman of our generation says, "I want my world to be fun. No parents, no rules, no nothing. Like, no one can stop me. No one can stop me." What I believe this miniature version of a human is saying, is that no one can stop him, and that is a feeling shared by not only the GDS grade of 2011, but by our entire generation. All over the world, our generation is quickly becoming known as “the Facebook Generation.” Not because we do nothing but stalk other people’s pictures all day, but because of our ability to use social media to create communities of strong individuals that refuse to be silenced. Across the Middle East, kids like us are rising up and throwing off the shackles of tyranny. In November, British students banded together to protest the raising of tuition fee caps and the reduction of public funding for higher education. In Spain, young men and women are demanding better living standards, more jobs, and a fairer system of democracy. Our grade’s community is similarly independent, creative, and yes even sometimes disruptive, and that is why we are prepared to join our generation’s great revolution.
If you leave here today remembering only one thing anyone has said, let it be this beautiful quotation from my dear friend and mentor, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, more commonly known as Lady Gaga.
My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars
She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on< br /> In the glass of her boudoir
"There's nothin wrong with lovin who you are" She said,
"'cause he made you perfect, babe"
"So hold your head up girl and you'll go far.”
Leah Sarbib '11, Student Speaker
Class of 2011, Families, Friends,
I got a lot of advice about how I should write this speech. The second I would tell anyone that I would be speaking at graduation they’d immediately tell me, “oh that’s so wonderful you have to thank all your teachers and be sure to include funny anecdotes from your time at the school and in the end say something inspiring but the most important part is that the speech is entirely your own and genuinely comes from you.” I got particularly helpful advice from one teacher who told me that to keep my speech lively I should make some jokes that only the students would understand and poke some fun at the administration. So at first I thought I could mention something about what we realized after a couple of students got in trouble sophomore year: a certain administrator has impeccable taste in pipes. Then I thought maybe I’d say something about Russell, but really when your esteemed Head of School loves Dr. Seuss and sings songs while accompanying himself on the guitar during the Christmas assembly, what is there to make fun of? We have been so lucky to have had the privilege of being the first graduating class to have Russell Shaw as Head of School. But it’s terrible for my speech because now I just feel robbed of the opportunity to say something about Peter Branch’s glorious eyebrows. So I decided to try something different.
I’m good at giving advice. I learned that about myself in first grade when the kindergartners came to visit our class to learn about the perils that awaited them the next year. It was the end of a really tough week filled with stacks of optional homework that I obviously did, and my little first grade self was feeling pretty stressed out. So when one of the kindergartners asked for advice I raised my hand and dropped this bit of knowledge: Value your naptime. I had never felt so wise. So, I will once again say to you, Class of 2011, value your naptime. Because, the thing is, when I was in kindergarten, I hated naptime, I didn’t want to be forced to lie down in the middle of the day when I wasn’t tired and do nothing. I didn’t realize how wonderful that bit of time that I’d taken for granted was until it was gone. But because I didn’t realize how special it was until it was too late, I did nothing to preserve my nap time, I didn’t even fall asleep in class or during lunch time! I know that many of you are ready to leave. You’re all antsy right now because you just want to snatch your diplomas and get out of high school. But GDS is a truly special place and it would be terrible to make the same mistake I made in kindergarten.
Here’s an example of what I mean about what a special place GDS is: I have been a vegetarian for nine years now. Sharing this fact about myself elicits a wide variety of responses. When I would tell people at my summer camp, they’d be impressed by my will power. When I did a home-stay program in Spain, they couldn’t understand why I didn’t eat meat and kept trying to sneak it into my food. GDS students, without fail, always ask me the same question when they learn I’m a vegetarian: Do you eat animal crackers? This from what is supposed to be a group of some of the best-educated kids in the DC area. I know. When people began asking me this question in sixth grade I thought it was monumentally stupid, but the more often people asked me the more I came to realize what an unconventionally insightful question it was. Technically, a vegetarian is a person who does not eat animals and animal crackers are, in a way, animals. By asking this question, the GDS student challenges the preconceived notion of what a vegetarian is without assuming that he or she knows the answer. Only at GDS could a layered dough treat shaped like a lion inadvertently induce a heated argument about the meaning of words. And at another school, maybe a Quaker one down the road, I wonder if they’d have the sense of humor to ask.
OK, now I’m going to shift paradigms a bit (that OK with you, Bobby?). A work that I think truly epitomizes our grade at the moment, in all its delicacies and complexities, is one of the most heart-wrenching, thought-provoking movies of our generation: Toy Story 3. For those of you who don’t know, in the latest—the last—installment of the Toy Story series, Andy, the boy who owns all the toys, is going away to college. At the end of the movie, Andy decides to give his toys to his three-year-old neighbor. Andy cared for, taught, and helped these toys through three feature films and for those of you sitting in front of me—through our childhoods. So when I was watching the movie I had trouble understanding why he decides to give the toys away. It just felt so unfair that the toys must separate from the boy they love who has always been a part of their lives. But I realize now that what made the Toy Story movies so special was the adventures that the toys had together, and the bonds the toys formed with one another. Andy made those adventures possible by bringing all the toys together and teaching them everything they know. But after some time, it’s just not right for the toys to stay with Andy, they have to venture out on their own. And though they’ll never return back to Andy, though we’ll probably never all be in the same place at the same time again, the toys will always have their friendships with one another, if they choose to preserve them. And no matter what, any time Woody looks on the underside of his boot, the name Andy will still be sketched there, not perfect with its backwards N and oversized D, but indelible.
Still, we will never exactly be able to return to how things are now. Our friends will move away, our teachers will think we’re lame if we come back to visit before Thanksgiving break, and we will leave the homes we grew up in. In that way, for some of us graduation is a bit like dying. But, to quote the second greatest headmaster ever (after Russell, of course), Dumbledore says, “after all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” And GDS has certainly prepared us well for that adventure.
In fact, Russell asked us what we were going to take away with us from GDS. It’s quite a daunting question, but, Russell, I’ll try to answer it. What will I take from GDS? I will take my diploma, if all goes according to plan. I’ll take The Things They Carried, a great book from a great English class. I’ll take the scar on my knee from when I tripped during run-in. I’ll take an extensive understanding of the perpendicular postulate. I’ll take 4:00 AM conversations about the benefits of seizing the moment because you can sleep when you’re dead. I’ll take the memory of the first time I cursed, after a heated argument in fifth grade about Molly Pitcher and feminism in history. I’ll take the knowledge of how not to walk like a victim. I’ll take the bit of white cloth from when Aliza got married to Alexa Cerf’s big toe. I’ll take a tiny blue alarm clock. I’ll take the erasers I got as bonuses from Anthony in third grade. I’ll take a love for theater, and an answer to the question: “what show, what show?” I’ll take my animal crackers (I do eat them). I’ll take my sense of right and wrong, tried and tested by the current events forum. I’ll take most of what I am and a lot of what I will become. I’ll take great friendships and I won’t let them go. Because what you take is not nearly as important as what you keep. As cheesy as it is, I want to let you all know that I’m glad to have grown up with you and nothing I can say in this speech can possibly do justice to this exceptional school, the incomparable Class of 2011 and the people who have helped shape who I am. And even though some friendships may fade and one or two of us might forget the words to Passover All Our Houses, Russell, each one of us will take the indelible name, scrawled with care in black sharpie on the underside of our boot. So, Class of 2011, congratulations, have a great adventure, and like our eighth grade sweatshirts said: WE DID IT!
Bobby Asher, Faculty Speaker
Thank you to the Class of 2011 for allowing me the honor of speaking today, and thank you to my parents who are here today and who once again bought me a new suit for graduation
As you all must know by now, GDS is a special place. Having graduated from a nearby high school where only properly attired boys attend and where students’ last names are more commonly used than their first, I know personally what an extraordinary place GDS is.
When outsiders initially encounter the world we call GDS, the first thing they seem to notice and the first thing that seems to hang them up the most is that, in addition to teachers calling their students by their first names, here students call their teachers by their first names.
At GDS students are encouraged to challenge authority. Here students learn to become advocates, change agents. At GDS, we shun convention and celebrate the unconventional. At GDS, our mascot is a grasshopper, and we don’t even have a football team. Well, we did this year—a co-ed flag football team, and they got spanked by the faculty team at Country Market Day.
At GDS it really is more about the process than the product. While talking about how much GDS changed has persisted throughout my nearly two decades at the school, one thing has not. And I witness it—every day—our students simply love to learn.
That said, however, there is one thing that has changed, relatively recently. GDS seems to have become the school of choice for the country’s leading conservative (and neo-con) journalists. As the son of a Sidwell alum who spent almost 50 years writing for The Washington Post, I particularly love the image of David Brooks calling Charles Krauthamer and David Frum to hear more about their kids’ experiences at GDS.
As much as we try here to focus on asking the right questions, at GDS, as at any school and in life, it can often be more about knowing the answers, about being right.
Students “know the right answers.” When they do, they raise their hands, and we call on them. Properly prompted, they proudly share their knowledge and righteously revel in their rightness.
Sure learning is important—I feel like it’s somewhere in our mission—but being right earns students points. Points get you into college. Points make you happy. Even better, points make your parents happy. I know this because as a teacher, above all, I am a distributor of points.
Being right—both in school and outside it—simply put, is fun. We all know the feeling: those glorious moments of I told you so. Is there a better feeling as an adolescent that to prove your teachers or your parents wrong, to outsmart them, render them less than, or, better yet, leave them scratching their heads in awe?
These triumphs, both large and small, really do make us feel good. Recent research tells us that the dopamine surge we experience when we answer a question, solve a problem, or win an argument—when we feel right—is real and it is addictive.
While being right, more often than not, has gotten you where you are today—on the verge of receiving your high school diploma—I am going to talk today, a little bit, about the importance of being wrong.
We all know what it feels like to be wrong. And let’s face it—it isn’t all that fun.
As readily as we admit to being fallible—“to err is human,” we say. “Everybody makes mistakes,” our parents tell us—Sasha and Malia did. Heck, even Hannah Montana knows “nobody’s perfect”—it is nowhere near as reinforcing or as pleasurable as being right. In fact, it can be an autonomic nightmare, sending shockwaves throughout our bodies—making our hearts pound, our blood pressure rise, our stomachs churn, and our beings flag.
One of my favorite stories involves a reporter from the Village Voice, Ross Gelbspan, who was assigned to cover a press conference in 1972 about the Limits of Growth, what was then and what is still the best-selling environmental book of all time. Its author, Donella Meadows, warned that three factors—increasing population, increasing pollution, and diminishing resources—were converging and about to hit a point of exponential takeoff. As foreboding as her ominous forecast was, the reporter was struck by the grim predictions Meadows was making and the fact that she was pregnant. Somehow, he wrote, “she maintained personal hopefulness in the midst of massive gloom and doom.” So impressed he was by this notion of optimism and renewal in even the bleakest of times that he used it as the kicker to his story. The voice printed his article on the front page. The only problem was (and you probably guessed it by now) Donella Meadows was not pregnant.
Where I went to school, believe it or not, being wrong could be similarly traumatic.
I will forever remember my 11th grade pre-cal class. My teacher Mr. Donald Brown—we knew his first name only because he was the author of our textbook—was notorious for recognizing and seeming to celebrate his students’ wrongness. “That is so wrong, Asher, so thoroughly, so emphatically, and so ponderously wrong. Boards!”
“Boards” meant you had to return after school to wash the blackboards (this was the pre-white board, pre promethean era). And, not surprisingly, he had a certain way it had to be done. Obviously the board had to be erased prior to washing—pretty standard. But after erasure the errant responder had to execute 3 separate washings—first a cold-water sideways swabbing, followed by a vertical warm-water cleansing, and finally a second horizontal cold-water rinse. It was done correctly—like homework and classwork were supposed to be—or it was done all over again.
On Mt. St. Alban, mistakes were obviously frowned upon—punished even—and we quickly learned that there wasn’t much room for error—at least in a precalculus course where the teacher also happened to have authored our textbook.
GDS, as most of you know, is a different place. Not only is it safe to argue about the quadratic formula or the Arab-Israeli conflict, GDS students will debate—and we do have the strongest debate team in the country—everything from the merits of community service to the appropriateness of certain moves on the dance floor. There aren’t many schools where an advisee (let’s call him “Spaz Lotenberg”) will spend an entire activity period strenuously arguing the case for grinding or grumping or whatever it is you do at dances.
I had a similar encounter a couple of weeks ago. Without my saying a word about the nature of our meeting, I asked a particular senior who had been getting considerable and consistent air as he drove over the speed bumps in the parking lot, why he thought I had called him into my office. Quickly he hypothesized: “You might perceive that I am not in control of my car when I drive, but I am.” Sure you are, Kevin.
It was moments like these—when I, like my adolescent adversaries, felt so plainly and unmistakably right that it scared me a bit. These situations where I was so right and they were so wrong, actually made me fearful. I was, dare I say it, becoming one of those obstinate, intractable, incorrigible autocrats. I was becoming a high-school administrator.
This “crisis of (over) confidence” led me to read a book about it over spring break. It was aptly and succinctly titled Being Wrong. In it, Kathryn Schulz analyzes everything from the importance of being wrong and its implications to the emotions we experience both when we and others are wrong.
Ultimately she concludes that being right, or should I say, overindulging the feeling we are right, can be inhibiting, even dangerous.
And I’m not just talking about speeding through the parking lot or playing music or hanging inappropriate posters in the Forum. I’m talking about blind belief in economic principles that can lead to worldwide economic crises, I’m talking about the existence (or non-existence) of weapons of mass destruction.
But let’s not get too serious here … .
What I found most compelling—and most useful for us here at GDS—was a section of the book in which Shulz writes about the assumptions we make about those who don’t agree with us, who don’t share our beliefs.
The first she calls the ignorance assumption; i.e., the reason you don’t agree with me is simply that you don’t know what I know. Once I explain my views to you, you will enthusiastically and unequivocally adopt them.
The second is the idiocy assumption—that, even though I’ve explained to you why I believe what I do, you don’t agree with me. Thus, you must not be as smart as I am.
Finally, my favorite of the bunch, the evil assumption—that, if you know what I know, and you are as smart as I am, and you don’t agree with me, you must be evil. If we assume that people who are wrong are ignorant or idiotic or evil, it is no wonder we are hesitant to confront the possibility of error in ourselves.
Being right might be gratifying, but it is also static. Being wrong is hard and humbling, but it is dynamic. It encourages a journey rather than a destination, a sense that we have not yet “arrived.”
In short, what I am asking you to do is to challenge your own assumptions, not just those of others.
We live in a global world, where the stakes are perhaps higher than ever. We are going to need people in the room willing to explore every option, to acknowledge multiple perspectives, to appreciate differing viewpoints.
In short, we need, you guessed it, diversity.
It is human nature to surround ourselves with people who share our beliefs. We live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools, and work in the same or similar fields.
I guess what I am saying is that it will be up to you guys to reach out, not only to acknowledge and understand the views of others, but perhaps even more important to reconsider your own.
Confidence is an asset, and GDS has certainly fostered it—in all of you. “Take away our willingness to overestimate ourselves,” writes Shulz, “and we wouldn’t dare undertake half the things we do. We get things wrong because we have an enduring confidence in our own minds; and we face up to that wrongness in the faith that, having learned something, we will get it right the next time.
In acknowledging our fallibility, notes philosopher Richard Rorty, we endorse “the permanent possibility of someone having a better idea.”
I’ll close with some advice from one of my favorite philosophers of the 21st century, Mr. Tom Yoder, who shared with me an important anecdote about being wrong. Several years ago, led by members of the Class of 2011, a number of students—a large number of students—showed up to picture day wearing fake moustaches.
In an administrative panic, Tom, a navy man, reflexively order the operation shut down. After a lively exchange with students and careful consideration and consultation, in his characteristically thoughtful way, Tom did the unthinkable: he changed his mind. And an important era—the moustache era at GDS—began.
So, Class of 2011, congratulations. Embrace being all that it is to be a Hopper: love and live to learn, celebrate diversity, continue to question authorities of all kinds and to have the hard conversations, dare to err, and, in ways small and large, continue to make the world around you a better place.
We are counting on you.
Richard W. Roberts, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia
William Coleman III joined an organization and told the following story at his induction ceremony. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain during the second World War, accepted an invitation to be the speaker for the graduation at Eton. At the appointed hour, he strode to the podium, looked about at the graduates for a long moment, and finally said: "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up." He left the podium, and that was it. It brings to mind advice I heard Dean Kurt Schmoke of the Howard University School of Law say he received once about public speaking: "For your words to be immortal, they need not be eternal." There's something attractive about that when you contemplate what to say as a graduation speaker. What my trainers told me when I was a young trial lawyer was: "If you want to be seen, stand up. If you want to be heard, speak up. If you want to be appreciated, shut up."
But you know what? The Georgetown Day High School Class of 2011 has never been known to just "shut up." You have not craved appreciation; what has marked you is that you have wanted to be heard. So you do "speak up." You have wanted to be seen. So you do "stand up." And I hope you carry those traits forward into your college careers and beyond, because you have delivered some valuable messages to this community. When Fred Phelps brought his ragtag few to picket your school with his message of hate and homophobia, you spoke up and said "No. We treasure every member of our community." When the people of Haiti and Japan suffered the crushing devastation of massive earthquakes, you stood up and collected supplies for your sisters and brothers there. When the economy tanked and squeezed GDS's financial ability to ensure an economically diverse student body, you as a class dug down into your pockets and reached up with a class gift that shouted out "Yes" to diversity.
And sometimes when you have stood up and spoken up, they have been things of sheer beauty and wonder to behold. When you act with Laura and Jim, and sing with Katie and John-Michael and Ben, and dance with Maria and Jan, and perform concerts with Kevin, and excel on the field and the court with Kathy's and Bri's teams, and build sets with Will, and capture imagery with Nicholas and Laura and Michelle, you display a grace and strength and creativity that mark you as jewels. And when you have stood up and spoken up, urged on by Kristin and Susan and Kevin and others, and filled those trophy cases with science and debate and academic competition awards, we kvell, knowing we are sending out into the world some of the finest minds, too, that the world will see.
Your fine minds will be put to the test after you leave the relative cocoon of your homes and of GDS. You have been blessed with this rare combination of environments that has supported your independent thought and critical analysis. Here, we value creativity. We celebrate difference. You practice expressing yourselves to the edge of your reasoning. You have captured this spirit in adopting your mantra "Keep GDS weird."
Not all of the world beyond is this way, however. You will encounter institutional pressures to stay within your channels, to reinforce the status quo, to conform. Minds less flexed than yours will construct obstacles to advancing principles important to human dignity and to the prosperity of the human spirit. They may make your road more challenging and complicated. Prepare for these discomfiting moments by remembering that you are not alone. Many before you faced down these pressures, and many yet to come will conquer similar challenges. Some before you have spoken with their words, and some have spoken with their actions.
Think of this world, this country, only fifty years ago last month. Hundreds of young women and men, very close to you in age, faced down the might of the state and the bile of the Ku Klux Klan. They encountered the lash of fire hoses, the incendiary heat of firebombs. They were taunted and vilified by those intent upon preserving the oppression of Jim Crow laws in interstate transportation terminals. But the Freedom Riders knew it was wrong, and from the ashes of that first day in May of 1961, they rose up to say "the Freedom Rides will go on, one way or another." And so they did. You and I today do not have to walk into an eatery at National Airport or Union Station or the bus terminal and see seating signs saying "colored only" or "whites only." The Freedom Riders grew this country.
And think more recently of the worldwide economic meltdown we have seen and the voices we have heard. Very complex. A Michael Lewis article spoke of how the construction industry normally accounts for about 10% of a country's gross domestic product. Ireland's had swollen to 25%. Developers absorbed a fifth of the entire Irish workforce and went on an orgy of building thousands of new houses. Irish banks had more than tripled their real estate lending from the norm of 8% up to 28%. But, money for other businesses was drying up. Something was going on. A very young guy named Morgan Kelly, an economics professor in Dublin, was troubled. He knew that there were not enough people in Ireland to fill the new houses, and there was no international demand for them. He saw that Ireland's banks shoveled money to developers like it was a family affair: if they liked the man, they didn't bother to evaluate his project. Morgan Kelly spoke up and warned about how the real estate bubble would burst and the banks would crash if the cycle continued. The reaction? Banks derided him as unpatriotic. Journalists echoed the banks and refused to publish Kelly's articles, labeling him Dr. Doom. "You're either for us or against us," went the refrain. The public relations office at Kelly's university tried to find someone in the economics department to write an attack piece on Kelly. In the face of vacant skyscrapers and empty housing developments all around, Ireland's bank regulator parried the obvious toxicity of the bank loans Kelly cited and declared the banks fundamentally sound. The prime minister wondered aloud why complainers like Kelly don't just commit suicide. But Morgan Kelly stood firm. He spoke up more. And when the Irish legislature guaranteed the loans as if they were debts of the state, it sank Ireland but raised the status of Morgan Kelly as a prescient patriot. Irish citizens who did heed his warnings against buying real estate thanked him for protecting their life savings. The counsels of government eventually listened attentively to his every assessment. Kelly is helping to grow his country.
Now, it's your turn. All of your family members, friends, teachers, and administrators gathered here today to watch you accept your diploma will be looking toward your pioneering moves going forward. And on this day, June 12, 2011, the centennial of the day my late father was born, June 12, 1911, I am sure he is smiling down upon all you pioneers of the class of 2011, and upon his graduating grand-daughter Jillian, and her super athlete constant companions Dominique and Dwight, and Danielle and Connor and her host of other buddies whom Vonya and I get to see at the house. And hopefully Dad's smiling down upon his son who has been given the honor to address you today. Russell Shaw, thank you again for this honor.
Class of 2011, we don't ever want you to "shut up." I challenge you to gather your skills, harness your creativity, speak out and help grow this world. Leave it a far better place than the one you found. Let those efforts be the markers you leave behind on the path you travel. Let them illuminate the greatness you have pushed this world to achieve. Like Churchill reportedly told the Eton graduates, never give up. And to paraphrase Robert Browning, another Englishman whose quote my mother often recited, "your reach should exceed your grasp—or what's a heaven for?" Go for it Class of 2011, and good luck! RWR ©
Class of 2010 Graduation
June 13, 2010
Welcome: Peter Branch, Head of School
From the Principal: Kevin Barr, High School Principal
Faculty Speaker: Louise Brennan, High School English Teacher
Parent Speaker: Lanny A. Breuer
Faculty Speaker: Louise Brennan, HS English Teacher
Faculty, administration, parents, honored guests and friends, and members of the Class of 2010—
Let me first thank you for giving me the honor of speaking here today. I must admit that writing a graduation speech is more than a little intimidating. But I keep reminding myself that we as teachers have handed you a lot of intimidating assignments over your years here, and that you’ve produced beautiful things in response. So now it’s our turn to offer you something in return.
Earlier this spring, the English Department—like other departments—began to face up to the task of trying to hire some new teachers for next year. This undertaking seemed not just daunting, in fact, but impossible, since we—like others throughout the school—were trying to find new teachers to replace the irreplaceable ones who are leaving us this year. Nevertheless, we did see some strengths as we watched candidates teaching the interview classes. One candidate was clearly talented; she was smart, articulate, and knowledgeable. But was she right for us? Those of you who watched her teach had a suggestion: Maybe we could GDSify her.
So what does GDSification mean? When someone asks us to define the culture at GDS, we might talk about being on a first-name basis, about students and teachers conferring in the hallways, about hard courses and fine preparation for college, about having no cafeteria or about our football team. We could talk about the accepted truth around here—that everyone is a winner—where we have “the pride that comes from playing well,/ regardless of the score” and where we’re occasionally a bit taken aback when our teams actually WIN a banner or when someone hits a grand slam. We could even talk about our only rule—that we must wear shoes. These things are all true—but knowing these facts hardly counts as becoming GDSified.
So what is it about us?
First, yes, we’re smart. But we’re not just smart; we’re funny-smart. We’re laugh-out-loud-in-the-middle-of-class smart. We could be immersed in a serious discussion of existentialism or acid rain or the use of the subjunctive or –help me out, math department (factors? Sine and co-sine?)—and we can move immediately to a funny, witty remark or even a clever cover-up of the dreaded cell phone going off (right, Alex Damato?). We’re a place where there’s a running joke in most classrooms—maybe about the repeated protestations of love for one of the Jay triplets, or even about when, exactly, Carlos will walk into a certain 8th-period English class. We’re a place where the sport of choice—at least in the winter—might be speed chess. And in the fall we’re smart enough, and funny enough, to institute the game of quidditch, with teachers dressed in choir robes and carrying Topher’s daughter’s wands in order to be the line judges. It’s just plain fun—and often funny—to be smart here at GDS. That new teacher needs to learn just how fun it is to laugh and learn at the same time.
Second, we’re people who like debate. There’s almost no topic here that is beyond debate. We sometimes complain that at GDS we just talk, talk, talk, but never do anything. But I think that by talking we are doing something. We are lining up our ideas again the ideas of others, not because we are a disagreeable lot, but perhaps because we are at our smartest when someone else offers us a perspective that we hadn’t yet considered. This is not just because we agree with Voltaire: “I wholly disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Rather we line ourselves up with Socrates who says that the unexamined life is unfit to be lived by man, and with Walter Lippmann who argues that the “opposition is indispensable” because it makes us re-examine what we believe and thus come closer to truth. My brother-in-law (with whom I am sometimes known to disagree) always reminds me, “If the two of us agree on everything, then one of us isn’t thinking.” In the midst of debate here at GDS, we are thinking hard—and that new teacher needs to love that debate as much as we do.
Finally, that teaching candidate needs to know that one of our favorite expressions around here is, “This may be a stretch but . . .” We get a special light in our eyes when we hear this phrase, and it’s not because the “stretchers” we tell are like Huck Finn’s – since his are always the outrageous fictions of someone trying to cope with the terrible truths around him. Our stretchers keep us alive, reminding us of the power of imagination to tell us truths that simple facts cannot always capture. One of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes chapters involves Calvin using up an entire roll of film taking pictures of Hobbes: Hobbes on his head, doing arabesques and somersaults, showing off his joy and love of life. When Calvin’s father has the film developed (back in the day, you know, film actually had to be sent off to be developed), he’s infuriated: Each picture shows a stuffed animal sitting limply in front of the camera. Being GDSified means recognizing that Hobbes really is alive, even if that camera can’t catch him in action. Our stretches seek to capture truths, not to avoid them (as Huck’s do); our stretches recognize that imagination is a gift; our “stretches” are those of a runner limbering up, getting ready to run the race of his life.
So what does the teaching candidate need to learn in order to be GDSified? She’ll need to learn what you already know: how much fun learning is around here; how deep, searching debate can strengthen our integrity and understanding; how stretching ourselves both in the classroom and in the world can remind us of what is possible. In fact, she’ll need to “stretch” herself in order to keep up with you—and she’ll need to love doing it.
So what about those of us who have already been GDSified? What about you? Where does your time spent as Mighty Hoppers leave you, especially at this moment where we are poised, with you, between past and future? Oskar Schell, in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, comments that the moment before his father started his stories was “the best moment.” And Pooh, when Christopher Robin asks him what he likes best, replies, “Well, what I like best---“ and then he has to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey is a very good thing to do, there is a moment just before you begin to eat it which is better than when you are, but Pooh doesn’t know exactly what it is called.
So perhaps this is my favorite moment—when we can look back at your own GDSification and forward to your about-to-happen encounters with the world beyond the walls of GDS. It’s the moment before Thomas Schell’s story and before Pooh’s snack, the moment before you leave us. We don’t know yet what adventures lie ahead, but you are about to head out into the world, and I can only assume that you’re going to try to GDSify it. So you’ll play Quidditch and speed chess, you’ll debate the challenges, and you’ll imagine the solutions; and you’ll make other people want to join you.
We’ve loved watching you stretch, we’ve loved being stretched by you, and we can’t wait to see what will happen as you begin to stretch out into the world. Keep in touch so that we won’t miss you too much.
Parent Speaker: Lanny A. Breuer
To Headmaster Peter Branch, members of the Board of Trustees, school faculty, parents, relatives, friends, Sam Breuer(!), and the other incredibly impressive graduates sitting before me, thank you for giving me the great privilege of addressing you today.
And what a day this is. You all are graduating! Can you believe it?! The day you probably thought seemed so far away when you started at GDS years ago is now upon us. The day your parents and relatives have been looking forward to with so much joy, love, anticipation—and, yes, sadness too—is here. Amazing!
As Assistant Attorney General, I tend to give a lot of speeches. But, believe me, talking about Mexican drug cartels or financial fraud is nothing compared to this. You see – this is my chance. This is my chance to speak not as a public official, but as a father—a father who will try his best not to embarrass his son, but who is also so bursting with pride and emotion that words really can’t describe it.
This school is part of the fabric of the Breuer family, as I know it is part of all of yours. Nancy and I have been GDS parents for 13 years, with three more still to go. Over the years, we’ve seen our children and your children grow in every way imaginable. From the classroom to the athletic field, and everything in between, GDS has instilled in our children a deep sense of community, a profound respect for differences, and, perhaps more than anything, the courage to try – the courage to try new classes, new sports, new friendships, new perspectives, new experiences, new…. well, just about anything. What a gift. What an education.
And, of course, it’s not just all of our children who’ve grown. We, as parents, also have grown. Digging a latrine . . . or living as a colonist at Turkey Run . . . or picking ticks off other parents in Prince William Forest . . . or getting lost navigating a group of 8-year-olds on one of those adventures (don’t ask me which one0—believe me, for a guy from Queens, these are all growing experiences!
GDS, we know, is a place that forges the deepest of bonds. For the Breuers, those bonds have come through watching countless baseball and basketball games, handing out prizes at Country Market day, or reading through the parent comments during the headmaster search process. For others of you, those bonds developed from attending opening night of the spring musical, helping out at a local soup kitchen, trekking to a debate halfway across the country, rehabbing a house desperately in need of repair, or keeping score at the quiz bowl tournament when you knew that you couldn’t correctly answer even one lousy question!
Ultimately, though, what I’m sure we’ll all treasure most about GDS is the warmth of the community and the friends we’ve made. Our home—like yours, I’m sure—has been filled over the years with so many GDS parents and students, giving us and our children the gift of close, meaningful, and enduring friendships. Fred, Galen, Jackson, Sam, Lexi, and others of you—you began as friends of Sam, but you now are really part of our extended family. Indeed, for all of us celebrating today’s graduation, the relationships formed at GDS will not be fleeting connections long forgotten later in life. They will be lasting friendships, anchoring all that lies ahead.
Tragically, not everyone who should be here today is here today. The GDS community was shaken in 2002 by the death of Ethan Alperstein. Ethan was a classmate, teammate, and very close friend of Sam’s—someone whose picture sits on Sam’s desk to this day. The GDS community pulled together in that year of tragedy, and the beautiful garden in the lower/middle school dedicated to Ethan stands as a testament to that unity, as does the annual award for the fifth-grader who best embodies the qualities that we treasured in Ethan. This graduating class decided that its class gift would be used by the school for financial aid in Ethan’s memory—a message to Ethan’s parents, Lois and Les, and to the rest of the world, that Ethan will never be forgotten.
GDS became the first integrated school in the D.C. area when it opened its doors in 1945. It has since maintained a reputation as a progressive institution dedicated to providing an outstanding education to children of all cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, as well as sexual orientations. Behind any school like GDS you’ll find a visionary, dynamic headmaster, and GDS has had such a headmaster for the past 14 years in Peter Branch.
As you know, Peter is retiring, but his impact on the school will long be remembered. As headmaster, he presided over the expansion and modernization of the lower and middle schools and the high school, which required two major capital campaigns. Peter also wholeheartedly embraced and nurtured the school’s historical commitment to diversity. Finally, and most important, Peter has built upon the school’s record of academic excellence. You, the Class of 2010, are the beneficiaries of Peter’s tireless efforts—and those who came before him—to safeguard the GDS mission of providing a top-notch, progressive education.
Peter, you will be greatly missed.
Peter, of course, did not labor alone. He—and you—have benefited from a truly unbelievable faculty. I think we can safely say that the teachers at GDS are among the most gifted you will find at any secondary school in the country.
Evan Smith—you probably could get even me (who barely made it out of high school Spanish!) quoting from Virgil. C.A.—you lead a fabulous science department and could not be a more devoted to our children. Topher Dunn—you’re not only an inspired history and psychology teacher, but also, as we discovered at the senior banquet, a mean bass player in snazzy white-and-brown bucs!
I really could go on and on because these and so many other teachers, coaches, counselors, and specialists at GDS have given their heart and soul to you, the students—working not only to develop you as scholars, artists, athletes, debaters, journalists, and musicians, but also to build character; to instill confidence; and to push you out of the box and outside your comfort zone.
So now, graduates, with this extraordinary education in your pocket, with all the friends you’ve made by your side, with the substantial love and investment—very substantial investment, I might add—by your parents and relatives, the question for you is: What are you going to do with it? How will you contribute?
I say “contribute” for a reason. Many of you enjoy great privilege in your lives. That privilege, along with this education, has put you on a path paved with opportunity. As your parents, we want you to seize that opportunity. We really do. But we also want you to remember that while, as Winston Churchill said, “we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”
Give richly, graduates. Give of your time, of your intelligence, of your spirit, of your generosity, and of your love. Give because it’s actually easy for you do so. Give because not giving does a disservice to the education you’ve received and to the country that needs your service.
Now, when I say “service,” I don’t mean only government service. Although I will tell you, frankly, that government service is a wonderful way to give back to your country. I come to work excited every single day—excited to be serving the American people and feeling so privileged to be in a position to do so. But there are, of course, many other ways aside from government service to give back. Indeed, whether you choose to volunteer your time to a pro bono client, at a local homeless shelter, in a community medical clinic, at your local fire house, or in a sports league for disadvantaged youth, all I ask is that you do something! Do something that allows you to say, “I helped my community and my country today. I gave back.”
Trust me, this country needs you more than you can know. This country needs leaders in every field and in every community who have had the kind of enlightened education that you’ve had; who can push for the values that this school holds so dear. That’s how this country will keep moving forward.
Think about it. We moved in this country from racial segregation in the 1960s to the election of the first African-American president in 2008. How did we get there? Through courage, conviction, and enlightened perspectives—the kind of perspectives that GDS has nurtured in all of you.
The election of President Obama is, of course, an example of progress and opportunity on the grandest of scales. But there are many other examples—some right here in the GDS community.
My mother was a Holocaust survivor who was not allowed to attend high school by the German Nazi regime. Today, some 70 years later, she watches as her grandson graduates from one of the most prestigious secondary schools in the country, and her son, an Assistant Attorney General, delivers the school’s commencement address.
Or how about your classmate, Ezekial Adigun? Ezekial’s parents came to the U.S. from Ghana in the 1970s and have built a life in D.C. Ezekial’s father, who was a teacher in Ghana, started working in a parking garage here, before becoming a manager and then eventually a corrections officer at a halfway house. His mother first was a computer technician and now works as a nurse in a nursing home. Ezekial’s GDS education has not come easy. Beginning in the first grade, he would be dropped at the home of a seventh-grader before taking two buses to school—a trip that took at least an hour and 15 minutes. Starting in fifth grade, at age 10, Ezekial did the trip alone. Two and a half hours of travel—and sometimes more—each day.
Ezekial is off to Harvard in the fall. I asked him what he thought was the most important attribute a person could have. And you know what he told me? Humility.
Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Surely Yogi doesn’t know anyone from GDS. I think our future could not be brighter in your hands. How could I be wrong? Whether it’s medicine, education, engineering, finance, journalism, politics, law, or something else that, frankly, this lawyer-dad can’t think of, you all will be the leaders in your fields if you want to be – and maybe even the leaders of this country.
But in getting there, remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.” I believe that. You all have so much potential in you—even greatness, in whatever form that takes—but you’ll need enthusiasm to see it realized.
So find things to do that truly excite you, and find people to be with whom you love and respect. Take time to enjoy your lives. I’m a big believer in that. But, at the same time, please do not be lazy. Push yourself. Push yourself not only in your career, but also as a member of your community, as a spouse or partner, as a parent, as a friend . . . as a person. And every now and then, stop and ask yourself, “Am I reaching my potential? Am I giving back? Am I proud of who I am?”
And as you answer these questions throughout your life, remember that, as Abraham Lincoln said, “your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.” Lincoln should know. Before he became President, he had had two failed businesses, six failed runs for elective office, a fiancée who died, and a nervous breakdown. You—hopefully—won’t ever know such heartache, but whatever life has in store for you, you’ll have your family, your friends, your mentors all there to prop you up—cheering you on, reveling in your successes, and lending a helping hand whenever you need it.
Remember also the lessons you’ve learned here at GDS: the value of a top-notch education that is not only rigorous, but also thought-provoking, daring, and inspiring; the importance of celebrating differences, not because you think it’s politically correct, but because you recognize the richness it will bring to your life; the joy that comes from teamwork and collaboration; the grounding you get from a strong sense of community and deep bonds of friendship; the excitement that comes from taking chances; the difference you make in giving back. These are the hallmarks of a GDS education. These are the beacons to guide you forward. And they will surely guide you well.
Congratulations, Class of 2010! We love you!
Class of 2009 Graduation
June 7, 2009
Welcome: Peter Branch, Head of School
From the Principal: Kevin Barr, High School Principal
Faculty Speaker: Topher Dunne, High School History Teacher
Class of 2009 Speaker: Noah Robbins
Parent Speaker: Ron Klain
From the Principal: Kevin Barr, High School Principal
There is a moment in James Joyce’s Ulysses when Stephen Dedalus, helping one of his students work math problems, is touched by the boy’s vulnerability. In watching the boy puzzle out the problem, Stephen thinks, “Like him was I, these sloping shoulders, this gracelessness. My childhood bends beside me. Too far for me to lay a hand there once or lightly. Mine is far and his secret as our eyes.”
For much of the novel Stephen is estranged from himself and others and yet like all of us he possesses a capacity for empathy, an ability to not only see ourselves in others but to recognize that in some deep way we are the other. The best teachers and the best parents carry their own childhoods with them and remember what it was like for the world to be new and for them to be graceless in it.
We have tried to teach you many lessons in your years with us. Sometimes it may have felt as if we were force feeding you; at other times we might have been accused of spoon feeding, but in our best moments we sat down together at the table and helped each other to the choicest of what was being served.
When Shakespeare and Tony Morrison, your history studies and your calculus, your grasp of photons and quarks, and your ability to just about dunk that basketball are starting to fade, I hope you will remember the most important lessons we strove to teach you: that you are lucky to be alive at such a moment in history, that the blessings you have received are to be shared, that joy runs deeper than grief, that there are multiple paths to the truth, that a flower is now and always an extraordinary miracle, that it isn’t easy being green, and that a grasshopper may just be an insect but when provoked can lay waste an entire field.
You have been a great, great class. Now run on. Life is calling you.
Faculty Speaker: Topher Dunne, High School History Teacher
Bright Moments and Congratulations to the Class of 2009, and thank you for this opportunity. Today is a celebration, where friends, family and the GDS community gather to witness your graduation. You move on today from a familiar place into a wide variety of new challenges and vistas. It is my hope that your experience while you were here was meaningful even while it may not have always been the easiest thing.
It is also important to realize that All of this has happened before, and will happen again. You may have attended this ritual or many like it in the past, to watch friends or relatives graduate. Today it is your turn to participate and join the great cycle. You walk across and after getting your diploma the world is oddly the same, yet profoundly changed. There is a Zen saying: before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. But what exactly is enlightening about the upcoming trip across the stage and likely accompanying photo op, whether or not it gets tagged on Facebook? In many ways the enlightenment, if it occurred at all, rests in the JOURNEY which led you to the stage to become graduates.
For some, GDS is the only school you’ve known, for others it is on a relatively short list. Haltingly or not, some sense of loyalty has likely developed, even if it is not very public. What is loyalty at GDS? There might be some crested blazer, Beach Boys, cornball, be-true-to-your-school connotation, but, lest you haven’t already said it to yourself, “That’s so UN-GDS.” We were never like that. An article written by Michael Schaffer (an alum from last century) for the New Republic this past fall demonstrated that loyalty to the institution of GDS exists albeit enigmatically. Schaffer writes of entering what some call “the bubble” in order to learn about being more open. This traditionally has been such an antithetical place full of anti-hero types that it is not so surprising that a loyalty to GDS plays out in arcane ways, as if every day is opposite day.
That loyalty may have been as much to each other as anything. Did you band together during your time here? Were you products of infighting? Did it take some periodic shamanic rituals involving paper, sage, cinnamon and a secondhand Crockpot from the ‘70s to keep you together? Did you need zip-ties to keep from separating too soon? Or was it deeper than that? Your relationship to GDS may have started as contractual—with an application and enrollment ... but it was always deeper than that, being much more than following, or trying to bend your way around sets of rules. It was more like living up to (and interacting with) norms in some larger way as a community, where you could engage with the culture and interact with it.
The relationships that form around peers or colleagues involve trust. Did you come to trust easily? Did that trust grow into loyalty? Were you tested? Perhaps 6th period senior year? By being 10 points down at half-time in the tournament finals against some Quaker school down the street? Being asked to show up to support a friend, or classmate, in an activity, show, at a taping? To contribute to some group project? Or was it internal? Promising yourself? When you said you’d meet someone at Conie’s, or pretended you would?
The “all together-ness”, and many other things in the world, began to fracture as early as last fall. Who did you trust then? Who did you let down? Who let you down? Paulson? Your auto mechanic? Bernanke? Geithner? Jim Kramer? Jon Stewart? (Jon Stewart while he was interviewing Jim Kramer?) Or was it yourself again?
The list of people I remain loyal to and miss terribly because they are gone from GDS as students or colleagues, let alone those gone in any larger sense, grows annually. I don’t see how it can’t. Time moves on and despite how much you want to keep some things the same, it doesn’t always, or even usually happen.
So now you are here, at a ritual which in effect casts you out. Today you are 'beyond' GDS, which can be bittersweet. Is this ritual based on truth or meaning? The truth of completion, recognition of reaching the goals we the institution set for you, or the meaning that there’s a larger world out there which needs people like you to be IN it.
What do you do now? John Legend, of all people, recently said “I’m ready to go right now ...” and something about a green light, which may have a graduation tie-in, but he also delivered a commencement address at his alma mater. While he politicked it up a great deal, he also mentioned about not being blind followers. In my experience you do not tend to be blind followers, sycophantic “Yes Men” [sic] but rather are ones to stand up. BE the anti-heroes, or even HEROES, you can be. Your dissent can be loyal, even patriotic.
Sophia Lyon Fahs said “It matters what you believe.” I agree, but would add: it matters as much what you DO. How did you plan for time beyond today? Did you simply prove (or hope) you were better than other applicants? Interestingly worthy in some innate way? How many PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME moments are there in a life vs. proving your worth day-to-day by doing. Fortunately, life is not a series of college applications, or high-flying prom date requests (many of which didn’t seem to be so in question in the first place). Now it is time to DO things. You have choices, but it is an allocation problem: there are limits of time (the ultimate scarce resource), energy, effort. What’s “on your list”? Must-do things? Are there people you need to say things to?
I went ahead and said some of those things this spring, and became ... verklempt at a theater talk back It was during an attempt to explain some of why I do what I do and how I appreciate all I’ve gotten to see you do over the years. Like many of the faculty sitting beside you now, I believe in who you are and support you in your endeavors. That won’t change with today.
But we’re still at the ritual ... So you might get to the stairway and blanch. Arjuna, the heroic ksatriya from the Mahabharata, looks before him on the battle plain of Kuruksetra, sees what is about to occur and stops, unable to do anything. Yet Krishna, his charioteer, shows him that time will march forward and events occur whether he stops of not. The world will continue and he should fulfill destiny by going forth and DOING, not standing idly by. So, climb the stairs!
You may climb the stairs, descend again, leave the hall, ditch the diploma, hit beach week and never look back on us again, but I think most of you will choose otherwise; this place has likely meant too much you. CARING, worrying about the future of GDS and the world at large, or someday to wax nostalgic about some demi-godlike twilight when you went to GDS, Change came to Washington and THINGS SEEMED POSSIBLE; THAT is more likely part of your destiny.
To temper the previous allusions (a? or i?), memory is a tricky thing. Years hence today may be just a few flashes, if anything. In fact, most of your schooling may already be a few flashes, if anything. Respect that you don’t know everything, let alone remember it, keep learning and perhaps some of the things we went to great pains to teach you can stay alive in some form or fashion.
What will you carry away from GDS? Memories of the good may linger, but so might wrongs, wounds. Beware the grudges you carry—and how loyal you may become to them. Be mindful of spiritual materialism, claiming to own and clinging to beliefs, which can create holy warriors for causes, carry their regrets forward.
The mystery track at the variety show (if you remember), “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods, stuck with me as I considered this address, even if you yourselves have already wandered in attention and are texting someone right now. Let me just say this, and it’s for everyone here: someday, despite what you may think or pledge, you’ll say something and realize that you’ve just repeated your parents, elders, teachers, someone unexpected. Perhaps you’ll be shocked, perhaps proud. In this sense I also wish you the opportunity to let family be an inclusive and welcoming construct. I got a birthday card years ago: brother, another year older, another year closer to dressing like dad ... she never understood that my secret was to START by dressing like my grandfather. You may not understand or be understood, but be welcoming and accepting.
NOW FOR SOME PRACTICAL POINTS: Never underestimate the power of the Aesthetic experience, of the arts to turn back or stop time; to trigger feeling and spark memory and creativity. Experience art.
Another thing, which you may have already figured out: the insights of sleep deprivation can be both real and illusory; knowing the difference between the two is a challenge you will likely continue to face in your life.
Steve Jobs said, “if you live each day like it could be your last, someday you’ll be right.” With that in mind, be bold, have dreams, make plans, then pursue them.
How has GDS as an institution benefited you? I hope we have provided you with experiences and opportunities for insight, either in class or outside it ... How has it not? Have we sheltered you from various things too much or for too long? We’ve made choices of what you did, just as you’ve had some choices—to apply and attend GDS, some courses, and now WHERE to go. What’s next? Congratulations to the Class of 2009! So say we all!
Class of 2009 Speaker, Noah Robbins
Before I begin, I’d like us all to take a moment to acknowledge something very beautiful that is here with us today. I’m talking about my Popsicle tie, which I’ve worn for every special occasion since sixth grade. With that said, I’d like to dive into my speech.
So I’ve been trying to figure out why you guys chose me to make this speech. There were several ways I could’ve gone about finding out. I suppose I could’ve gone up to each of you and asked why you wanted me to speak, but I was afraid I might learn that some of my close friends voted for one of the other candidates. So I decided to simply imagine why I’m here, and what people wanted me to talk about.
My best guess is that you thought I could give you a little piece of wisdom, something I’ve come to know about the world we’re about to enter. Let’s see how much I actually know about that subject. Here are two quick stories that, I think, only two people in this room know.
The first one goes like this: I once walked into a Burger King, went to the counter at the front, asked for a cheeseburger and small strawberry shake, and then immediately sat down at one of the tables, because I expected them to bring my meal to me. That’s story number one.
The second and even more embarrassing story is this: I once got lost walking from the Tenleytown Metro stop to Georgetown Day School. Now for those of you who don’t know where the Tenleytown Metro stop is in relation to GDS, let me just say that it is almost impossible to get lost walking between these two places. In fact, you can pretty much see one from the other. Anyway, I’m fairly certain it was one of the first times I had taken the Metro to this particular location by myself. To this day, I don’t know how I got it wrong, but I do know that I ended up asking a mailman for directions to school, and I had made so many wrong turns by that point that he didn’t know where it was. Either that, or it was his first day on the job. In either case, after wandering around for a while and beginning to panic, I ran into a fellow student who kindly walked with me the rest of the way, pointing out my tremendous stupidity as he did so in true GDS fashion. That’s story number two.
Now, you might be asking yourself why I decided to tell these stories, since they don’t seem to be relevant to graduation in any way, shape, or form. The reason is that I wanted all of you to know, right off the bat, that I know absolutely nothing about living in the real world. And this is somewhat problematic, seeing as how it’s the job of a graduation speaker to talk about how high school has prepared us to go out into the real world with confidence and, more important, competence. How am I supposed to talk about this momentous event, when the only knowledge about the real world that I have at my disposal is 400 episodes worth of MTV’s The Real World, a show that, I’m told, is a better depiction of college life than the real world?
Now as I understand it, there are a few differences between GDS and the world out there. One, in the real world, there are more than just three or four, open, non-closeted Republicans. Two, in the real world, if someone is offended by a show like, say, The Producers, they simply don’t see it. Three, unfortunately, the next time we royally fail a written exam, we won’t feel compelled to stick it on a wall and flaunt it proudly. And last, and I know this because my father is a lawyer, the only time you will ever have to do involuntary community service in the real world is if you get convicted of a felony or misdemeanor.
But, in all seriousness, we would be kidding ourselves if we were to say that we have any idea what we’re getting ourselves into. We’ve all been raised on reality television, and sure, shows like Flavor of Love will indeed come in handy when we find ourselves inevitably chasing after a former rapper’s heart (it clearly came in handy for one GDS alum), but the truth is, we don’t really know what reality is. And so we’re left with one question. Has high school truly prepared us for what’s out there? The answer is definitely, no, absolutely not. But that’s okay. Precisely because we have hardly any direct experience with the real world, we can change it.
For instance, when I had no idea how to get to GDS from the Metro, I kept thinking, “If only these street signs weren’t so confusing. How can it be a river and a road!?” When I made the mistake of waiting for the Burger King staff to serve me my meal, I thought, “Well, they should’ve made the process a bit clearer. Perhaps some instructions on meal-ordering etiquette taped to the wall would’ve done the trick.” I wanted to change the real world, because I had no idea what was going on. And for us, though I’m sure none of you would make the same mistakes as me, we’ll all want to change the world as it is, because we will be so confused. As we’ve seen in this last Presidential election, it only takes eight years of nonsense and confusion to motivate people to change things for the better, and putting aside for a moment the fact that the Obama girls ended up going to Sidwell, things have changed for the better.
So the next time someone says they’re prepared for the real world, laugh at them, sneer at them, and if there’s time, punch them in the face. If they try to put today’s celebration into concrete terms and quote Bob Dylan with “How does it feel to be on your own?,” retort with one of his incomprehensible lyrics, like “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.” If they quote the Beatles and say “All you need is love,” shout back “I am the eggman, I am the eggman, I am the walrus. Coo-coo-ca-choo.”
In short, the only modest wisdom I can offer is this: the best way to prepare for the real world is to be completely unprepared, to accept that it, much like these lyrics, will be difficult to figure out. For if enough of us are baffled, lost, and waiting for our cheeseburgers and small strawberry shakes, then eventually, we’ll be able to change the real world into what we want it to be. But I could be wrong. After all, those stories about me are true. Thank you so much.
Parent Speaker: Ron Klain
Thank you Peter for this invitation to speak.
Before I begin, I want to offer some “thank you’s” on behalf of the parents of the Class of 2009. To Kevin and Tom for their incredible leadership of the High School; to the college counseling team of Chris and Bobby and Barbara, who helped this class achieve record-setting results in a year of record-setting competition in college admissions; and most of all, to the best high school faculty in America, who have given our children a mind-opening, perspective-changing, thought-provoking, worldview-bending, paradigm-shifting, Morris Dancing, education — all on a first-name basis.
Today begins a happy but a hard summer for most of us parents. For as fall approaches, it is not only our own children to whom we must say goodbye, but also, so many more of you whom we have gotten to know. Like many parents, we will miss our daughter’s friends because, unlike our own children, they are polite to us, and they tend not to leave their things strewn about our home. And so, to Hannah’s friends—Sari and Sarah; Lauren and Lindsay; Ashley, Rachel, and Chelsea—girls, you will be missed by Monica and myself, but most of all, by Hannah’s younger brothers, who ask that as you go off to college, be sure to send back pictures.
The job of a great graudation speaker is to dispense life-changing advice, and do it in under 10 minutes. Today, I’m ony going to hit one of those two goals. For I’m afraid that—after much thought—the best advice I can offer the Class of 2009 is this: No matter what comes next for you, however far you go with your schooling, however many more graduation days you enjoy, follow this one simple rule: Never, ever take the advice given to you by a Commencement Speaker over the age of 40.
Fortunately, there is little risk that you will violate this rule, since 99% of graduates forget what their commencement speaker has said less than an hour after graduation is over. My high school commencement address was given by a local official who, a few years later, was arrested for conducting an illegal gambling operation. I don’t remember exactly what his speech said, but we probably should have been more suspicious when, after telling us that we should “take chances” in life, he added “and if you do, the odds are 5-to-1 that you will succeed.”
But as I see it, there are three principal reasons why you should never listen to a Commencement Speaker’s advice, above and beyond the risk that the speaker might turn out to be a felon.
First, the unpleasant truth is that adult Commencement Speakers have lived their lives in “the past;” while you are about to go live your lives in “the future.” Everything we know, everything we have learned, everything we have experienced is from a world that is no more; everything that you will experience is in a world that is yet to be. We see world events colored through the prisms of the U.S.–Soviet conflict and Watergate; but your understanding of the world will always start with 9/11 and the election of Barack Obama. Our understanding of friendship and romance comes from a time when we wrote letters that took days to arrive, and stared nervously at a box we called a “telephone” in the hope that it would ring; but your understanding of connection comes from a reality where you can text, video chat, instant message, facebook chat, and blackberry message anyone, anytime, anywhere on planet Earth.
For the Class of 2009, today’s technology will change everything about your lives—except, probably, how often you phone home from college. But it is not just technology that has changed. If someone had stood up at my high school graduation and said that, in my lifetime, we would see a black President, a Hispanic woman nominated to the Supreme Court, and same sex couples being married in Iowa, they probably could have gotten very good odds from our bookmaking commencement speaker. Yet the Class of 2009 has seen all these things happen—not just in your lifetimes, but before you finished high school. What’s more, many of you—through social action, through volunteering in the last election, through your community serviceÑ have helped bring these changes about. What could we possibly tell you about your future in a world that so many of you are already doing so much to change
The second reason why you should ignore advice from over-the-hill Commencement Speakers is that—in addition to our having lived in the past—we have an odd attachment to the past, and a horribly misguided sense that somehow “the good old days” were a time when “everything” was better. A small example serves to illustrate. One day, my wife was bemoaning to our children how much “better” music was when we were teenagersÑless coarse, fewer references to drugs and sex. But our kids, having heard this speech before, fired back. “But Mom,” they answered, “isn’t it true that when you were our age, your favorite group was The DOOBIE Brothers?” And then, adding insult to injury, they said, “And back when you and Dad were first dating, wasn’t your favorite song Afternoon Delight—and that wasn’t a song about having milk and cookies after school, was it?” So much for the purity of the past.
More seriously, the point I want to make about every generation’s attachment to its own youth is this: notwithstanding all the challenges the Class of 2009 faces as it enters the world today—economic problems; the risk of terrorism; a global environmental crisis; and more—notwithstading every other obstacle that you will have to overcome, the arc of human progress teaches us that the world that you, the Class of 2009, will build for yourselves and your children will be more prosperous, more fair, more humane, more peaceful, and more just than the one in which your parents have lived. The famous saying "those who do not know history are doomed to flunk Richard’s class" (I mean, the saying: "those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it")—is not a call to learn from the past so you can replicate what we have done, but rather, a suggestion that you learn history so you can do things differently. So for goodness sakes, don’t listen to us—except to learn what we did, and then do the opposite!
Which brings me to the third reason you should never take advice from Commencement Speakers: because any lessons that we have learned are not the product of our successes but, rather, came from the things that went wrong and the things we never saw coming, from our mistakes and our failures. When I was a high school senior, I wanted to go to Harvard for college. I got rejected, and set off, disappointed, for Georgetown. And yet it was at Georgetown where I got my start in politics—working on Capitol Hill part time during school—and where, most important, I met my best friend, who now, 30 years later, is still the love of my life.
I have seen this pattern time and again. I found my first job working on a Presidential campaign because I was forced into a job search when the Senator I was working for was defeated. Decades later, it was the lessons that myself and others learned from electoral defeats—not victories—that shaped our contributions to Barack Obama’s successful campaign in 2008. As my old boss, Vice President Al Gore, said on the night he conceded the Florida Recount, “defeat can serve as well as victory to shape the soul and let the glory out.” The lessons that should guide you in life are not the tales of success that a commencement speaker shares, but rather, the failures and disappointments that you yourselves will suffer along the way.
So I’ve come to the close of this speech with no real advice for the Class of 2009, other than the advice that you should ignore any advice that you might get in a speech like this one. I do, however, have a simple plea for the graduates. Your parents have given you a gift of an education at GDS that far surpasses the start in life that 95% of us had when we were kids. We ask only one thing in return. When you leave for school, email us, text us, im us, bbim us, fbim us, tweet us—but as my own mother had to recently remind me, none of those electronic communications substitutes for the need, at least once a week, for us to hear your voices on the phone. Because as much as we enjoy your text messages and your online photos (at least the ones you let us see), you should never forget that from the time you first screamed your first cry after birth to the day you first said, “look at me, Mom and Dad,” at a dance recital or a soccer game to the time, freshman year, that we were first able to pick out your voice out above the din of the GDS forum to that moment last week when we heard you say your final farewells to your friends in the gym on senior night, it is the sound of your voices that has been the joy of our lives, and that we will miss the most this fall.
Congratulations, Class of 2009.
Class of 2008 Graduation
June 8, 2008
Welcome: Peter Branch, Head of School
From the Principal: Kevin Barr, High School Principal
Faculty Speaker: Chris Thompson, High School English Teacher
Class of 2008 Speaker: Jacob Ansbacher
Class of 2008 Speaker: Joanna Rothkopf
Parent Speaker: Susie Gelman
Welcome by Peter Branch, Head of School
It is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to the 37th Commencement of Georgetown Day School and to the graduation of the Class of 2008.It is always the welcome culmination of many days and years of effort on the part of families, the GDS faculty, and the students themselves.Sentiments of pride and regret mingle as we all recognize that few things will be the same but that an outcome for which we have all awaited has finally arrived. From the moment a child is born, he or she creates both a sense of loss and of joy.With heralded first steps come a certain amount of freedom and a loss of dependency which parents ironically mourn. How much more does the departure from home to college yield nostalgia for those days of adolescence and dirty socks which parents have just barely learned to tolerate?
It is especially hard to let go of this bunch of characters because they have been so good together and so supportive of GDS and other members of the community. However, no sooner than I went on sabbatical than they charged into the first assembly proclaiming on their t-shirts, “We run this ship!”At the After Prom, their t-shirts boasted, “We ran this ship!” I had warned Kevin of the possibility of mutiny but since he had never read about it in Moby Dick, he didn’t see it coming.
Many of these students have been together since their very early years at GDS. Indeed 30 members of this class of 115 started in the prekindergarten or kindergarten. Five of these soon-to-be graduates have survived their years at GDS as children of faculty members. And, setting a record, this class contains 5 sets of twins. Perhaps it was inevitable that these students would share strong relationships.During their high school years, they have annually bonded over a special Thanksgiving meal, a tradition unique to this class. They also initiated a class bonfire in December. It is probably impolite to note that they also bonded together when they lost in the finals of the Powderpuff football game to the upstart Junior Class. The Dean of Students comments that “we could not have asked for better examples of leadership, good judgment (most of the time), sensitivity, and school spirit than we enjoyed from the Class of 2008.”She even remarks that “they maintained the cleanest space in the Forum this year,” though the competition for that title was not very intense.
The Class was instrumental in competitions outside the school. Their leadership was key in many sports accomplishments throughout the year.For the first time in the same year, women’s varsity soccer won both the ISL A Banner and the ISL A tournament. Women’s varsity basketball tied for 2nd in the A Division and then won the A tournament. Women’s varsity softball came in 2nd in the A Division and then won the A tournament. Men’s varsity soccer placed 2nd in the John Warring tournament.Men’s varsity Cross-Country took 2nd in the MAC Championship.Wrestling placed 3rd and Men’s Track & Field placed 2nd in their respective championships.When the Men’s 4 x 100 meter relay team took 1st place in the Potomac relays, they were renamed by local press, “the 4 Hoppers of the Potomac-aclypse.” Several members of this class were named to all league teams for their sports, among them a young woman for the second time, a feat accomplished by only 2 other GDS athletes in the past 17 years.But the award GDS and the scholar/athletes of this class can be most proud of is winning of the ISL Sportsmanship Banner, which has never before been received by a coed day school.
Concern for others and the community has been strongly evident in this class. In community service, 36 seniors recorded 100 to 150 hours, 8 served 150 to 200 hours, and 14 worked over 200 hours, with one young woman providing 522 hours of commitment. Their work has been local and international, practical and activist, and individual and collaborative.The GDS trips to the Horn of Africa, to New Orleans, and to a Navajo reservation have been models of ways in which our students can learn in cooperation with and in service to others.
The Class of 2008 will be remembered by their initiation and enhancement of some movements that have the potential for long-term impact on GDS.With their advisor, seniors helped activate the Environmental Club and sponsored the high school’s successful first Environmental Awareness Week.Likewise, other student pushed the effort to Save Darfur. And seniors led the 3rd Annual White Privilege Conference at GDS, which attracted students and adults from throughout the region.Your involvement and leadership were also essential to our key assemblies, diversity events, and cultural presentations. Most of all, your example of civility set the tone for student life.
In the classroom, you demonstrated an interest in inquiry and learning which enhanced the educational experience for your classmates and teachers. You are an intelligent group willing to take on challenges. Of those of you who took Advanced Placement exams in your junior year, 84% earned the score of 3 or higher, 63 % received 4 or higher, and 31% achieved the top score of 5.In taking the SAT I with critical reading, math, and writing, you scored 490 points above the national mean for college-bound students. A quarter of the class received recognition by the National Merit Scholarship program.
Your skills and talents have been acknowledged by the 169 different colleges and universities which accepted at least one GDS senior. As a result, you will be going to 74 different schools throughout the United States and Canada. One of you will take a gap year in France, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The variety of these choices is both healthy and a measure of your thoughtful effort to find a school that is the right fit.
I hope the families of this class have had a chance to see some of the publications for which your students have been responsible: the Augur Bit, the Menagerie, Grasslands, and Babel Fish. Each has exhibited the skills oforganization, quality of work, and attention to detail which is required to engage the reader. Likewise, the artwork of this class has been remarkable as the April Art Exhibit demonstrated. In the Congressional Art Awards, 3 members of this class have received honorable mentions and one was first-place winner for 2008. Five seniors have been National Scholastic Art Award Gold Key winners, one receiving two such awards in two years.
The Blackbox Theater was enlivened by your dynamic participation in the performing arts. In the fall drama, Our Country’s Good, in the winter One-Acts, and in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, you demonstrated your intelligence, your sensibility, your dramatic and comedic sense, and the value of effort and training. Likewise, your choral performances conveyed the strength and spirit of our programs. The Lab Band and Jazz Ensemble, together with the Orchestra, gave ample opportunity for you to express your love of music, both in improvisation and in classical presentation. That the Dance program has benefited from the new studio and from association with our resident company was clear in the dance and Fata Morgana performances.
So many other clubs, organizations and events were blessed by your participation and leadership. The Math Team, strengthened by senior brain power, placed in the top 5% of schools in the National Math Contest. Two of you placed 1st and 2nd in the Jim Mayo Scholarship for the Arts in theater monologues. Model Congress presented one of the largest teams in 30 years. Cabaret Night to benefit MetroTeen Aids was a success in its first year. And many more group and individual efforts on the part of this class have made GDS proud of all you have offered and accomplished.
Before I let you go, I have to confess my jealousy of the Class of 2008. Now it is only natural for the old and infirm to envy the youth and energy of the next generation. But this class stands at a unique moment in the life of our country. For the past weeks, we have been hearing much of the historic nature of the primary contest between Senators Clinton and Obama. We are now facing an even more historic contest between Senators Obama and McCain. I apologize for my remarks to the Libertarians and the Ron Paul devotees, of whom, given GDS, I am sure there are at least a few.
I envy this class because you will have the great opportunity to be engaged as freshmen in college in the dynamics and excitement of the fall election. You will be faced with dialogues and debates, not only over the comparative merits of the contestants but over the difficulties and opportunities of our political, economic, cultural, and social systems. Many of your current assumptions and beliefs, including ones you have been taught by your parents and GDS, will be challenged. You will learn things about yourself and others which may be troubling but often will be life-enhancing. Don’t hide from these challenges.College is a time for entertaining new perspectives. But, on the other hand, do not easily abandon your own beliefs and values.Just because an idea is new or popular does not mean it is right. Surely you have learned that lesson at GDS.And be prepared for ideas to be expressed with less civility than you were expected to maintain at home or at GDS.
The Election of 2008, because of its unique character and because of the sense by both parties that it could be a watershed election, is likely to be hotly contested. Issues of race, gender, age, religion, and class have all been raised so far, and often in an ugly and mean-spirited fashion.But none of these so-called historic characteristics of this election is new. Twelve presidential elections ago, a skinny and very na•ve kid from a public high school in Northampton, Massachusetts, wandered into an elite private men’s college.There I found that the reformist senator from my home state, whom my father opposed, was also opposed in the most vicious fashion for his political and religious beliefs by conservative boys from some our best private schools. I began the election as a lukewarm Republican by birth and ended up an argumentative social activist. During those next four historic years before my graduation from college in 1964, I watched the election of our first Catholic president, the Bay of Pigs, the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the assassinations of both President Kennedy and his assassin.However, I was unaware of the beginning of our undertakings in the Vietnam civil war which would so shape the subsequent four years and lead to the historic election of 1968.
No one can accurately predict your future, or even your next four years.All of you have the capacity to make a significant difference.I was reminded of the truth of that well-worn graduation remark by the recent death of Edward Lorenz who developed the chaos theory in which the flapping of a butterfly’s wing can have a significant effect on a tornado.Engage yourselves in the issues of the moment, whether political or scientific, whether economic or cultural.Your energy and integrity are needed.One thing we do know about the future is that it is coming.Some determinists argue that its shape is already certain.As a historian, a humanist, and a grandfather, I cannot agree.For good or for evil, humankind has had too great an effect on our past not to be able to affect our future. Take hold of that responsibility as soon as possible.You have so much to offer.
From the Principal: Kevin Barr, High School Principal
Good afternoon. This is not the first time I have stood at this podium in my capacity as principal, so I understand the drill. My job is to say the words that crystallize the moment and capture a graduating class conveniently and conventionally. But having known some of these graduates since they were born and many of them since they first entered the Lower School, I won’t pretend that a word or phrase could capture them in total or express what each of them is feeling just now. For this moment carries in it all the past moments that have brought them to this point. Gavin Stevens in Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun said that “the past is never dead. It's not even past." When I look at these beautiful, capable, self-aware 18-year-olds who in this moment seem so grown-up, I see just behind their shining eyes the kindergartner who wore his superman shirt under his street clothes just in case an emergency arose, the third grader with eye glasses thicker than mine, the fifth grader so skinny it was astonishing that she could play soccer as well as she did, the seventh and eighth graders who knew the pain of losing fathers, and uncles, and brothers, and the new ninth graders who worried whether they would find their place among the other grasshoppers. And yet here they are, each of them carrying their own personal griefs and joys, struggles and triumphs; they have had their dry spells and their moments of unbelievable growth; so if I can’t find words capacious enough to capture them in total, I can tell them that their futures are bright, their talents are immense, and their hearts are made of gold. I thank the parents who gave to us the gift of these precious souls and the faculty who labored long and hard to teach and nurture them.
Be well, and be faithful to who you were and who you have become.
Faculty Speaker: Chris Thompson, High School English Teacher
Peter, Kevin, Barbara, Gloria, esteemed colleagues, supportive families, and most of all, the beloved class of 2008: I am honored to be asked to give this speech today on this very important occasion. It is perhaps fitting that we are met in an auditorium on a college campus, for we here get a glimpse of the larger world we will all face, in one way or another, come the fall.
There is also apt geometry to our presence in this room . . . here sit the Class of 2008, eagerly looking toward your future, and at your side, sit those who have been at your side these four years. When I started my career in teaching twelve years ago, my mother-in-law, June Marquis, a career mathematics educator, told me an old teachers’ adage that when we are doing our job well, we are not acting as a “sage on the stage,” but rather as a “guide on the side,” looking at our subject with our students, not being the subject itself. Well, for the next few minutes I have to try to be the sage on the stage, but I’d rather you be thinking of those who are indeed at your side today, for that is where we, your teachers and coaches, still belong.
But there is more to the geometry of this room. Class of 2008, when this ceremony is over and you turn to process out, you will be facing those now behind you, those who have always been behind you, even when you forgot they were there. The families and friends here to support you today will in a short time receive you back from us, from the people to whom they handed you some 12 or 13 years ago, teachers in whom they had to place a trust, a trust you will only fully understand one day in the future when you have to let go of a little hand yourself and tell a little boy or girl of your own “It’s going to be fine,” and “You’ll have lots of fun,” and “I can’t wait to hear all about it this afternoon,” and you then turn and head back to the car with a lump in your throat and needing the kind of windshield wipers they just don’t make.
A bond of trust began that day between your folks and my colleagues, a bond that comes to fruition here this day, as we who have been at your side turn you back to those who are and have been behind you all these years, and whose eyes might again be a little misty. Hands long ago parted will grasp once again today, bigger hands, grasping with the firmness and confidence of adulthood and a more certain future. And although you are about to get what is truly a valuable diploma, Ralph Waldo Emerson would tell you that your future will not be made by the road you have been on, or the road you next travel, but by the person who is on that road.
And who is on this road today, standing at this intersection of past and future? All of GDS’s graduating classes have had discernable characters of one sort of another, and the class of 2008 is no different.
It’s hard for me, who is a teacher and a parent of a graduating senior in this class, to come up with a summary statement about the class of 2008. I have come to know so many of you so well, and you are such memorable individuals, that some sort of mass proclamation of your virtues just isn’t going to cut it. So I’ll choose an anecdote that I hope can paint a picture of you as a class, as I have seen you in my heart during these years together.
Last June, for the second year in a row, I had the privilege of going with a bunch of GDS kids to do community service in New Orleans. Our job this year was to do drywall renovations on a house in St. Bernard parish, a house newly owned by the Du Plessis family. Their original home had been destroyed in Katrina, and this house had been damaged and gutted, and we were making it livable so they could move in. The Du Plessises were very friendly to us . . . they came every day, often bringing lunch. They had a teenage son, Antoine, junior, a high school football player who had just finished his senior year. Antoine showed up the first day to check things out, and he was a little shy, but our kids were so warm and welcoming and friendly that he soon fell in with us, and came back every day to work alongside GDS. Antoine’s mom told me that this was such a blessing for him, in that all of his high school friends were dispersed by Katrina, and his new high school was far away, so he had really no friends to hang with. Our GDS kids took him in with such grace and warmth, inviting him to spend time with us in town in the evening, and asking for permission to invite him to our big dinner out our last night there. You all would have been very proud. I sure was.
Now, as it happened, we were there for a changeover of the Americorps volunteers who lead the work teams. On Tuesday, Megan, a volunteer who had become very close to the Du Plessis family, had her last day, and we had a big lunch, and there were a lot of tears and hugs and promises to stay in touch. Coming on board that day was our new Americorps volunteer, Kim, who was shier than Megan and obviously walking into a tricky situation . . . replacing a favorite, and having to pick up working with people she didn’t know on a project already underway. But she did fine. The GDS kids were again warm and accommodating, and as Kim soon discovered, very diligent, and Kim got into the swing of things very well. On our last day, as was customary, Kim gave a little speech over lunch, about what good workers we were and how pleased she was with all we gotten done. When she was finished, one of GDS kids, Anier Woodyard, sensed it was time to give a little speech of his own. He said: “Kim, you know you came into a difficult situation here. Everybody loved Megan, you didn’t know us or what we were like, but you stepped in and you stepped up and led us and made this a very successful week. You have the heart of a lion.”
I was sitting next to Mr. Du Plessis at that moment, and he leaned over and whispered to me, “Where do you get kids like this?”
Where do we get kids like this? Well, we get them from you, moms and dads, who trusted us 4 or 7 or 12 years ago to provide fertile ground for your saplings to grow in—and eventually out of—and they have done so, which we acknowledge in this ceremony today. They have grown in skill and in confidence and certainly in the classical virtues of diligence and brotherly love.
As a virtue, brotherly love doesn’t really mean loving your kid brother, although you should, no matter how annoying he is. Being annoying is his job, after all. Brotherly love here means sympathy and kindness, and it is perhaps the virtue that matters most to us as a progressive school, and which best characterizes the class of 2008. It is the virtue that I saw so clearly on display not just in New Orleans, but every day at school, in the senior corner, in our classrooms, on our regular community service days, on the crew team . . . everywhere in evidence was an extraordinary warmth and friendship not just among the class of 2008 but in your relations with the faculty and even with the underclassmen in the school.
So, in conclusion, let me say that in addition to the people at your side and the people at your back, there are in this room, most important of all, 115 extraordinary young people. Class of 2008, we have all done all we could for you these past four years, but my sense of you as a group is that you have done as much or more for yourselves. It is telling that in your yearbook pages there are endless overlaps of groups of friends. The class of 2008 is notable for your cohesion, your good humor, your caring for each other, your learning from each other, and your willingness to be a force of both conscience and good will at GDS. Speaking as both a parent and a teacher, I can say that I have never known in my teaching years a more socially adept, socially graceful, warm-hearted and considerate graduating class. Paraphrasing Emerson again I will say that although this day is an intersection of a road ahead and a road behind, it is not the road itself that matters most; what matters most in this world is who is on that road. And with you on the road toward our nation’s future, I think all of us in this room can take heart.
The road you are on today will soon take you up five steps to this stage. Think of those first four as the four years of education you have had put before you, like hurdles, by us on the faculty at GDS . . . but think of that last step as the one you, as individuals and as members of this amazing class, made for yourselves and with each other in these last four years, through your diligence, cooperation, and kindness. It’s this last step that brings you for one last time into our embrace before we hand you off to your families and your futures.
You can truly never descend from this stage . . . the diploma and all that it stands for is yours, and will be part of you forever. But know this: as we say goodbye to you, high school students for just a few minutes more, in this college auditorium on this day, our hearts break, but from these broken hearts angels fly and they are angels that will be with you all of your days. Class of 2008, have the heart of a lion. Godspeed and God bless you always. Go in peace.
Class of 2008 Speaker, Jacob Ansbacher
Thank you to my family who supported me, to my teachers and administration who challenged me and to Robert Asher, my parents and Don Baer for helping me with my speech. I also owe a special thanks to Nick Baer, who helped me with the comma placement for my speech and also for making sure I went to bed at 8:30 last night so I could be well rested for today.
I’d like to begin with a story. I was a young lad sitting at the kitchen table eating raisins from one of those little red boxes. At this point in my life, I enjoyed playing with my food as much as I enjoyed eating it. AND apparently these raisins were getting close to my nostril area because my Mother said,
“Jacob, don’t stick that raisin up your nose.”
In response, I glared back at her, held the raisin in plain sight and with one swift motion . . . stuck the raisin as far up in my nose as I possibly could.
At this time, in case it is necessary, I would like to remind the audience that at GDS the graduation speech is not necessarily delivered by the valedictorian.
After a short trip to the hospital and one valuable lesson learned, I came to the realization that this was not just a mere lapse in judgment but instead a sign that I was born to be a GDS student. I had a sense of curiosity for things I didn’t understand and I challenged authority with regard to what I thought was right, and most important, I learned a lesson about empirical research.
But seriously, in my fourteen years at GDS I have been part of a class full of individuals who aren’t afraid to be curious or confrontational. And in sync with these students, GDS has been an institution that challenges the mind and accepts change. Where else would students choose to take a challenge course in either science or math when you get the same amount of credit for taking the regular course? Where else would the administration hold an assembly just so students can point out the faults of the school, and where else would students perform a sit-in in the library with the sole purpose of extending library hours after school? Not only does this prove that our grade is a bunch of dorks but it also shows that we have a respect for learning and the ability to see what is wrong and to try to fix it.
BUT, even more than that, each of these examples is about appreciating the here and now and making the most out of life while we are living it. This brings us to an important question, FOR THIS MOMENT:
How do we continue to live our lives with these ideals as we move on and accept more responsibilities? How do we live in the now and continue to appreciate each moment when everyone seems to be so focused on the future? Today is a day of reflection on which we look back upon our accomplishments and prepare for what lies ahead. But mostly today is just a day . . . and so I ask you for the next few minutes not to look forward or reflect backward but instead to bask in the gloriousness of the present — right now.
Many of these epic moments are overlooked because we are all so stressed about college and getting good grades. So, next time Nina Prytula makes a comment and all of a sudden an entire book finally makes sense, cherish it. When Jon Burghart’s booming voice makes every passage seem magical, even if it’s because he’s attached to a microphone that he’s unaware of, cherish it. When Anthony Belber cheers you into the finish line, and even though you’re gasping for air and in my case, sweating profusely, you still manage to run just a little faster, cherish it. And when Laura Rosberg does all those theater things, I’m sorry I don’t really know what goes on in theater, but cherish it.
Then of course there are those ridiculous moments, like seeing Harold Newton wearing a harness for the first time as he belays you up a climbing wall. Cherish these moments too, because they are burned in your memory anyway.
When I heard that I was to be the speaker for today, I did what any sensible person would do in the situation. I looked through my book of poems.
And, eventually, I came upon “The Station” by Robert Hastings, which captures what I believe it means to live in the moment. Come on, my Father e-mailed me this poem a few hours ago.
But here it goes. . .
“When we reach the station, that will be it!" we cry. "When I’m 18." "When I buy a new 450ST. Mercedes Benz!" "When I put the last kid through college." "When I have paid off the mortgage!” "When I get a promotion." "When I reach retirement, I shall live happily ever after!"
"Sooner or later, we realize there is no station, no one place to arrive. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.”
If you know me at all you know that my motto has always been to leave tomorrow for tomorrow. And if you don’t know me you’re probably thinking, “Who is that kid?”
BUT SERIOUSLY I like this poem because it reminds us that happiness is not so far away. It is with us as we sit here together, amongst friends and family and enjoy the festivities of today. Hastings reminds us so eloquently to “climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more, cry less.”
This poem reminds me of another renowned artist’s work. The Ataris’ song, Here in this Diary reminds us to cherish each moment, because our youth is what we make of it.
The chorus goes, “Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up, these are the best days of our lives.”
This is not to say that I have a problem with growing old. I can’t wait to learn a trade, start a family, and eventually eat dinner at 5:30 and wear my pants real high on my waist.
AND, BY THE WAY, at this time I would like to thank my Grandfather for coming to see me graduate today. Hearts, Poppy, Hearts!
Class of 2008 Speaker, Joanna Rothkopf
Good afternoon. Before I say anything else, I just want to take a moment to thank Peter, Kevin, the faculty, and all of you parents and friends.
A few weeks ago, on the last day of English class, our amazing teacher Louise [Brennan] sat us on the floor and read to us. The book she chose to sum up all our years at GDS was The House at Pooh Corner. She read to us about when Christopher Robin has outgrown Pooh and his other friends and is ready to leave them and the Hundred Acre Wood behind. Now, the idea that the culminating literary work of our GDS careers was Winnie the Pooh may seem a little disappointing for some of you . . . it might seem like we could have aimed a little higher, ending with a vigorous discussion of the works of James Joyce, Toni Morrison, or some other author with a little more heft, or at least some book with fewer pictures.
But for me, it was perfect. It was an ending that brought me right back to the beginning.
Fourteen years before, in pre-K, one of the very first things I remember doing at GDS was a production of Winnie the Pooh. I remember vividly the day the play was cast. My big break. My teacher, Elaine [Ogden], carefully scanned all the kids in the room, looking us up and down. She took one look at me and apparently concluded, if there is one kid in this class is who perfect to play a clinically depressed donkey, it’s that little Joanna Rothkopf. And so sweet cheerful little me was cast as Eeyore. But it gets worse. Because when I was little, I had a bit of a lisp. Okay, I had a lot of a lisp. And Eeyore . . . well, Eeyore’s favorite things in the world were “thistles.” “Thistle, thistle, thistle . . . .”
Try that with a lisp. After 14 years, I still can’t say it. Thanks a lot, GDS.
Now, of course, I’m pretty smart. I know what Louise was getting at. She read to us about a right of passage, of Christopher Robin moving on to another phase of his life. But another thing that struck me was that just like Christopher Robin, we’ve all been on a kind of amazing journey full of strange characters that has left us completely changed. Of course, that’s undoubtedly true for every school and yet I can’t help but feel that for every school it is also different. Every school has its own character, its own personality.
For instance, St. Albans, with all its ivy-covered walls and blue blazers, has its tradition . . . and, of course, National Cathedral has its Cathedral. Sidwell had Chelsea Clinton and Maret . . . well, Maret is, uhh . . . very near the zoo. And GDS . . . well, I was looking for the right word to describe GDS, and of course the first thing that comes to mind is “weird.” But that’s a little overdone around here—so what can I use? Last week, interim SSC president Julia Pockros classified GDS-like moments as “we would” moments. But this speech isn’t about her—it’s about me. And by that I mean it’s about all of us. But who are we? What makes us different? What description catches that thing in GDS’s DNA that makes us a breed apart? Would you call it “quirky?” Offbeat? Slightly odd? I don’t know. However, it is clear that what sets GDS apart is not only that we’re set apart but we’re glad to be set apart. Of course, some of us are less like everyone else than others, but now is not the time to address that. You know who you are. I mean, for example, at your average high school I suspect there is not—as there is at GDS—a raging debate about whether we are even weird enough, whether we have lost our weirdness, gone soft . . . worse, gone mainstream. It is the GDS form of existential anxiety. We are weird therefore we are. Here it is 2008 and we still have a grasshopper as our mascot, think ourselves too good to give students extra GPA credit for little things like taking AP or honors classes, and still don’t have a football team, cheerleading squad (aside from Cheerquest All Stars, who were excellent), or even a cafeteria. We are hyper political, artistic, a little bit hippie 40 years after the 60s, and constantly searching for new ways to make a statement.
Okay, I know some of you are sitting there at this point thinking HEY! That’s not me! I actually am actually pretty normal. But to that I respond with the words of Topher Dunne: “Cancel my subscription, ‘cause I don’t want your issues.”
With all our quirks and characters, obsessions with maroon stripes and beautiful junk, sometimes things may seem a little crazy around GDS . . . but I would say no. Because as Robert Frost once said, “A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.” So I would say by that definition that we are perfectly civilized . . . more than that, we are an example for everyone. We don’t just tolerate eccentricity, we celebrate it. We don’t just celebrate it. We grow it right here, providing a constant supply for Washington, DC, and for the world.
Now, normal teenagers thrive on conformity. I know this not because I am normal but because I have a TV. But I like to think of GDS as a kind of alternative universe, one in which we celebrate the out-of-the-box thinkers . . . even when, in the class of ‘06, it led a couple of boys to actually spend a week living inside a box as their senior quest. I guess they wanted to see what the rest of the world might be like. But this place has been fighting popular trends since the day it was started. After all, what could have been more conformist and widely accepted back in 1946 than the American-as-apple-pie idea of segregated schools?
So, GDS was born bucking a trend and here it is today—still celebrating its rich diversity every time we sing, in our gay pride assemblies and drag balls, and most important, in the wide range of ideas we cook up. What can you say about all this flagrant idiosyncrasy, all this rampant contrariness, all this bright green, mightily hopping GDosity? Well, all I can say is hallelujah!
The English philosopher John Stuart Mill once wrote “the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and the courage it contained.” Do you hear that? Every time you go out and do something unconventional, every time you say the thing no one else dares to say, every time you color outside the lines, you are a genius—a brave, vital genius. And that’s why while many of the kids who graduate this year and every year seem eager to break out of high school and let the world wash over them and change them . . . while they seem so enthusiastic about casting off what they were in high school to become like the people they meet in college or in the workplace . . . while the main thing that is celebrated in most graduation speeches is how the school prepared them for the world . . . I leave GDS with (are you surprised?) a completely different idea in mind.
I leave here—and I encourage all of you to leave here too—with the idea not that we should become more like the world, but that we should work hard, work all our lives, to make the world more like GDS . . . as tolerant as GDS, as happy as GDS, as caring as GDS, and yes, just as weird, as quirky, as eccentric, and as gloriously different as GDS.
Not only does the world need to be a lot more like us, not only does the world need all of you out there making it more like us, but if we succeed, then we never really have to leave this place—we can bring it with us . . . we can plant seeds of it here and there, we can keep what we have gained, and what we have learned and what we love, with us for the rest of our lives.
Now, you may remember that when I began, I mentioned that Louise read to us a few weeks ago from The House on Pooh Corner . . . and that’s where I would like to conclude:
“If anybody wants to clap,” said Eeyore, “now is the time to do it.”
Susie Gelman, Parent Speaker
When Peter asked me to be the senior parent speaker at this year’s graduation, you could have knocked me over with a feather. After all, the list of previous speakers reads like a veritable Who’s Who of official Washington: Alice Rivlin, the first woman to be appointed director of the Office of Management and Budget; Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author; Norman Ornstein, political scientist, quintessential Washington pundit, and aspiring stand-up comedian; and Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel, to name just a few. The only traits I have in common with these individuals are that we have all been GDS parents and we are all Jewish, which I realize at times may seem redundant.
Anyway, once I recovered from the initial excitement, the challenge of delivering appropriate remarks became apparent. I was given certain instructions: “be funny,” which I took to mean be funny according to GDS standards—sardonic, but not sarcastic; witty, subtle, and piercingly incisive, but not silly, trite, or obvious; erudite and au courant, but not overblown or pretentious. I was also told “don’t be cheesy,” whatever that meant. And of course, above all—under no circumstances was I to say anything that might cause the slightest tinge of embarrassment to a certain graduating senior.
Then I thought about the setting. Not only would I be speaking along with Peter, Kevin, and Chris—one former history teacher and two seasoned English teachers—but I would be sharing the podium with Jacob and Joanna AND making my remarks in front of Georgetown Day School’s entire English faculty. Talk about pressure!
So I did what any sane person would do: I Googled commencement speech do’s and don’ts, to see if I might glean some inspiration and find some practical suggestions for approaching this daunting task. Naturally, there are all sorts of commencement speech texts and quotes available online, and if one is really desperate (I swear that I am not making this up!), one can go to Speech-Writers.com which offers, for only $19.97 (that’s down from the original price of $39.00) a package of nine sample high school graduation speeches plus a bonus package of three sample concluding poems and some tips on speaking in public. I have to admit that I was tempted.
But I resisted the temptation, as I’m sure all of our graduating seniors have done when facing a blank computer screen mere hours before the deadline for handing in some critical paper or report.
By this point, I figured that I would have spent almost half of my allotted time talking about the speech instead of actually saying anything, therefore reducing the time necessary to say something serious, such as offering advice or other observations about life that are the sum and substance of commencement speeches. This is, of course, a tactic well known to students and to the teachers who review and grade their work; it’s called “filler.”
Up until now, I actually had one page’s worth of remarks. Given that this is a speech and not a paper, I wasn’t able to use some of the well-known strategies such as slightly increasing the font size, widening the margins or adding extra spacing in order to “enlarge” the document—again, something that I am certain our graduating seniors have never done during their high school careers.
But finally, the moment of truth arrived. That is to say, I had to come up with some sort of content, instead of continuing to filibuster. So here it is, my attempt to tread gingerly through the commencement speech minefield in five minutes or less.
I stand here as a representative of all parents of our graduating seniors. Some of us have known you, members of the class of 2008, since you were four or five years old (or even earlier, if you happen to be our own child). We have watched you grow from the cute little tykes you were in Lower School to awkward adolescents to self-assured young adults, ready to take on the world, or at least, the college or university world. We’ve watched you in assemblies; accompanied you on field trips; camped out with you at Buffalo Gap, Turkey Run, and Prince William Forest (where we survived the tick infestation); cheered you on at sports events; and applauded you at the end of concerts, musicals, and plays. We’ve spent millions of hours driving you to and from school and various after-school activities. We’ve attended scores of curriculum nights, parent-teacher conferences, and potluck suppers. We’ve packed thousands of school lunches, filled out numerous permission slips and those annoying medical forms, and—the bane of my personal existence—rummaged through hundreds of family photographs, usually the night before the deadline for some ersatz school project. Some of us have even gotten slightly overextended by approaching the annual Lower School science fair as if it were a breeding ground for future Nobel prizewinners. We’ve dried your tears, shared in your accomplishments, supported you in times of disappointment, and best of all, we’ve basked in your reflected glory.
So here’s a bit of advice to all of you as you leave the protected womb of GDS and venture out into the world. First and foremost, never take yourselves too seriously. The world is full of self-important people whose image of themselves vastly exceeds their actual or potential contribution to society, and you don’t need to add to their rosters. Second, find something that you love to do, and do it. Whether you are fortunate enough to combine passion and profession, as your teachers certainly have done, or whether you discover an outlet through volunteer work or community activism, find some way to make this world a better place. Third, speak out against injustice, whenever and wherever you see it. GDS has given you the tools you need to be articulate and persuasive; never be silent or passive when you confront a wrong that you can help to right. Fourth, VOTE! Not just in presidential elections, but in every election; local elections are important, too, and voting is a right and a privilege that far too many people in our country take for granted. Finally, don’t think of learning as something that ends along with your formal education. For the last few years, I have been taking courses just a couple of blocks from this auditorium, with students who are literally the same ages as my kids. While my family pokes fun at my occasional bouts of anxiety about turning in papers and completing assignments (see, I wasn’t just speaking hypothetically about how to make a paper seem longer than it actually is) the truth is that there are few things more satisfying than the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake—the love of learning that is one of the precepts of a GDS education. It can be difficult to appreciate this vaunted “love of learning” when you are in the midst of satisfying course requirements, whether in high school or in college, but in time, it will hopefully lose its clich_d aspect and become something meaningful and cherished that adds to the quality of your lives.
As Antoine de Saint Exupery wrote in The Little Prince, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to have to explain things to them always and forever.” While the author could not possibly have anticipated the technological advances that sometimes befuddle members of my generation but seem so natural to yours, we, your parents, count on you to continue to be patient with us in explaining the obvious. After all, the vast majority of us didn’t benefit from a GDS education.
Today’s graduation is a bittersweet moment for our family. Not only is our youngest child graduating from GDS, but so are we, after nineteen years as GDS parents and forty tuition years. Michael and I will always be grateful to GDS, not only for providing an outstanding education to each one of our three children—Asher, Sarah, and Rachel—but for creating an atmosphere in which service to one’s community and appreciation of those who are different are as valued as academic pursuits. Rachel, you and your classmates have set a standard of excellence as human beings that will be your enduring legacy to this wonderful school. Thank you, seniors, for the joy that you have brought and will continue to bring to our lives. Always remember just how much everyone here loves you, and may you always have fair winds and following seas.
Class of 2007 Graduation
June 10, 2007
Welcome: Peter Branch, Head of School
From the Principal: Kevin Barr, High School Principal
Faculty Speaker: Bobby Asher, High School History Teacher
Class of 2007 Speaker: McKenzie Fowler
Class of 2007 Speaker: David Gold
Parent Speaker: Annie Whatley, Parent
Welcome by Peter Branch, Head of School
It is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to the 36th Commencement of Georgetown Day School and to the graduation of the Class of 2007. I am delighted to see you all here today to recognize and honor the accomplishments of this group of uniquely talented and dynamic young men and women. They are poised on the edge of their seats, not for my talk of course, but for the moment when they walk back down the aisle with their diplomas and go out into the world. Second semester seniors, now enrolled in colleges and universities, they have already psychologically left us, parents and teachers, behind. But we have them yet with us, if only for a few more moments.
While they have been with us at GDS, they have contributed much to the life and spirit of the school. I particularly owe them a great deal for their leadership of the student body through the physical and emotional changes which the new High School facilities have wrought. Change is never easy, even, or perhaps, especially, for adults. But during your junior year, you endured with patience and good humor the noise, confinement and the displacement of the big dig.
This year you roared into the new student forum the first day of classes and made it and the school your own. Borrowing from the Grateful Dead, your Class of 2007 tee-shirts read “What a long strange trip it’s been!” The editors of your yearbook selected as its theme, “New Addition.” They noted: “To us, GDS has always been a place that we could make our home. … By choosing to play music in the student forum, painting birthday signs for friends, and finding a nook in the hall that is just right, not too big and not too secluded, GDS students have been able to transcend academic changes, physical changes, and personal changes by keeping ‘their place’ in the school. On the down side, as one of your senior quests noted, you have felt so at home at GDS that parts of it have sometimes looked like your unkempt bedrooms. As a result, you have left us both a challenge and the inspiration for a solution which will hopefully make GDS an even better place for all of us who work and live there.
You are a group of young men and women of many talents. In class you have shared your gifts of perception and eloquence, as well as your concern for each other. Such talents have been honed since your earliest days at GDS. While many of you joined GDS in the High School, many others were promoted from the Lower Middle School. In fact, 28 of you are lifers who entered in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten. Five of you are children of alumni. Your ranks have now grown to a total of 113.
Academically, you have been willing to challenge yourselves and to take risks. Such efforts have born fruit as you have grown in your skills and performance. The first senior class to experience fully the new SAT I with writing, your combined median verbal, math and writing scores were 446 points over the national median. 34% of you were recognized a Finalists or Commended Scholars by the National Merit programs. In your junior year, 89% earned Advanced Placement passing scores of 3 or higher, 67% scores of 4 or higher, and 39% received the top score of 5.
Your plans for the immediate future are diverse, even though all of you have been accepted by a college or university. Indeed, your class was accepted by 143 different institutions and will attend 67 different schools, with some of you going to colleges in Switzerland, Scotland and Canada. Three will matriculate at conservatories in your fields of musical theatre, dance and cello. A number of graduates will pursue gap year or semester off options. For example, one will focus on sharpening her climbing skills overseas, another will spend time in Latin America continuing environmental research, and yet another will study in England while developing his soccer skills. The range of interests and the willingness to enhance them in unique ways is remarkable and admirable in this group of Hoppers.
Without question, GDS athletic spirit has benefited from our new facilities. You broke them in and showed us how to enjoy them. The sound of exciting competition in the gym drew us to see you play and the accessibility of the all-weather field called spectators out of the forum. 4 extraordinarily dedicated members of your class received 12 letter awards for participating on varsity teams for all three seasons for all four years of high school. 11 athletes were awarded four year awards in the fall, 11 for winter sports and 19 for spring participation. Such leadership was critical to the spirit and accomplishment of our teams. One member of the crew team was chosen as 1 of 44 athletes named by U.S. Rowing to its 2006 Scholastic Honor Role. Another senior was one of only three GDS runners in our history to compete in the Nike Indoor National High School Track Championships, setting a GDS record for indoor 400 meters and being named to the Post’s first team in Boys Field and Track. Another of you was the number one women’s foul shooter in the DC metro area. And, of course, you prevailed in Powder Puff football. To foster school spirit, a group of you led the effort to establish the GDS Fan Club, wearing tee-shirts with the motto: “Home is where the heart is.” On occasion, you even inspired us by appearing as pirates.
You were just as committed to the Arts at GDS but had to delay your gratification with the new performing arts facilities until they were completed. Fortunately, an early delivery of the new Black Box meant that only the fall production of “Arabian Nights” had to be otherwise located. You masterfully responded to the Director’s vision of mounting this production in a tent. Those of you who led the backstage, or rather backtent, efforts are to be commended for all your flexibility and creativity during this challenging year of changes. The One Acts moved into the theatre soon after it was finished and the musical production of On the Town appeared to be an attempt to see what the new Black Box could do. You stepped into other new spaces with performances that looked like you had always been there – Fata Morgana in the new dance studio and splendid vocal and instrumental shows in the student forum, as well as the theatre. Several of you have shown us your gifts as individual performers. One of you is a cello player who has performed with Yo Yo Ma and at Carnegie Hall. Two of you staged one person shows as quests in the Black Box, with one raising over $1000 for Cancer research.
In studio art, the new halls of our enlarged space have been enhanced by the display of your work. In the Congressional Art Competition, two GDS seniors received the second and third place awards. One of you was named the Shell Youth Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Three of you won a prize in the C-SPAN student cam project without actually using a video camera. Your participation in Blues Alley in Georgetown gave others the chance to learn that jazz is alive and well at GDS.
Your dedication to language and the word gave quality to GDS publications this year, most notably Menagarie, the yearbook, the Augur Bit, our newspaper, and the revived Grasslands, the literary magazine. Two of you had poems accepted for the Parkmont Poetry Prize. One of you won an essay prize on the preservation of Civil War battlefields. In Debate, It’s Academic, Model UN and Model Congress you also showed an individuality in argument and expression which brought you reward and recognition. Your work in SSC similarly demonstrated an appeal to reason as you grappled with issues of school governance.
You have also been active participants and leaders in the many activities which fulfill our commitment to the equal worth of each individual within our diverse community. The Black Culture Club, Rainbow Connections, Latino Arts, AWARE, Fusion, SIS, indeed all our organization which value and celebrate the unique individual qualities of all us who make GDS GDS, have benefited from your dedication of time and energy. As a result, you have contributed to successful local and national Student Diversity Leadership Conferences, GDS diversity retreats, the White Privilege Conference, Gay Pride Week, and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day teach-in. One of your members was the winner of the Princeton University award for dedication to diversity efforts.
Part of what you have learned at GDS is the interdependence of the peoples of our world. Your participation in community service has given much to others, but hopefully it has also inspired in you a commitment to better the conditions of life for others beside yourselves. As a class, you have served over 17,340 documented hours of community service. 11 students worked over 300 hours. You tutored school-age children and guided pre-schoolers, coached and taught physically challenged and autistic children and adults, built low income housing, tended neglected and abused animals, fed the hungry and aided the homeless, advocated on behalf of human rights, worked in congressional offices and at the National Zoo (no connection intended there), visited the aging, assisted the children of migrant workers, worked to bridge the divide between Israeli and Palestinian teens, helped build a school in Ethiopia and gutted destroyed homes in New Orleans. Four members trained to become EMTs. And this work took place throughout the United States and the world. This class, in particular, looked for unique ways to help those in need. You have much to be proud of.
This year has been one of first time events which may very well become GDS traditions. You have been responsible for the first GDS game of Assassin, the first roller-disco homecoming dance in the new garage, the first sit-in in the library, the first sit-on on the field, the first game of laser tag, not to mention other firsts that are best left unmentioned.
As you leave this hall today as graduates and alumni of GDS, you will be marking a significant change in your life. There are numerous such markers which we observe over time – birthdays, the first day of school, graduations, marriage and commitment ceremonies, first jobs, promotions, not to speak of divorces, retirements, and funerals. Change is the nature of life. Most often, however, it is not marked by ceremony. It just creeps up on us. At my age, I am less and less able to jump from one boat to another, although I still try, much to the dismay of my wife and children.
But since change is inevitable, we achieve little by seeking to ignore or resist it. Our effort must be, as yours was when you first entered our new high school, to make it our own. As you confront the issues of the world, do not try to separate yourself from the realities you find there. Do not think that they will have no effect on your lives. Mere opposition will be futile and will lead to frustration. You owe it to yourselves and to others to bring your talents to bear on the great issues of your time. It is important, in managing the inevitable daily demands, that you not think small or forget the larger goals of your lives. The maroon stripe itself is not important, but what it signifies is. Remember the lessons and the skills you have been taught at GDS – flexibility of mind but steadiness of purpose, celebration of difference but commitment to common values, and, above all, devotion to those you love and who love you.
The Faculty and I believe the Class of 2007 has the ability to make a positive difference in a world which all too much needs change. Go forth unafraid and with our affection and best wishes. Congratulations on your successful commencement.
From the Principal: Kevin Barr, High School Principal
Our former director, Gladys Stern, used to say that the purpose of education, and especially a GDS education, was to make you fit company for yourself. Such a notion puts equal weight on the worth of the individual and the worth of the education he or she receives. So, I have been thinking about what you have learned during your four years at the High School that might make you fit company for yourself and others. If I were a math teacher or an art teacher by trade, I probably would have come up with a different list of the useful lessons your teachers and the books you have studied tried to impart, but being an English teacher by calling, my list runs as follows.
In ninth grade you read the story of Cain and Abel and learned that you probably shouldn't kill your brother and then bury him, expecting that God or your parents wouldn't notice he was missing. You also learned from Charles Dickens' Great Expectations that if you are invited to play in the house of a creepy old woman who has not looked upon the light of day for twenty years and seems not to notice that her wedding dress which she never takes off is turning yellow, you should leave immediately for London. Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God made it clear that following your dreams even if they take you to the horizon and back is better than staying physically safe in a situation which denies your essential self.
In 10th grade William Wordsworth shared with you the sad fact that we come into this world trailing clouds of glory but in our mania for getting and spending we lay waste the natural gifts God gave us. Of course, you also learned from Shakespeare's Macbeth that just because your wife wants you to be king and three half naked ladies suggest that it's in the cards, knocking off your best friend, various retainers, the old king, and half of Scotland probably is not the best way to gain political advancement. In 11th grade your reading of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should have made it clear that one's worth as a human being has nothing to do with one's skin color or one's class and everything to do with how one treats other people.
This year William Faulkner in The Sound and the Furytaught you that even freshmen at Harvard can have very bad days. And you might not have known three months ago when you read John Milton's epic poem that today you too would be, like Adam and Eve, cast out of Paradise or at least a reasonable facsimile of it as far as schools go. Unlike Adam and Eve, though, you will always be welcomed back. But like them you will have to make your own way now, with the world all before you. Providence may guide you, but the choice of where to go and what to do when you get there will belong entirely to you.
So as you step away from us remember some of the essential lessons that your books and your teachers have tried to teach you: walk with a little humility, assume responsibility for yourself and others, in dark times remember there is always someone who loves you, and a good joke, as long as it's not at anyone's expense but your own, is a mighty good thing. (That last one is taken from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, which you didn't read, but really ought to.)
So out you go, fit company for yourself and others. We will miss you.
Faculty Speaker: Bobby Asher, High School History Teacher
Thank you, Class of 2007, I am sincerely honored.
Now if I were a teacher at St. Albans, where I went to high school, today I'd be standing before you in my graduation robe, perhaps a bit jealous of my colleagues whose multi-colored hoods and sleeve bars, signifying their various advanced degrees, would make my plain black bachelor's robe—simple, but slimming—appear rather ordinary.
But this is GDS, and I'm wearing a suit. It's a new suit, by the way, that my parents bought me for the occasion, so I guess I should be thanking them, too.
Congratulations, graduates. Getting to today is really no small feat. You've fought through tremendous difficulties, struggles that only your generation understands.
Many of you have had to make your way, navigating the mean streets of Chevy Chase, Potomac, and McLean. All of you soldiered on in your car seats, as you headed off to your pre-arranged play-dates. You endured chaffing from your bicycle helmets and avoided trans-fats. You steadfastly braved the isolation of the dreaded time-out, and a few of you beat all the odds and even survived peanut allergies.
Today is a day of reflection. Although for some of you, it's not your first day of reflection at GDS, thankfully, you don't have to report this one to colleges.
As a father of three daughters myself, none of whom has reached the middle school as of yet, I'm not sure how qualified I am to be giving advice to parents of teenagers. In fact, I'm not sure how qualified I am as a father at all. I remember, during my oldest daughter's first year at GDS, a conversation we had in the car on the way to the Lower/Middle School...
Seeking to start my day with a little affirmation, I asked her, "Who's the toughest guy in the world?"
Without hesitation, she responded, "Brian Bobo" (her PE teacher at the time).
Although it wasn't exactly the answer I was looking for, I understood her position.
Daunted, but determined, I pushed on, "Who's the second toughest guy in the world?"
This time she paused for a moment.
Clearly it was time to cut my losses.
Still, I do feel that while today is primarily about the students, it is also a day for parents, and, having learned my place, I will turn to a couple of better-qualified sources.
Several weeks ago, on the advice of a mother at Prince William Forest, I picked up a copy of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel. [By the way, when a mom recommends a really good book about parenting, it's kind of like a "friend" offering you a breath mint]. At any rate, I was struck by one passage in particular. In it, the author advises us, as loving, sensitive parents, not to measure our children's mettle by their moods, their grades, or their social standing. "Look," she says, "for your child's capacity for reverence, for gratitude, and for compassion."
In one of my favorite books, given to me by my wife (I seem to have a lot of people encouraging me to learn more about parenting), Tim Russert offers his advice: "We must teach our children that they are never, never, entitled, but that they are always, always loved."
And now for the students, for the Class of 2007, I do have a message.
The education you've received at GDS isn't meant to be the same as that you could have received at scores of high schools—in DC or across the country. You've been given an education that says it's not enough to have a skill. Not enough to have read all the books or to know all the facts. We might tease ourselves occasionally, but at GDS, values really do matter.
Among of host of ideals, GDS places a premium on freedom.
And by this, I don't just mean the opportunity to go to Subway or Quiznos for lunch or to choose between the chicken shwarma or the Lebanese Celebration at Café Olé.
At GDS we grant you far greater freedoms, and, it is by design—part and parcel of what we do here.
Recently I was struck as I reviewed a column in the New York Times written by Thomas Friedman. Originally I had chosen the article for my ninth-graders because it talked about China's place in the rapidly "flattening" world.
Interestingly, in a country that has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, Chinese educators are now calling for a new national strategy, one designed to make China a so-called "innovation country." As hard as they have worked to develop their industrial sector, the Chinese have failed to impact the world economy in any pioneering way. Theirs is an economy based on mass production of commodities typically designed somewhere else. What holds China back, Friedman argues is freedom—or lack thereof.
"It is very hard," he argues, "to produce a culture of innovation in a country that censors Google." Rigor and competence, without freedom, will take China only so far.
As I read the article a second and third time, it dawned on me, what Friedman was talking about in its ideal sense was GDS—a school that emphasizes both "rigor and competence" and freedom.
I always laugh when people talk about GDS being too loosey-goosey. As everyone one of these graduates before you can attest, while our students are granted a considerable amount of freedom, they work uncommonly hard. Our curriculum is nothing, if not rigorous. Heck, our kids staged a sit-in to protest the shortening of library hours.
As Friedman writes, "Freedom without rigor and competence will take us only so far."
And herein lies the challenge: in a world with so much freedom and so many possibilities, it becomes increasingly difficult to make decisions—particularly when one comes from a school that doesn't always make them for you. The process can become even more menacing in the information age—in the high-speed world of the Internet, of Yahoo, Wikipedia, and Ask Yves.
In fact, when it came time to write my speech, pressured by my seniors who said, "Don't worry, you just have to be funny," my first impulse was to get on the Web.
I googled "Funny Graduation Speech" and got 749 hits in .25 seconds (and I didn't even click on the "I'M FEELING LUCKY" button).
After about two hours of jumping from site to site, I finally found what I was looking for—I believe it was About.com that had the best advice:
"During the graduation ceremony, you want to say a few words to the eager audience. . . . Very often, people don't realize that a funny graduation quote always works with audiences. Use one to add mirth to your speech. After googling "mirth" to figure out what it was, I eagerly scanned the list of "funny graduation quotes," I'll share the first two.
1. Your schooling may be over, but remember that your education still continues [Not funny]
2. A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that 'individuality' is the key to success. [Funny, but we don't wear caps and gowns]
So much for the Internet. A few summers ago, on the advice of my now 96-year-old grandfather [Apparently even he seems to think I could stand a measure of self-improvement], I read a book called The Paradox of Choice, by a guy named Barry Schwartz at Swarthmore.
In it, he put forth the idea—supported with loads of research—that most people are terrible decision-makers. Most of us often don't know what we want, and the prospect of deciding often causes us not only jitters but real anguish. "Unlimited choice," he writes, "can produce genuine suffering."
In a nutshell, what Schwartz is talking about is someone like me at the Cheesecake Factory. I'm assuming that most of you have been to the Cheesecake Factory, but then again, given that there are probably 10,000 restaurants in the DC metropolitan area, maybe I'm wrong. At any rate, it can be an absolutely overwhelming experience. First of all, the menu is spiral-bound. It has 17 subsections. In addition to 32 varieties of cheesecake (I counted), they offer 26 different appetizers, 55 some-odd entrees, 15 salads, and 8 different Smoothies. The panoply of possibilities is paralyzing [How'd you like that for alliteration?].
Should I get the Jambalaya Pasta or the Bang-Bang Chicken and Shrimp? The Thai Lettuce Wraps or the Tex-Mex Eggrolls?
Invariably, I order the Shepherd's Pie, and spend the rest of the meal eying everyone else's plates, convinced I've made the wrong decision.
In an effort to help us, Schwartz talks about the difference between "maximizing" and "satisficing." A maximizer, he says, is someone who "can't be certain that she has found the best sweater unless she's looked at all the sweaters," "She can't know that she is getting the best price until she's checked out all the prices."
Schwartz's suggestion is that we should all become "satisficers"—sweater-purchasers "content with the merely excellent as opposed to the absolute best." People who find joy in their Shepherds' Pie. It is a remarkably tasty dish. And the portions are generous enough for two really.
What Schwartz worries about is that the overwhelming amount of choice—the 37 varieties of dog food, 26 brands of soup, and 14 types of bagged lettuce at Safeway—is turning us all into maximizers. Maximizers, he says, are prone to misery and depression.
In a world of shopping malls and cable television, Amazon.com and Wal-Mart, E-Bay and E-Harmony, how in the world does one choose a career or a mate, let alone a major or courses from a college catalogue?
In my AP Psychology course, we take a version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test based on some of Carl Jung's ideas. After completing a battery of multiple-choice questions, test-takers receive their all-important letters, which indicate the degree to which one is an I or an E, an S or an N, a T or an F, or a J or a P. For today's purposes, I'm going to focus on the J/P distinction.
One's Jness or one's P... (Well, the extent to which one is a P") reflects the manner in which a person makes decisions.
Js, or Judgers, are people who tend to like having things decided. Js prefer a planned, orderly way of life; they like to have things settled and organized, they feel more comfortable when decisions are made. Js like to bring life under control as much as possible.
Ps, or Perceivers, are people who'd rather avoid making decisions. They tend to focus on taking in information rather than on making decisions. They like to delay final decisions in order to get more information. Ps prefer a more flexible and spontaneous way of life.
Now, while I know there are a number of Js out there—you, with your color-coded, annotated Hoppers and your orderly, prioritized To-Do lists.
We Ps, however, struggle with decisions. While you map out the week, the year (and your lives), we feel confined by plans. We see them as restrictions, limitations on possible choices...
"Sure I'd love to go to Mark and Katherine's for dinner on October 17," I say. But what I'm thinking is closure. While I honestly can't think of anything I'd rather do, now nothing else is possible for that evening. Nothing. Can't even go to The Cheesecake Factory for Shepherd's Pie.
In GDS fashion, I'm not really sure what I am telling you to do, or whether we as teachers really should tell people what to do. Somehow after four years of what I call "appropriate ambiguity," you're probably not ready for a directive.
And as a self-proclaimed "P," I want to appear "loose and casual" and allow you to "stay open" to possibilities.
So, in closing, I want to offer you some comforting information, followed by a brief story. First, the information.
Making decisions is difficult, but, as Christopher Caldwell writes, we tend to lose sight of our human resilience when we make big choices. People are constantly amazed that so many things they had dreaded—from misguided relationships to faulty career moves—often, as they say, "turn out for the best."
We have an enormous capacity for happiness. The surprise isn't how often we make bad choices; the surprise is how seldom they defeat us.
And now for the final story.
It's from a graduation that took place several years ago at a small school in Vermont. Because the school had only 14 graduates, each student was given a few minutes to speak. One of the graduates began her speech by acknowledging how much the school had challenged and inspired her individuality. During the middle of it, in an attempt to express the spirituality of the day, she removed her graduation robe and concluded her speech—completely and unabashedly naked.
Within hours, the tabloids began calling everyone in the town in search of a photograph or a videotape. Apparently when the young woman dropped her robe, the audience was so shocked that no one captured the moment on film—no one except the professional videographer who'd been hired by the school to record the ceremony. Quickly, he became a very popular guy.
Having just recently opened his video-production company, the sought-after photographer was in debt, married, and anxious to start a family. But he couldn't because he had NO money and his wife needed surgery. Suddenly the tabloids were competing to buy the tape, and the offering price soared to $100,000. Could the stars have aligned more fortuitously? Here was his golden opportunity. And you know what he did: he turned down them down—all of them. He just said no. When asked about his decision, he responded without hesitation. "It wouldn't have been right," he said. "It just wouldn't have been right."
So, Class of 2007:
Embrace Your Freedom.
And maintain your honor.
Thank you and congratulations.
Class of 2007 Speaker, McKenzie Fowler
Georgetown Day High School Class of 2007: I only have one question for you. Did you guys do the right thing by choosing me to speak at our graduation? In my opinion, you had much better options. The other nominees were more eloquent, vastly more mature, and tremendously wittier than I am known to be, which is why I can't believe that you all actually chose me. I think we should recount the votes, in fact I demand a recount. (pause and look at Kevin) I can wait. I'll wait until an election official from Florida comes to certify the vote. Well, I realize that at this point it would be pretty unfair and even a bit awkward to have someone trade places with me right now. So I'll give the speech, but I do want to make it clear that I still don't think the votes were counted correctly. I know we, as a class, have a reputation of never doing anything right, and this situation seems to follow in that regard. I thought that before we graduated we would get at least one thing right. Maybe stop playing with girls, or learn to appreciate Shakespeare. But unfortunately our class continues to make unwise decisions. I know it sounds weird coming from me, but honestly, you all would have been much better off voting for Eliza Hecht. She would have said something memorable. I seriously doubt that anything I have to say will be at all meaningful. You all know that I'm no where near as responsible or organized as Julia Halperin, so she would have been a much better choice. The only reason I started writing this at eleven-thirty last night was because I was afraid that one more missed assignment would get my college acceptance rescinded. Contrary to what some may have been expecting, there will be very little if any humor in my speech. Laura Gilbert's speech would have been funny and she wouldn't even have had to pull an all-nighter, although trying to get an extension may have crossed her mind. I'm not sure if it was due to my level of fatigue, but early this morning, asking for an extension seemed like a really good idea.
Last night as I navigated my way through the SparkNotes website, just as I do before starting any GDS assignment, I realized that this would be my last time visiting the web page as a GDSer. I got a little choked up and quickly became misty eyed, but just as quickly, I felt relieved. I know all of you feel at least a little bit relived to be graduating from GDS. We've been so stressed out for almost four years. Focusing on getting good grades, trying to excel in our extracurricular activities, worrying about getting into college, and in Jason's case, trying to get me to like him. When everything you've been working towards for such a long time finally comes together, it really is a huge relief.
Graduation is one of life's moments where we should all feel a sense of relief and a sense of accomplishment. So often it seemed over the last four years, that we received only a letter grade for our long hours of hard work. Sometimes we put forth tremendous effort, and still didn't get the letter grade that we felt matched our level of effort. Even when we tried our absolute best, it still sometimes wasn't enough. Many of us aren't recognized as often as we think we should be for our dedication outside of the classroom in our clubs and on our sports teams. When we make mistakes sometimes it seems we are remembered more for our failures than our achievements. Just one little slip-up and you're stuck with an unfavorable reputation for the rest of your high school career. Crushed hopes and dreams, lost chances, lost games, and lost friends are all bitter pills to swallow. But once we fight through the adversity the struggle should only make us stronger. High school presented us with many challenges. We met each of those challenges and made a concisous decision to succeed. The long and hard hours of work we put in only made us better and wiser students. Today we celebrate our efforts and realize that this victory was worth the fight. We may not have been rewarded for every little step that we made in the past four years, but today each of us will be recognized for the great growth we have made from ninth grade until now.
College acceptance may have felt like the ultimate reward for our diligence in high school, but graduation is truly the time that we celebrate the fruits of our labor. In the last four years we have both suffered and prospered. Some might say that it is impossible to flourish without going through a little bit of pain. We may have fought and rebelled against GDS for piling on the work, but today we should acknowledge and thank this institution for leading us to success. Georgetown Day School has molded us into the young adults we are and has positively impacted each of our futures forever. Aristotle said it perfectly: "The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet."
Georgetown Day High School Class of 2007: I know I told you that I only had one question for you, but I hope you don't mind if I pose a few more.
Have our roots been just bitter enough to enjoy the taste of the sweet fruit? Will the fruit be so sweet that we never forget our GDS roots? Have we been given the ability to see past our weaknesses and still find the strength to chase our dreams? Have we developed enough dreams to send our imaginations soaring? Will we stay attached to reality just enough to keep us grounded? Have we been given enough independence to develop and accomplish our own individual goals? Do we have enough dependence to know when and where to seek the help and support that we need? Will we give just as much help as we receive? Do we have enough freedom to make our own choices? Will our free choices be bounded by responsibility? Are we open-minded enough to accept conflicting views? Are we just closed-minded enough to have firm opinions? Will we ask enough questions to get all the right answers? Will we stay silent long enough to really soak up the knowledge? Has the joyfulness of our friendships given us the ability to rise above the sadness of saying goodbye? Is this final goodbye really just another beginning?
I would guess that to all of my questions you answered yes, and if so, then you have to thank GDS. We need to thank GDS for giving us the power to dream, to choose freely, to openly question, to passionately accept diversity, and to fearlessly look to the future. Goodbye GDS, and yes, I thank you!
Class of 2007 Speaker, David Gold
A lot of people have told me that this speech should be funny, and so I recall the words of Jon Stewart, who, when prompted to "be funny" by Chris Matthews on Hardball, said "I'm not your monkey." Because, you see, there's a time for jokes, for laughter, for merriment, but this is not one of those times. Today we mourn the loss of our innocence, the loss of our warm, precious home. Never again will we be part of such a nurturing environment. There are many emotions swirling around this room, but I know that, for me, the greatest one is sadness.
I'm not sure how I said that with a straight face. College is going to be ridonkulous.
As such, I know that a lot of my classmates are eager to move on, and I did my best to keep this brief. However, I ask that you all sit patiently as I take you back, way back, to a magical time I like to call 1993.
See, apparently I didn't show sufficient "friend-making" skills in pre-school, so my parents feared that if they sent me to public school for kindergarten, I'd become a social outcast and, I suppose, eventually die alone without bearing them grandchildren. They needed a school where I'd receive the specialized attention I needed to break out of my shell, where I'd be surrounded by a select group of other socially inept kids. So, they set up an interview with Maret.
The only problem was, in those days, I didn't like to commit to activities that held no immediate benefit for me. So as the time of the interview approached and I refused to get in my mom's car, she did what all great parents do in times of crisis: she bribed me. I hopped in the car and, by all accounts, charmed the hell out of the Maret admissions staff for almost all of my visit. I say "almost all" because when it came time to leave, I allegedly walked over to my mom, and still within earshot of the admissions personnel, said, "Let's go. You owe me 20 bucks."
So it didn't look like Maret would be the best fit.
Fortunately, another bribe got me in a car to GDS, another bribe got me to keep my mouth shut, and yet another bribe got me admitted.
What I'm trying to say is, I've gone to GDS for 13 years. And if you don't think that's a long time, then you're old. A lot of kids here today don't know anything but GDS. And every member of the Class of '07 has a different story of how he or she came to be a Hopper. Some of us have been here since pre-K. Some of us grew up as far away as Indonesia, Colombia, or South Korea. Some of us backed into a red Ford Taurus out front and are in the directory if you want to exchange insurance information. But the important thing is we're all here, and we all made it. The Class of 2007, the "bad class," the class that has been warned of its less-than-stellar reputation every step of the way, is graduating every student.
I can't help but be reminded of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, part of our English 11 curriculum. Specifically, I'm reminded of a quote from when Huck is having a conversation with Miss Watson about heaven and hell. Huck narrates, "I asked if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go [to heaven], and she said, not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together."
I always thought that was charming, how Huck was content to be damned so long as he could stay with his friend. It makes me think that, while the Class of '07 has had its scapegoats, the making of our reputation, good and bad, has been a team effort. When we made inappropriate Powder Puff shirts, we all wore them to support our squad. When someone lost their off-campus privileges, there was always someone to aid them, abet them, and pick them up a sandwich from Subway. And when we got in trouble, we never turned on our own. Through it all, we may have occasionally lost our heads, but we kept our friends.
And so with Huck's poignant words in mind, I say, with pure intentions and great excitement, to the entire Class of 2007: Congratulations, and I'll see you in hell. Thank you.
Annie Whatley, Parent Speaker
To the Board of Trustees; Board President, Joe Sellers; Head of School, Peter Branch; faculty; parents; and last, but not least, the graduates of the Georgetown Day School Class of 2007, I want to extend my sincere appreciation for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the parents. I must admit that when Peter invited me to speak, I was surprised but highly honored. I immediately thought of what my mother is thinking in heaven about this day—me standing here in front of such a distinguished class of graduates from a school like Georgetown Day School. Oh, what a day!
Over the past several weeks, I have given much thought to just how special this day is for our children, the graduates. The outstanding GDS faculty has prepared our children for a lifelong love of learning—for this we thank you! As proud parents, we have looked forward to this day—sometimes with joy and sometimes with sadness. For many of us, this day brings to mind the hazy, sometimes fuzzy, memories of our own graduations, which, according to most of our children, happened a long, long time ago.
This is a great class—generating only a few discipline concerns and notes from Kevin. You have formed a strong bond and demonstrated a genuine concern for each other. Many of you are GDS lifers—all have chosen to attend great colleges and have awesome dreams of a successful future—thank you Barbara, Chris, and Linda for your great counsel.
As parents now, and graduates ourselves only a few years ago—well, maybe slightly more than a few—we were determined to make our mark on the new world that was ahead of us. Fortunately, for most of us, the photos of that first independent thrust into the world are fading as they sit in the bottom of our memory boxes in the deep crevices of our attics. However, we still hold those memories close to our hearts. Those memories are invisible connectors which join us with you—our children—the graduates of the GDS Class of 2007.
The world in which we now live is much different and broader than we remember it when we entered it at our graduations from high school.
Technology has provided a changed landscape in which you—our children—will be operating. Information resources are at your fingertips and communication is much more option-oriented than we, your parents, knew it—and based on our text messaging phone bills, certainly more expensive! We are forever grateful to the faculty for encouraging our children to continually expand their frames of references.
I must admit that sometimes it was difficult allowing my daughter Chrissy to fumble and explore options in her own time frame, when I wanted to quickly point her in the direction of the answer which I thought was most appropriate.
What I now realize is that my answer would have eliminated the self-learning process which allowed her to get to her answer. Her Dad, Steve, however, was much better at the hands-off approach—allowing for the mistakes and bumps along the road as she explored ideas and options of her own thinking. He was much more patient than I, and allowed the freedom of the process to produce the answer which was best for her learning experience. Thank you, Steve.
The education that she and all of her GDS classmates have received at this wonderful institution serves to support their inquisitive nature and allows them to determine what path and goals they will pursue.
I do not know what is in store for each of you. But I do know that you are fully prepared. Be fully who you are—let the world get used to you. You can be the trumpet for peace, a voice to end wars and genocide, racism, and prejudice, and the brains behind a cure for AIDS and a safe and clean environment. Throughout your lives, your best friends have been those who remind you that you are special, that you have great gifts to give to others throughout the world, that you have the power to realize your dreams and make real the dreams of others.
Pay close attention to your friends' emotions, and seek to help them if they seem troubled.
It is important to set standards for those who seek to lead you, politically. Support leaders who will promote peaceful solutions to global problems.
Accept only those leaders who lead through a better vision of a better future. Great leaders inspire, motivate, encourage, and empower. They possess integrity, honesty, fairness, dignity, and respect for themselves and others. They strive to live their lives through service to others. At GDS, you have been taught the importance of these characteristics. You have the foundation for what it takes to be a leader—go for it!
Take your role as a responsible citizen very seriously. Take full responsibility for mature self-governance.
We live in a world where the environment is making us sick, where the divide between the "haves" and "have-nots" is expanding, the poverty rate continues to increase, and the number of citizens without health insurance is rising to alarming levels. You have been empowered through your GDS education to address and take action on all of these issues. Many of which you have already taken on here at GDS through a comprehensive community service program, which strives to foster a lifetime concern for others. Thank you, Elsa.
At GDS, service to others is woven into its core values and is fully integrated into the curriculum at all levels of the school.
You are prepared to take on the next phase of life—college—where you will continue to learn, explore, and serve communities throughout the world.
I am sure we can count on you to always remember that your choices in life are circumscribed largely by arbitrary rules, and to always respect the value of the choices of others and your own shortcomings.
Look carefully at what other people are doing and try to understand the context of their actions before making unwarranted judgments.
Rightly or wrongly, everyone will not share your desires or your perceptions. You must never forget the GDS teachings of tolerance and freedom of thought, as they allow you to go outside the blinders imposed by your own culture.
I am sure that each of us here today thinks that you are the best of the best, and we know our world will become brighter with you in it as full participants.
Do not let anyone steer you from those things which are close to your heart. Be not afraid, for you are always supported by those in this audience, especially your parents and the Georgetown Day School family. The world is waiting for you, and we will always be connected by the heartstrings of our love.
As you go forward in life, I want to leave you with a few words of wisdom, which have shaped my life:
Speak with integrity and say only what you mean in truth and love. Strive to not have to say, "I'm sorry".
What others say and do is a result of their own life experiences and reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you can never be a victim.
Trust your instincts—if it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.
Always do your best. When you have done your best, you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret. Don't be attached to the outcomes.
Remember GDS: You have just been inducted into the GDS Alumni Association. It is important to continue your active membership, keep in touch with your classmates, and give back to GDS—through service and resources.
Call your parents, regularly—just to check in, not just for a check.
Make the most of your life's gifts to build a better life for yourself and others, full of love, respect, laughter, and strength to overcome sadness and obstacles.
This is your world. Each of you can bring about real and lasting changes in it.
The change begins with you: be the change you wish to see in the world.
Congratulations. We love you dearly!
Class of 2006 Graduation
June 4, 2006
Welcome: Peter Branch, Head of School
Class of 2006 Speaker: Kate Kennedy
From the Principal: Kevin Barr, High School Principal
Faculty Speaker: Topher Dunne, High School History Teacher
Welcome by Peter Branch, Head of School
It is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to the conclusion of the 60th year of Georgetown Day School, to our 35th Commencement and to the graduation of the Class of 2006. As you can see, we've got seniors! I am delighted to see you all here today. After many years as a school head, I am well aware, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, that the Class of 2006, will little note nor long remember what I say here. Nevertheless, at this ceremony, it falls to me, first, to revisit the accomplishments of these talented and energetic young men and young women for the benefit of their families and friends and, second, to challenge our near graduates as to what they will do in the years ahead with all their talents and acquired skills and knowledge. As they will soon learn, there is no rest for the able.
The GDS Faculty and Staff well know and appreciate the Class of 2006. We have seen your positive impact on the School and each other since the first of you entered in the fall of 1992 as pre-kindergartners. Indeed, 25 of you are lifers who entered in pre-k or k. Your ranks have swelled to a total of 113, with a class ethos of both strong individuality and of mutual support. Your character and gifts are diverse.
Your intellectual abilities are undoubted. Despite the implementation of the new SAT I, your combined verbal and math SAT I average was 312 points above the most recent national average. Indeed, one of you received the top possible SAT I combined score of 1600. You have been willing to challenge yourselves academically. Your advisors have tried, often unsuccessfully, to get you to limit the number of your honors and Advanced Placement courses. Nevertheless, this year your class took a total of 250 AP tests. 90 percent of the exams you took as juniors received college credit grades. 50 of you received recognition as Finalists or Commended Scholars in the National Merit, National Achievement, or National Hispanic Scholarship Programs. Two of you had the unique honor of winning awards as Presidential Scholars, one from Maryland and the other from the District of Columbia.
In looking toward your paths beyond GDS, you had the wisdom and sense of yourselves to look broadly for colleges and universities which best fit you as individuals. As a result, this class sent applications to 159 different colleges and universities. Defying the national hysteria about multiple applications, you applied to an average ofsix schools, just what your college counselors recommended. You will be attending a total of 59 different institutions.
The life of the School has benefited from your leadership. You were remarkably good peer leaders to the freshmen, providing support and good cheer, as well as a second lunch out, much to the delight of the freshmen and the local restaurants. The positive spirit of SSC was generated through your personal approach to the school community. On multicultural and sexual orientation issues, you facilitated school, regional and national dialogues, obtaining recognition for GDS's efforts at the DC Metro Diversity Leadership Conference and the national People of Color Conference. On Diversity Retreats and during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, you gave voice to the need to celebrate all of the students in the School.
In the Arts, you will be missed Your individual talents were remarkable as shows, one acts, musicals, and vocal and instrumental performances over your four high school years demonstrated. Particularly notable during productions was your basic decency to each other, to the faculty and to younger students. Your studio art work enhanced the halls of GDS.
Although community service is often begun as a requirement, many of you came to understand it as a personal and social responsibility. Together, you have contributed a documented 12, 734 hours to helping others. You have worked on ranches in the West and revitalized urban parks in the District; you've worked to rebuild the Louisiana coastline and constructed low-income housing in D.C.; you've saved endangered animals; coached children in a variety of sports, prepared meals for the hungry and homeless; saved lives in emergency rooms and ambulances; provided help to the elderly and ill, and tutored and mentored children in schools, recreation departments, through music, the Special Olympics and our own art department. You have worked all over the world. A number of students have spent hundred of hours creating a sister school in Ethiopia. Altogether, this has been a remarkably caring class.
In athletics you have given great support to GDS teams for four years, helping win two MAC Cross Country banners, two MAC Track and Field banners, and two MAC men's soccer banners. Many of you have been named to the all-league teams in MAC and ISL for your respective sports. Three of you ran on the 4 x 800 meter relay team at the Nike Indoor nationals which placed 18th in the nation and set a new GDS record. All of the teams which would have used our field bore with good grace, and even with success, the absence of home games as a result of the construction.
In this talented class, there were many individual achievements. A listing of a few of your honors captures the breadth of your interests. One young woman collected 2,800 prom dresses for very grateful Katrina victims and got more media attention than many a celebrity or politician. Another individual was the national winner last year of the Lincoln Essay contest in which she described how "sitting in the hall between classes, my friends and I discuss the faults of our school's administration, the right to same sex marriage, and the justification for the Iraq war." As a junior, another student helped save his father's life thanks to the application of CPR learned in a GDS P.E. class. In the National Latin exam, a member of the Latin Cult earned a perfect score. One of you received a Scholastic Art and Writing Gold Key this year for her Photography Portfolio. You contributed to the most successful Debate team in GDS history, in one weekend taking the top prize in tournaments on both coasts. Two of you were named the Top Debate Squad at the High School level, an award given this year for the first time.
In the Auger Bit and the Yearbook, in Its Academic, Model Congress, Model UN, the National Science Bowl, the National Math Exam, and in all the ways GDS students challenge yourselves and bring life to our school, the Class of 2006 has been distinguished.
After the Awards Assembly, it was my pleasure to receive a copy of the 2006 Menagerie, the GDS yearbook, which adopted as its theme, "Under Construction," with a wonderful grasshopper holding plans and wearing a yellow hardhat. With the spirit of generosity which this class has shown throughout its career, the editor writes, in the Foreword, that "What we hoped to highlight ... was not the minor inconveniences of the building process, but, rather, this dynamic time of new beginnings and positive change." She then comments that "the entire GDS school community shares the feeling of excitement about the physical changes which will enhance the GDS experience."
From the rapt attention to the construction site of students in the library to the cooperation of parents with the new carpool procedures to the successful and speedy packing efforts of the faculty and staff, the GDS high school threw itself into supporting the construction professionals in their efforts on our behalf. Dislocated from their former perches around GDS, seniors found new haunts and even friends and laid claim on their own square of carpeting in the halls.
The yearbook theme of "Under Construction" also reflects, in the minds of the editors and staff, "the essence of senior year in a more symbolic sense." "After all," they wisely note, "senior year is a time of figuring out who we are and where we are going, at least for the next four years. Our lives are under construction, and we have all benefited from the firm and deep foundations that GDS has provided us with in the academic fundamentals, but they have also instilled in us the power of intellectual curiosity, excitement and risk-taking. As we embark on the next phase of our lives, we have been enriched by the school's values of respect, trust and caring."
As Head of GDS, I could not be prouder of that succinct summary of the goals of this school. The Class of 2006 gets it. And you know that you are still a work in progress, or under construction. The faculty from your earliest days at GDS has valued and challenged your undoubted intellect. On the other hand, you and they have known when your curiosity and developmental inclinations got it wrong. One of the great things about being head of a prek to grade 12 school is the opportunity to watch such developing understanding. Since you entered third grade, I have that pleasure, as well as a few challenges. In Middle School, when you took too seriously a teacher's expressed desire for one of the white rocks lining Landon's driveway, we had to extend our apologies, and, of course, the rock, to that fellow school. That same year, your sense of justice and respect for community were demonstrated at your post 9/11 assembly when you read from the Koran and the Old and New Testaments and listened to a classmate play Jimmy Hendrix's version of the Star Spangled Banner on her electric guitar.
Your yearbook celebrates the school's values of trust, caring and respect. Those values have become part of your lives because of the belief in them by your family, as well as by your teachers. When the adults in your lives trust you, care for you and respect you, then you learn by that example to extend such support to each other. Mentoring, whether of second graders by fifth graders, or of freshman and sophomores girls by junior and senior girls in SIS, or in Monday tutoring or Tuesday art classes, or of freshmen by seniors, or of children in an Ethiopian village - mentoring has been an essential training for you as the transformative leaders I know you will be.
GDS would not be the school for social justice founded 60 years ago if it did not value your character development as much, if not more, than your academic growth. As a result, your teachers value your spirit of care and concern. One of your high school teachers writes, "They helped each other learn more than any group of students I've ever taught." Another commented, "I've never worked with a better class! The camaraderie from the very beginning was remarkable. Any group of '06 students was wonderful to be with."
Trust, caring and respect, of others and their beliefs, are required to a much greater extent in our world than ever before. In his book, High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years To Solve Them, J. F. Rischard offers an agenda that will require global trust and cooperation, environmental care, and a respect for all humanity. It will take the concerted efforts of many to address and reverse the problems which confront us at an accelerating rate. I am confident that from this school, from the members of this class of 2006, we are sending forth individuals of great ability, tremendous values, and much determination. You have so much to offer in sensitivity and vision. May you continue to demonstrate the power of intellectual curiosity, excitement and risk-taking which has made you such a wonderful addition to our school community. Your energy and values are essential to that larger world that you will greet as you leave this hall and GDS.
The Faculty and I have great expectations for the GDS Class of 2006. Go with our best wishes and our many hopes. You have our affection and I know you will continue to deserve our respect. Congratulations on your successful commencement.
Class of 2006 Speaker Kate Kennedy
As I sat down to prepare this talk, I considered the recent graduation ceremonies at Harvard and Columbia, where the class speakers abandoned their notes and denounced the distinguished commencement speakers, John McCain and Condolezza Rice. The students received great reviews from their fellow students for doing this, along with fantastic publicity in the national media.
So I thought, ‘Perhaps I should denounce the commencement speaker.’
(Pause, glance at Dad)
And then I remembered that I need a ride home after this.
So I decided instead to talk about values. What values have I been taught by my school? By my time so far on earth? By my parents?
Let’s start with school.
High School is the last chapter before entering the “real world.” It’s a stepping-stone on the path to a higher education, a good career, and a successful life. At GDS, things are slightly more complicated.
You see, we are a school of values. Here we value moral and ethical fiber above the kind of fiber they use to make dollar bills. At the same time, GDS is a highly regarded private school that sets high expectations for its students. We are expected to achieve. We are expected to succeed. And though few would admit it, we are expected to go forth and make a pile of dough. At the same time, we are expected to look as though we wanted nothing to do with it.
Eduardo, my Spanish teacher, is a man of GDS values. "I HATE money," he would tell our class. "I HATE it! Chicos, chicos. Let me tell you this. Never do I carry money in my pocket. I cannot even LOOK at it. When it’s the time to do the bills, I say MARIBEL! Take it away from ME!
Bravo, Eduardo. Bravo. I salute you in your fierce rebellion against that green poison about which so many non-GDS-ers obsess.
But I ask you this: What should be the measurement of our accomplishments? If our success does not come in dollars and cents, then what coinage does it come in?
Perhaps it is love—beautiful love—that we should value most.
No, unfortunately, it’s not love either. Another piece of Eduardian wisdom. Ahem. "Oh Chicos. You will never find love. You should only have one love in the world but probably he lives in China."
Success doesn't come from love. Success doesn't come from money. Perhaps success comes from service to others.
After the devastating Hurricane Katrina, our head of school, Peter Branch, inspired us to dedicate our lives to helping the outside world. “You know, kids. I’ve been thinking hard about all of these problems on the golf course—cough—I mean, Gulf Coast.”
School has taught us a lot of mixed messages. They pressure us to succeed, but never really told us what real success consists of. Even so, our teachers have always been pretty supportive of us no matter what path we take. We got a little nervous when we found out GDS stuck the secret service on one of our own. But for the most part, GDS has been a source of comradery.
Luckily, we have other sources of values to look to. Our American society provides SO many role models. Let’s examine the prevailing ones for my generation. Today, young women idolize Paris Hilton, whose acclaimed guidebook to life, entitled Confessions of an Heiress is today’s answer to the Confessions of St. Augustine. This invaluable tome contains such invaluable advice as, “Always act like you’re wearing an invisible crown.”
Today, instead of Babe Ruth, we have Barry Bonds. We have corporate shills like Tom DeLay and Dick Cheney as political leaders, and Kenneth Lay and Donald Trump as the icons for our business values. They teach us that the whole point of life is to make yourself a big pile and whoever dies with the most stuff wins!
When society’s values seem empty and our school’s values confuse us, it is our parents, the ones who raised us, to whom we look.
Like most GDS students, I love my parents. My father taught me many things: to skin dead animals, never to pass road kill without putting it in your car, to plunge yourself into any body of water before testing the temperature.
And my mother deserves quite a bit of credit for surviving my upbringing. However, I think it would help all of you if I give you a glimpse of the world from our perspective—yes, you—you baby boomers—baby boomers pretending to be adults, but still babies in so many ways. And yet you are our parents!
God help my generation.
You are so quick to point out when we make a mess and leave it for someone else to clean up. But look at the mess you guys have made of our world.
Indeed, as we graduate today, the consuming task of our lifetime is going to be dealing with the terrible fix you’ve gotten us into and paying off the astronomical debt you’ve run up on our account.
Your generation recently turned a $5.6 trillion surplus into a $10 trillion debt that our generation will have to pay. The kids from our generation are dying in a war that your generation created. Your generation has also trampled the constitution that was to have been our greatest inheritance. You’ve turned the land of the free into the land of the spied upon. Our government is torturing people, imprisoning Americans without rights, spying on our citizens, and listening to our phone calls. We are helping Iraq write a constitution. Why don’t we just give them ours? We don’t seem to need it anymore!
I know you think of your generation as idealistic, but when I think of yours, I think of the movie Animal House. You were funny and endearing when you were guzzling beer and smoking pot. There was something sympathetic about your long, dirty hair, and your love beads and peace signs, tie-dyed T-shirts and your wild antics at Woodstock. But now you have bank accounts and giant corporations and congressional committees and weapons systems and bunker busters and Bradley tanks and Humvees and, quite frankly, you’re dangerous.
It’s no wonder we’re nervous about you running the country. Even the idea of you driving heavy machinery makes us anxious.
But despite everything, we love you.
And you should take a step back and be proud of us for what we’ve accomplished.
Despite the fact that most of us are probably acid babies because you were taking LSD while we were in our neo-natal stages, the statistics show that we drink less alcohol, take fewer drugs and smoke fewer cigarettes than your generation.
Plus we have more sex.
So next time you tear your hair out—or what remains of it—and shake your head in exasperation when we get a tattoo, don’t get home on time, or if WE leave a beer can in the living room; next time you want to tell us that we’re acting irresponsibly, that our bad behavior will affect our future, put yourself in our shoes. We don’t always trust your judgment. We love you, but we don’t always feel we can rely on you to do the right thing.
Sometimes you remind us that you are the ones paying the bills, so you have the right to make the rules. But you baby boomers are going to enjoy your Social Security and pension plans and we are going to have to pay for them.
Plus, we’re virtually assured that there will be nothing left when our time comes to retire. So the reality is, we are the ones paying the bills.
Doesn’t that mean, by your own logic, that we should be making the rules?
Here are a couple to start off with.
First, we shouldn’t have to go to Montreal to get a beer. You didn’t. You only went there to avoid Vietnam.
Second, the people who start a war should fight it.
Third, the money you’re spending on our college educations is ours anyway, so stop using it to lord over us.
I know you think that you’re smarter than us. But be grateful for some of the things we’ve taught you—the practical things that I taught my parents. For instance, even a small tree can stop and destroy a large SUV when you drive it backwards across the lawn; king-size waterbeds hold enough water to fill a 2000-square-foot house 4 inches deep. If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they catch fire. If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor can rotate a 30-pound baby brother wearing Batman underwear and a superman cape. Water-balloons are not glass-proof. Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke—lots of smoke. Super glue is forever. No matter how much Jell-O you put in a swimming pool, you still can’t walk on water. Pool filters don't do well with Jell-O. Garbage bags do not make good parachutes. Marbles in gas tanks make lots of noise when driving. You can make a cat dizzy by putting him on spin cycle. Cats throw up twice their weight when dizzy.
This is the collected wisdom of my generation.
Each generation learns from the ones that went before it.
Mine has had to learn from yours. You left us some good lessons, and some not-good lessons. But the lesson you most left us is that whatever your faults, you loved us.
So we forgive you. Let the healing begin.
From the Principal: Kevin Barr, High School Principal
Good afternoon. If you look at your program, it says that I am to offer comments. I believe that this is a change from past programs. The implication seems to be that I am not to give a speech or read entire chapters from my favorite books. To make sure of that fact, Peter Branch, operating under the ruse of the construction project, even ordered all the books in the library packed and stored.
As Moby-Dick would be packed in a box somewhere out of reach, I decided that for my part of the ceremonies, I would just rap the lyrics to an Eminem song, but sadly Jodie Foster beat me to it in her speech last week at U. Penn. So, I am stuck. I could be completely original, but remarks at graduation are supposed to channel the wisdom of the ages. Leave it to our seniors, though, to give me a way out. Unlike Jodie Foster, our seniors understand the one great cardinal rule of life: rock and roll is a young person's game and no one should ever quote songs by anyone younger than oneself. So it was that Hannah the Cruel, fronted by Laura Zax, closed out the recent senior banquet with a medley of Beatle songs. Since then, I have been humming those songs, thankful that the current crop of rock and rollers still honor their musical forbears. But it has made me wonder. Does life really go on, if we sing obladi, oblada? Why would anyone keep all his money in a big brown bag inside a zoo? Why was Lucy in the Sky with diamonds? It's a nice thought, but when folks are in their twenties, should the height of their ambition be just to hold somebody's hand? And no matter what we might wish, we do not all live in yellow submarines. But what about John Lennon's final little bit of wisdom, that all you need is love, that there's nowhere you can be that isn't where you were meant to be, and that it's easy?
Almost all of you know by now that it isn't easy. Some of you have lost parents; some of you have lost homes. Friendships have come and gone. Yet here you are, beautiful kids, all of you, ready to go off and make your way in the world. I would like you to remember that if love isn't all you need, it will carry you pretty far in this world and it is a better anodyne than power, money, or momentary physical gratification. John's claim notwithstanding, there may be somewhere in this world that isn't where you were meant to be, although, as Melville says, it is well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in.
Take the gifts that you have been given by nature and schooling out into the world, be open to all you encounter, and when times seem particularly tough, remember love may not be all you need, but acting as if it is might just make this world a little less broken.
Take care of each other and yourselves. We love you.
Faculty Speaker: Topher Dunne, High School History Teacher
Welcome to all and sincere thanks to the class of 2006 for the honor of being your faculty representative at their graduation. I only hope that some of you haven't already complained to your neighbor that you hoped I'd bring Steve Cutts along with me this time too.
Here's a piece of practical advice as you depart. While cultural mores abound, please remember that manners in the outside world don't usually equate with manners at GDS.
Today you don't need a replacement. You are here at an inclusive ritual, where all of you will play a part. The staff walked in with you, as we have gone with you, sometimes leading and sometimes accompanying, on various explorations and adventures together these past 2 to 13 years. We didn't sit quietly and watch you enter then offer a quick goodbye. We didn't don various regalia and lead a march in as a means of proving status just as we don't want you to do the same. You will leave this ritual space on your own. Our trip ends here (the staff being condemned, like Sisyphus, to begin rolling the rock up the hill once more, only by now it is likely graffiti-ed with 2007). You have a ticket out waiting up here. I'm not sure where else this ticket will take you beyond 'across the stage.' You won't even have to show it to get into the reception. Nevertheless it is why we are here today.
Beyond the armchair anthropology in approaching this ceremony, I was sitting in front of my iBook and pondered, What does graduation and a GDS diploma mean? You have reached a level of ability and understanding...or at least minimum academic performance according to our standards both as individual faculty members and together as an institution. More importantly, you have gone through the process that is GDS. For me I find it more important to see how you think about and approach issues and problems rather than what information you garnered from your FReP, your knowledge of phyla, irregular verbs or the like. It is also highly likely that some of your most memorable lessons happened outside a classroom. In many of these cases you have educated one another, which really distills the GDS process to an elegant core.
Soon, however, this process, and your journey together, will end. Your part in this ritual is to cross this stage, and don't worry, I'll be among the group holding out a hand if you aren't sure where (or whether?) to cross. It may feel like a perfunctory walk, only to hit you with significance later. It is, however, liberation, a movement toward the light. It marks passage between one phase of life and the next.
Most of the rest of life tends to have ambiguous endings rather than planned ones, so I urge you to see the comfort in rituals like these. Contrast this ceremony with when you leave for home, the beach, supper, whatever. How many people will you leave with a meaningful goodbye? How many get a "see you later" to avoid a meaningful conversation? For that matter, how many just get "see you at the beach?" We likely will not all be together in the same place again and in any event you certainly won't see each other or us as often as you have for the past 2 to 13 years, so contact and communication with each other and those of us still at GDS will become a much more active and deliberate choice as soon as you cross this stage.
Let's face facts, in all your actions and even with all of your academic excellence it is highly likely that you have committed a variety of errors in getting to this point. We, as a faculty, have been painfully aware of at least some of them. Although you probably don't want to broadcast your errors, they are a part of you. While some errors can be genius, like penicillin or jazz, most are slips of execution or judgement.
Whether you've unsent an email with errors in it (or even accidentally hit reply all and proceeded to type a personal message), backed out of a scheduling commitment since you couldn't manage your calendar properly, or not given another person a chance, the errors you commit are yours to own. Don't dim your light by being evasive. Acknowledge, accept and move on. Grow. Getting things wrong can teach us how to get things right.
But there is a gray area. Some actions may look and feel like errors but leave you uncertain. They may be the unpopular thing, or the relatively risky thing, even the thing you later realize to be a huge mistake. Here I refer you to the term dharma, which is not easily translated from Sanskrit. It can be enclosure, the great norm, moral imperative. It functionally comes down to what you realize to be the right thing to do in a situation, not just some litmus test of rules. I hope one of the major implicit lessons of our curriculum is to instill a sense of dharma in you. In the past I have been both praised and basically dismissed for the 'error' of doing what I believed and thought was right. There are norms of living that I hope GDS has helped to instill in you that can be more dynamic and vibrant than any set of rules.
I hope you have taken time these past weeks to take stock of what you have done in your time at GDS. If not perhaps you can ignore me for the next few sentences and do so. What shall you do now as graduates? You are young, generally unafraid to be at least somewhat foolish, and, I hope, still open to new ideas. Steve Jobs, someone who thinks different and is on my heroes list because of it, said "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." Find your path, be the social change that you seek. GO DO SOMETHING!
The past 2 to 13 years have been as formative for you as the next several will likely be. Time may try to settle you in your ways and patterns, but consider this. You never know when enlightenment will hit, so at least try to be open to new perspectives and ideas. You may be on the stage thinking "why am I playing this?" I should have made a list; cake or death? Or it could be two weeks after the final Russian History paper that you realize how you should have answered it. (Yes, some lessons come too late because enlightenment doesn't necessarily follow a timetable.)
Our job as a progressive school is to provide structures and institutions with integrity so that our example (as people) as well as our lessons (as teachers) can let you develop into yourselves. Your job as progressively educated individuals is to demonstrate that integrity and set examples of your own. "Death is ignorance, vigilance is immortality".
When I describe GDS to others who may not be familiar with the institution it quickly takes on overtones of a magical place. It is more than the suspension of disbelief for two hours where some wicked big puppet becomes real and eats the meshuggenah plant store owner with the untraceable accent and then the entire world. GDS can be a place of magical realism, where the honors and accolades of students and the institution abound and depth and significance become commonplace. Are we, a school of 60 years, still hungry? Have we spent more time securing and protecting a reputation by shoring up our curriculum or seeking out truths and valuable lessons? Where is the balance? What is the tradeoff? For that matter, does it have to be one thing or the other? Consider that balance as you make your educational choices over the next 4 to 12 years (yes, another degree can keep you in school).
Lots of great stuff happened for you at GDS, providing relationships, opportunities, and memories beyond the mainstream. You have basked in the glow of its magic and I hope that some of that magic stays with you. I also hope that as the institution grows and ages it retains that power to enchant. Learn from your mistakes and do what you think is right. So say we all! and congratulations and bright moments to the class of 2006.
Class of 2005 Graduation
June 5, 2005
From the Principal: Kevin Barr, High School Principal
Class of 2005 Speaker: Zach Pilchen
Class of 2005 Speaker: Mia Henry
Senior Gift Presentation: Ian Yaffee, Senior Class Gift Committee Co-Chair
Faculty Speaker: Rika Drea, HS English teacher
Parent Speaker: Geert van der Kolk
Kevin Barr, High School Principal
Good Morning. As you are on the cusp of adulthood, I thought it might be appropriate to read to you what to my mind may well be the saddest picture of the leave-takings that must occur at this junction of your lives. The reading comes from the closing chapter of A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.
"What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?"
"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best?" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do, and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have: and so, when he had thought it all out, he said, "What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying 'What about a little something?' and Me saying,' Well, I shouldn't mind a little something, should you, Piglet,' and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing."
"I like that too," said Christopher Robin, "but what I like doing best is Nothing." "How do you do Nothing?" asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.
"Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it 'What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?' and you say 'Oh, nothing,' and then you go and do it."
"Oh, I see," said Pooh.
"This is a nothing sort of thing that we're doing now."
"Oh, I see," said Pooh again.
"It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering."
"Oh!" said Pooh.
They walked on, thinking of This and That, and by-and-by they came to an enchanted place on the very top of the Forest called Galleons Lap. Sitting there they could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky, and whatever there was all the world over was with them in Galleons Lap. Suddenly Christopher Robin began to tell Pooh about some of the things: People called Kings and Queens and something called Factors, and a place called Europe, and an island in the middle of the sea where no ships came, and how you make a Suction Pump (if you want to), and when Knights were Knighted, and what comes from Brazil. And Pooh, his back against [a tree]and his paws folded in front of him, said "Oh!" and "I didn't know," and thought how wonderful it would be to have a Real Brain which could tell you things. And by-and-by Christopher Robin came to an end of the things, and was silent, and he sat there looking out over the world, and wishing it wouldn't stop.
But Pooh was thinking too, and he said suddenly to Christopher Robin: "Is it a very Grand thing to be an Afternoon, what you said?"
"A what?" said Christopher Robin lazily, as he listened to something else.
"On a horse," explained Pooh.
"Oh, was that it?" said Pooh. "I thought it was a-- Is it as Grand as a King and Factors and all the other things you said?"
"Well, it's not as grand as a King," said Christopher Robin, and then, as Pooh seemed disappointed, he added quickly, "but it's grander than Factors."
"Could a Bear be one?"
"Of course he could!" said Christopher Robin. "I'll make you one." And he took a stick and touched Pooh on the shoulder, and said, "Rise, Sir Pooh de Bear, most faithful of all my Knights."
So Pooh rose and sat down and said "Thank you,” which is a proper thing to say when you have been made a Knight, and he went into a dream again, in which he and Sir Pump and Sir Brazil and Factors lived together with a horse, and were faithful Knights (all except Factors, who looked after the horse) to Good King Christopher Robin . . . and every now and then he shook his head, and said to himself, "I'm not getting it right." Then he began to think of all the things Christopher Robin would want to tell him when he came back from wherever he was going to, and how muddling it would be for a Bear of Very Little Brain to try and get them right in his mind. "So, perhaps,” he said sadly to himself, "Christopher Robin won't tell me any more," and he wondered if being a Faithful Knight meant that you just went on being faithful without being told things.
Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was Still looking at the world with his chin in his hands, called out "Pooh!"
"Yes?" said Pooh.
"When I'm--when-- Pooh!"
"Yes, Christopher Robin?"
"I'm not going to do Nothing any more."
"Well, not so much. They don't let you."
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
"Yes, Christopher Robin?" said Pooh helpfully.
"Pooh, when I'm--you know--when I'm not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?"
"Will you be here too?"
"Yes, Pooh, I will be really. I promise I will be, Pooh."
"That's good," said Pooh.
"Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not
even when I'm a hundred."
Pooh thought for a little.
"How old shall I be then?"
"I promise," he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh's paw. "Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I--if I'm not quite" he stopped and tried again --". Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"
"Oh, nothing." He laughed and jumped to his feet. "Come on!"
"Where?" said Pooh.
"Anywhere," said Christopher Robin.
So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.
Now given how much scrambling Elsa and I had to do these past two weeks to ensure that all of you had completed your community service requirement and could graduate, it might seem odd that with A.A. Milne I would extol the virtue of doing nothing but that is precisely what I would like to do. As Christopher Robin knew, this is a special kind of nothing, though, which is neither indolence nor indulgence. In fact for some of you to do nothing might require genuine effort. It might require unplugging the ipod, the cell phone, the computer, and the tv, to find or create a place of quiet, a place where one can, as Christopher says, “listen to all the things you can't hear.”
To do nothing is to be alone with yourself, to move to your own natural rhythms, to be alert to your own deeper truths. What I wish for you this year and for all the years to come is for you to learn to carve out time for yourself each day to step outside the pulling and pushing of life, to close your ears to the clamor of the world and to listen to your own true self, a Self which is larger than the jobs you will hold, the clothes you wear, or the loves you will gain and lose. Your teachers and I have had the pleasure and privilege of catching glimpses of the real you these four years. We have seen it in the kindness you have shown to one another, in your willingness to get up after you have been knocked down by a loss on the sport court or a grade that didn’t quite reflect what you knew you knew, in your struggles to own up to mistakes you have made. Some of us have known some of you for a very long time and have enormous faith and hope in the adults you are becoming. Save for those of us here today who are your parents as well as your teachers, our work in helping you on your quest to discover the value of doing nothing, so you can become the someone you are capable of being, has largely ended. We hope that you will return to us often, that you will let us know how you are faring on your journey. We love you now and will love you all the days of your life.
Class of 2005 Speaker: Zach Pilchen
A lot of people thought that, because of my raging ADD, I would have trouble writing this speech. Well the fact that I'm up here today proves them wr- Ooooo! Look at this neat little flower! Hey there, little guy! Whoa, where am I? Ah, yes.
The late Ronald Reagan once said: "You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans." I share that quote with you not because it carries any deep meaning, nor because I hope it will inspire you, not even because it has any real relevance to today's theatricalities. I share that quote with you because it is absurd. It's absurd that, once upon a time, the President of the United States and leader of the free world used jellybean consumption to gauge character. For anyone to use as simple a criterion as jellybeans to understand such a complicated concept as "character"... well, it's just madness. And there's something so wonderfully, beautifully, terrifying about the way people ignore that madness-the madness of "the world out there." Because after all, it is that world-chockful of absurdities that we march into today.
For example: I was at McDonalds several days ago. I had ordered my #3 meal (medium fries, small coke, Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese) and was just about to go play in the ball pit when I realized something: Double Quarter Pounder? Isn't that just a Half Pounder? And yet, Double Quarter Pounder somehow sounds less glutinous than "HALF-POUNDER." In fact, Half Pounder just sounds plain gross. But then, if they're going to go that far-changing "half" into "double quarter"-why not just call it the Triple Sixth Pounder, or the Quadruple Eighth Pounder, or hell, the One-Fourthousandth of a Ton with Cheese? It doesn't make a difference because no matter what they call it, no matter what we call it, it's still just a half-pound of synthetic cow meat. No mere name change can repair the damage that fast food has wreaked on my hips.
It seems more and more that the world is peppered with these minor absurdities that no one takes the time to call out. The fact that the elegantly served Chilean sea bass is neither Chilean, nor a sea bass, but is in fact an ugly little critter called the "Patagonian toothfish," doesn't keep it from being one of the finest seafood platters in the country. The fact that the Bush administration's "Healthy Forests Initiative" and "Clear Skies Act" actually allow for more deforestation and air pollution seems to slip by the average American citizen. All John Q. Public hears is "healthy forests!" and "clear skies!" and he believes it's true just like a freshmen believes it's true when you tell him he's cool.
It's a twisted, crazy world out there, full of potholes and molehills and windmills and polecats and all sorts of crazy stuff that may make it hard for us to handle. After all, we live in a country that everyday grows more ignorant and hostile to the guiding philosophy of GDS: Republicans are poopy heads. I mean ... social responsibility.
Then again, I'm sure that we've all faced adversity before-some sort of obstruction to maneuver around. I was suspended from school for two weeks this year. There was a point in time when I doubted that I'd be anywhere near this auditorium today—much less that I'd be given an opportunity to speak to you.
During that time of uncertainty I genuinely considered just switching schools. I felt too much emotional turmoil. The crushing effect of betrayed trust made me feel like I didn't belong-that I should abandon my green Hoppers for the dull blue Generals of my local high school.
It would all be so easy, I remember thinking to myself.
So why did I stay? Perhaps it was a warped sense of duty I felt to mend the hole I had widened. Perhaps it was stubborn pride that made me want to suffer through what I had done. Perhaps it was because I had already completed my community service requirement. [Chariots of Fire begins playing over the auditorium loudspeakers] Or maybe, just maybe, I wanted to see Ian Yaffe raise that American flag one last time.
The fact of the matter is, I love this school too much to leave willingly. And now I've come to realize that I never have to. None of us ever has to.
Because every time we take a stand against inequality, we still attend GDS. Every time we refuse to take the easy way out of a conflict and instead choose the principled way, we still attend GDS. Every time we creatively approach the issues that will invariably arise in our hopefully long, happy, and healthy lives, we still attend GDS! Every time we do all that, every time we endure our trials and tribulations and still manage to keep our sense of humor, we still attend GDS.
And as we all head off to Harvard University next fall, as each safety net drops out from beneath us and we find ourselves free-falling toward a hazy future, let us keep GDS's ideals close to our hearts. 'Cause when you get down to it, our morals, experiences, and intuition are the only things we have to guide us on our flight down.
And although the currents of time have pulled us through high school much too fast, this Ganges of Tenleytown has left an indelible mark on us-not as students, nor as athletes, nor as actors, Democrats, liberals, or even just non-Republicans, but as human beings. We'll never forget the wise teachers that shaped us. Or the Armand's pizza that sustained us. Or the senior prank that made us legendary. Or the optional mandatory assemblies that no one ever went to.
Let us never forget our shining high school on the hill. For GDS is a place where the best lessons aren't featured on the course syllabus, but are found in the interactions between teachers and students, or the rare moment of lucidity during a Current Events Forum debate.
So before you waltz up here onstage and eagerly snatch your diploma from Ralph Cunningham's hand, let me ask you this: Did you grow? Did you change? Can you hear the splendid symphony of the future calling out to you? Can you see your hopes and dreams as, like delicate tissue paper caught in the wind, they whirl around your brain-darting in and out of reality? The answer I hope you all reach is, "I don't know." And that's perfect.
Because now as we head out into the "real" world, the world outside the GDS bubble-a world so full of hatred, and greed, and Republicans, that we may at times our lives, I know we'll never fear for our values. And because of that, we're going to find out who we really are. We're going to roll with the punches, and we're going to throw some back of our own. We're going to use our minds to help those who've lost theirs. We're going to cut through the absurdities and call things Half Pounders when we see them as such. And we're going to triumph.
And when we triumph, desk chairs will spell out our dreams on the field-dreams that now may seem nebulous, but soon will be realized. And then whole world will hear us. We're mighty hoppers, dammit! And I love you for it. [Chariots of Fire fades out]
Thank you, Class of 2005, for one helluva trip.
Class of 2005 Speaker: Mia Henry
Good morning Peter, Kevin, faculty, parents, siblings, grandparents, special friends and the class of 2005. It is a fantastic honor to be up here addressing all of you on this graduation day. This year I was privileged to wake up at quarter to six in the morning to be at school and hear author Sherman Alexi talk to my creative writing class. Among questions about story topics and public speaking, one person asked what kind of computer he used. At first, annoyed by the question—he could write on paper napkins, for all I cared—he found a total relevance to his writing that inspired me (it's a Mac by the way, Topher). Like me, he is a music fanatic, and he talked about how easy it is these days to make a mix CD. Click, click, click voila. But back in the day, it was all about the mix tape, spending hours choosing the perfect few songs to flow into one another seamlessly conveying a type of purpose and meaning, showing deep appreciation for each additional song. I too have experienced these euphoric moments in musical planning, and understood exactly what he was saying about technology rushing us. If you know me well, and most of you know me a little too well, you know that I can't live without my jams. So when I sat down to write this speech I was determined to make an excellent and thoughtful playlist that could be my muse to inspire me to write the way I feel about the hundred and eleven kids I have grown up with.
The first song I think of is the catchy little ditty by Vitamin C, The Graduation Song, that I remember so fondly dancing to at eighth grade graduation. But no, that is just too easy. I must hone my GDS close reading skills and find deeper meaning in my selection.
Scrolling through the A section, I stop at The Animals, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." Sure, seems obvious, certainly fits the criteria of the minds of any high school senior, but what is its connection to the Bible? Is there a fall? Is he talking about Jesus? The answer, as any GDS English teacher would say, is yes. And they would be right, because though GDS is not perfect, by leaving it we have taken a huge bite from the apple of knowledge and now can share our perfectionist idealism, making a better place wherever we go.
We gotta get out of this place
If it's the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there's a better life for me and you
So, continuing to scroll through my itunes, I skip over The Beatles, Beta Band, and Blink 182, and rest my pointer on Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A Changin'. The world that we seniors have grown up in may be very different from that of our parents, many of whom listened to the songs of Bob Dylan, but his words and melodies still ring true to a generation that is facing change. This class of seniors started out freshmen year with probably the most devastating national event that we have witnessed in our lives. With days off from school and extracurricular events postponed that September, we all tried to gather together courage and grow stronger as a school and a class. Whether it was bake sales, blood drives, or jokes at assemblies about emergency phone numbers, we saw crisis and refused to be discouraged. Since that year, our class has become dedicated to serving our community and the greater world from efforts for Sudan, to helping DC public schools. In our independent endeavors or with school, we are trying to transform the world for the better. And so the times really are a changin'.
Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don't criticize what you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Each one of us is leaving the life we grew up in to become our own person. Whether going to college across the city or moving across the country, we are staking a claim on who we want to be. And it's funny because we buy books on taking the SATs and research colleges and get help filling out our applications, but the college counselors could never prepare us enough for the change we will all feel that first five minutes when our parents leave the dorm room.
The song is about to end and with the last few strums of Bob's guitar I franticly search through to find that perfect song to leave my speech with. It has to be expressive of all of the last fourteen years at GDS. It must capture the essence of every different personality in the senior class. It should reach out to all of the parents, teachers, and administration who made our education possible. In short, it must be the Greatest Song In The World. But who am I to choose such a thing. Sure I do carry around a bit of musical pretension with my iPod, but I am but a little mind, a small insignificant spec in the great musical universe. This last song must be decided by a higher power, the "shuffle." In times of crisis such as these, I must give over my faith to a deciding force greater then my own. Yes, it was my hard work and persistence that got me up here today, but at some point we must all give in to the fate that guides us in times of need. It's the close your eyes and point, eenie-meenie-minie-moe, coin-toss approach that lets us blame our not-so-hot decisions on bad luck and our triumphant ones on good. It is a foolproof method if you believe in it and at this moment I choose to employ it. I patiently await what shuffle's song choice will be. Is it something hardcore and intense, or instrumental and pensive? Does it have a funky, funky beat, or is the chorus horribly catchy? And in that moment of doubt, when I think I will be stuck with some song from a past musical, or that boy band phase I went through, there it is, exactly what I have been waiting for. That intro with the staccato bass and background snaps. And with two chords on a piano and a full drum pick up I am saved and all of my doubts and concerns are eased. Now if you haven't figured out just what song I am talking about, that's fine. Each of us seniors is going out on a different note. We have different minds and destinations, so it makes sense that our last songs may not be the same. But for me the tune is a familiar one. It has been anthem all year, especially through the hectic college process, but ends on a message that brings hope that we will all survive. And so soon to be graduated class of 2005, I leave you with these last lyrics from the immortal mind of David Bowie:
Cause love's such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure
Senior Gift Presentation: Ian Yaffee, Senior Class Gift Committee Co-Chair
Before we transition from being students to alumni of Georgetown Day School, the Class of 2005 would like to give thanks to the entire community for our wonderful experiences here. Six short months ago, we voted to establish the Class of 2005 Financial Aid Endowment for Summer Programs. In addition to the parents who have already generously donated to the endowment fund, 111 seniors of a class of 111 have contributed to start this endowment at the $50,000 level. This is the first time in GDS history that 100% of a senior class has donated to the gift! I would like to take this time to thank both the senior and parent gift committees, most notably co-chairs of the parent committee Joan & Barry Rosenthal, Assistant Head of School Wes Gibson, Director of Alumni Relations Susie Ryan, and of course, the person whom I've had the privilege of serving as co-chair with, Mia Henry.
In establishing this endowment, the Class highlights the values of our mission statement: "to encourage students to wonder, to inquire, and to be self-reliant, laying the foundation for a lifelong love of learning." Before today, for many this exploration of self was limited to the school year. Our endowment will allow for a rising junior or senior to do anything that he or she is passionate about and to share something from this journey with the community. In short, to wonder and to inquire outside of the classroom, confirming a lifelong love of learning. For, as T.S. Eliot wrote:
We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring,
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
As in the Romance cycle, it is during these explorations away from home that we learn the most about ourselves and truly come of age. Knowledge and perspective gained from them gives the most back to a community that values difference in both backgrounds and thoughts as much as ours does. Now, as we begin new explorations and continue old ones, we will forever share the bond of having experienced GDS together.
Ladies and gentleman, esteemed faculty and staff, members of the board, honored guests, and Peter, as co-chair of the Senior Gift Committee, it is my greatest honor to present the School with the Class of 2005 Financial Aid Endowment for Summer Programs.
Faculty Speaker: Rika Drea, HS English Teacher
Peter candidly informed me that I'm one of the shortest faculty speakers he can remember and I should bring a phonebook to the podium. There, that's better...
Friends, faculty, family, and the class of 2005...
Nine years ago, I found myself in a similar position as today - about to deliver parting words to a graduating high school class. And the same problem that plagued me then, plagued me on this graduation occasion: what should I wear?
I know, the question sounds trivial (and it is clearly laughable), but those of you who know me know that speaking is rarely an issue—but dressing nicely?
Shortly after learning I would be speaking today, I decided I would wear a green dress. Green for GDS, of course; dress for its one-piece simplicity and therefore my inability to ruin it prior to or during graduation. Plus, I figured that by wearing a dress I could avoid some of the embarrassing questions I deal with in school such as: when a tour comes to my class, a visiting parent is likely to say, "This is a very interesting class - where is the teacher?" or as students in the first two weeks of school, even students in my own advisory group, are likely to ask me, "Hey freshman, which school are you from?"
Fortunately, as English teachers are wont to do, I decided to take my seemingly insignificant fashion dilemma and inflate it to quest-like proportions and then offer an analysis of the situation that verged on comical, but still, deep within, held some metaphorical value.
I pondered my wardrobe considerations and the graduation address and how I could tie them into an epic structure.
The speech has an invocation, or greeting, and then it charts, briefly of course, a path to enlightenment—the pieces of an epic—at least the pieces I deemed epic-worthy—were all there.
So, let me tell you about my pursuit of this green dress. I was in a store and I had gathered a small band of green hopefuls. As I stepped into the fitting room, an aged woman approached me.
"Dear, how does this shirt fit? It's not too loose, is it?" she asked.
"No, it looks very nice," I replied.
"That's good," she said, "I have a hard time seeing."
A thought—a very English-teacher-like thought—raced through my head: here I was in Filene's Basement—a veritible Hades, if you will. Was she my Teiresais, my blind prophet, come to tell me not only how to dress but also what knowledge to pass on to the graduates?
"You know," she went on, "it is important to look sharp because as in life..."
Yes! I anxiously awaited her words. And frankly, I'm glad that she couldn't see well, because had she seen my eager look she probably would have been a bit concerned...
"Because as in life," she continued, "...oh my, could I wear this shirt with brown pants?"
"What!, huh, no, ma'am. That shirt would not go with brown pants..."
I suspect that your intellectual and social journeys through high school have not been much different: moments arise when it seems like all answers are about to be had and then, whoosh, the moments pass and you're left feeling unchanged and possibly even short-changed.
Like those times when it seems as though a teacher is about to impart some grand piece of knowledge and instead it turns out to be a—paper assignment. Or when a friend seems poised to ask the perfect question and instead it turns out she just wanted to borrow your ipod. Or when a graduation speaker seems to offer wisdom and instead she tells a story about a green dress.
Confronting the times of personal and communal tension—when what we want somehow doesn't overtly correspond with what we receive—is a test we will always face. Instead of seeing these discrepancies as moments of frustration, though, we should see them as moments of amusement.
It appears as if life is a series of inequalities that we struggle desperately to make add up evenly. Yet, while balancing works well in within a controlled environment, it does not always work well in life. A checkbook, for example, would balance perfectly if it wasn't for those once in a lifetime U2 tickets that appeared on eBay for four times their face value.
Of course, you've learned this year that some imbalances - eh, chemical imbalances, shall we say—aren't in our best interests.
Nonetheless, overcoming a struggle, or climbing a ladder makes for a much more interesting journey to the top than merely ascending a sloped plane.
Returning for a moment to my Odyssey for a green dress, I'll remind you that I'm somewhere in Hades, feeling let down that my blind prophet was unfulfilling. But, like Odysseus, I know there is someone else in the underworld who can help me, if only by checking on my personal well-being: mom.
My mom endured three green-dress shopping adventures with me. My dad, like Odysseus' dad, decided to stay home - he too must have known of how dangerous it is to shop with competing generations. My mom and I squabbled over dresses yet, just as great Odysseus wanted to see and hug his mom in the underworld, so too did I want to consult with my mom in the bottom floor of Hecht's.
As much as we trust ourselves, our personal faith is always renewed with the approval and the affection of others. Personal opinion can only get you so far—it's knowing that your thoughts will have an impact on something greater than yourself, or on someone who cares about you, that heartens us.
And seeing the effect of individual decisions on broader populations is a lot of what school is about. We study the details of a variety of subjects and then we explode these nuances and try to fit them into the (so-called) bigger picture. The more we learn, though, the more likely our discontents are to grow. Why, we wonder, if a better method exists, don't we use it?
The worth GDS affords each individual makes this question of what is "better" or even what is "best" a difficult one. The personal attention and concern that make GDS GDS is also what makes it a challenging learning environment.
Most of what we've hoped to teach you, though, is the reality of differences, be they good or bad. We've tried to show you how to approach moments of discontent and, hopefully, how to advocate the best practices for the greatest number. We've constantly asked you to take the personality of your knowledge and apply it to a community. In other words, we've asked you, how will you live with what you've learned?
I'll offer a confession of my own discontent as an answer - before last year, I dreaded teaching English 11, no offense Louise. Or Kevin. Or Peter. Or my then English 11 students.
In any case, something about the supposed tidiness of the course offended me: How could we box American Literature into a series of rhetorical moves?
So I did what any professional teacher would do: I brought my grievances to class. Most impressively, you alleviated them; sometimes with humor, but most often with purpose - a drive to find something greater behind the structure with which we were dealing.
And it's your class's sense of purpose—sometimes business-like, sometimes heartbreaking—that makes you wonderful and memorable. It's your willingness to confront the avoidable issues—the issues of diversity, of privilege, and of social and academic standards—and to push your communit—and yourselves—if not towards consensus, at least towards new paths.
Yes, purpose doesn't get you everywhere, but it keeps it you moving. Besides, without a sense of purpose, how could you all have possibly banded together and littered the lounge with balloons and, truly my personal favorite, how could you all have taken every desk out of the school and emblazoned your class year across the field.
Life offers great value in both moments of serious debate and moments of a less serious nature. See both sides and you'll know your work is true.
There will be difficult times, though; times when the negative sides of imperfection seem to rule.
My freshman year roommate and I, although academically similar, were very different people. We inhabited a room about the size of one and half CUBES (or say a box about 8 feet by 15 feet). She had an enormous quantity of hair products. I won't say that these products annoyed me, but these products annoyed me. We rarely shared a word let alone a laugh. Could we ever become good roommates?
About two weeks into school, we realized that sharing a small confine in silence was not ideal (we were a little slower on the up-take than the CUBONAUTS). So, we started to do little things for each other—set a CD to a favorite song or take the trash out before it overflowed onto the floor. We laughed about how unalike we were—she a biology major who studied every night, me an English major who played ping-pong every night.
Sometime near the end of the year, I mustered the courage to ask her about the hair products that had transformed the top of our only dresser into a small city of bottles and tubes. Surprisingly, she didn't know why she had ninety percent of the products. She suggested that we celebrate the revelation with a purge of the dreaded products. We really weren't that different after all...
The discrepancies in life rarely reveal an insurmountable gulf. Keep in mind: myriad personalities await you. Your definition of success amongst these personalities may vary drastically, at least upon first glance. I can't help but think, though, that the moral compass GDS has tried to instill in you will most likely point you in the right direction.
School is something you complete. Your education is something you experience - in the lounge, in the black box, in the library while eating and drinking, in the classroom, and in life beyond GDS. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of GDS, you all miss your own greatness and you pass it on to us—well, today, at least, we pass it back to you all.
Still, not every change in life is going to be smooth or even worthwhile. Anticlimaxes are a part of life - consider the popularity of Viagra - but hey, these moments too will pass...
You are leaving on the verge of great physical change to the building. Hopefully, this change will be metaphorical—like my dress—and have entertainment value—like my dress—possibly social value, but the change will remain primarily a superficial one—a marker of a new turn in the quest rather than the end of the quest.
Nonetheless, when you return to GDS, some of the idiosyncrasies of your old school that you knew so well may be gone. You may feel like Odysseus does when he returns home to Ithaka after 20 years away: confused and even a bit scared. "Can I still call this place home?" Odysseus wonders.
As a petulant Odysseus pouts over his changed land, Athena reminds him that he can easily make Ithaka home again provided he takes heart, takes action, and, to quote the wise Athena, provided Odysseus no longer acts like a "great booby."
So he reunites with those he loves, rekindles his attachments to the place he knows is part of him; a place that is his home. His epic is complete and "his heart is glad."
Change is not in what you wear or where you are because you're always going to have to change—your outfits, your environment, your goals. Instead, though, change is in how you wear it—and I know you'll wear it well.
Thank you and congratulations. We honor you.
Parent Speaker: Geert van der Kolk
I feel truly honored to be able to speak to you, but I do it reluctantly. It's not that I am not happy and proud today. My daughter, and you all, are graduating from a selective and demanding high school. That is a true achievement, which no one will ever question. You have it in your pocket.
Graduating from high school and leaving home is a major landmark in life, of the same order as birth, marriage, and becoming a parent. It is one of the few changes that are, and will probably always be, clearly marked, and fairly sudden. One day you live with your parents, or try to, and the next day you are on your own. This is dramatic, sometimes difficult, but most of all, very, very exciting.
This excitement is contagious, and today I feel exuberant enough to do a silly dance on stage. Instead, I have to speak.
I first visited GDS long before I had school-age children. I came to Washington as a freelance foreign correspondent. The Amsterdam newspaper I wrote for was not very big or prosperous, so I had a peculiar arrangement with them. The contract stipulated that I should only write offbeat and unusual stories. Everyday political news reached Amsterdam from the editorial offices of the New York Times and the Associated Press, through what was then called the wire. I was not supposed to go to White House press conferences or State Department and Pentagon briefings. Instead, my task was to write American stories that American journalists overlooked or ignored.
This required some thought, but I eventually came up with a plan: I imagined that I was an anthropologist from another planet. I had come to America to study the life and the customs of its inhabitants.
As I was actually trained as a historian, not an anthropologist, I first went to the library and found a book called Field Projects in Anthropology. It is a workbook for college freshmen about basic techniques. It talks about mapmaking, photography, participant observation, and something called Collecting life histories. The anthropologist befriends an old hunter or medicine man and writes down his life story. I gave it a twist. After all, I was not really doing academic research, but writing offbeat stories for a newspaper. I thought: why not do it upside down? Find some young people, and ask them to imagine their life stories. I hoped that would give an interesting perspective on this strange country.
Since we didn't have children at the time and knew very few people in the city, I consulted the reporter's best friend: the Yellow Pages. I called at least a dozen schools. All were very polite and uncooperative. Asking students to write imagined autobiographies did not fit in the curriculum. I had almost given up the idea until, going down the list in the phone book, I reached GDS. I talked to Bob Broad, who at the time taught English in the lower-middle school. Bob listened to me, and said: Hm. Sounds like fun. Why don't you come to class tomorrow?
A pretty good article came out of it. I remember one girl's story who was going to be an astronaut, travel in a spaceship and discover a new planet with incredible plant and animal life. There she met, married and lived happily ever after with the prince of the galaxy. These kids were in 6th or7th grade.
Another girl became a scientist and, with -- and this she stressed -- an international team of fellow scientists, discovered a cure for disease and death. Naturally, she was very happy and proud, but she was unable finish her autobiography. She couldn't figure out what to do in all those countless extra years. Her dilemma greatly appealed to the novelist in me.
I had never before met Bob, the teacher who invited me to his class. I got GDS out of the Yellow Pages.
I didn't think about GDS for a while, until Jana and her brother were in public middle school in Bethesda. One day my wife Olina and I decided to quit our regular work for a year, rent the house, take the children out of school, and sail to the Bahamas. For the children we put together a home school program using self-study guides, library resources, and our imagination.
A few days before we left Kevin Barr and his wife, Mary, dropped in, with a bottle of wine, to wish us fair winds and a happy voyage. They were friends from the neighborhood. Their children attended the same primary school. Mary, who is a sailor herself, did not think we would ever come back. She thought that we would sail on, through the Caribbean and the Panama Canal, and to the South Pacific.
Kevin was more practical. He said: So, what are you going to do for high school? We admitted that we had not given the matter a thought. We had asked Montgomery County for help with our home, or boat school. They were very polite, and uncooperative. If you are outside the county, they said, you no longer exist. Kevin believed in our continued existence. Consider GDS, he said. We didn't think we could apply to an academic prep school while living on a sailboat in the Bahamas. Kevin said: Well, do it anyway. GDS is different.
So we applied. I remember we were in Florida waiting for favorable weather to cross the Gulf Stream, and going to a small school in Vero Beach that offered a standardized admissions test. I believe it was called the SSAT. I didn't have to do the test, so I waited in the student lounge, which was outdoors. One part had a roof, but there were no walls or windows. A big palm tree grew between the vending machines. Everybody was walking around in shorts and flip-flops, in mid December.
We arrived in the Bahamas just before New Year's, sailed south, and frankly didn't think much about tests or high school or formal education anymore. The children did their home school assignments in the morning. It took them on average 2.5 hours. The rest of the day they spent sailing, snorkeling, spear fishing and hanging out on the beach with other boat kids. We once had an assembly in the cabin to discuss issues (this is what you do at assemblies), and the only thing the children brought up was scheduling. They did not want less math, or English, or history. They wanted to decide for themselves when to do what.
They also wanted privacy. Our boat is only 30-feet long. Often, when we were at anchor, Jana would take the inflatable dinghy, tie it to the stern with a very long line, push off, and be adrift in her own world.
When we came back our son started high school at GDS and Jana followed soon after.
So here I stand, very happy and proud, but speaking reluctantly.
Dutch and English are closely related, but there are differences, mainly in the use of prepositions. In Dutch you don't talk to a person, but against him or her. Maybe the English equivalent would be that you talk onto, or in the general direction of a person. This is what I sometimes feel I have done: I have talked onto my children for 18 years, and I have said enough.
I am sure that to some extent this feeling is mutual.
I remember very well how I felt when I was 18: I thought it was high time for my father to keep quiet. My father was not a brilliant communicator. In his view parenting consisted of repeating a few standard guidelines:
If you make a deal, you stick to it.
If you go out together, you come back together.
A Van der Kolk always enters through the front door.
When things became more difficult and personal, he switched to Latin. He was not a classical scholar. He was a forestry engineer and a company manager. But he had a Latin phrase to cover every emergency:
When I or one of my siblings suffered a humiliating athletic defeat, he would say: Ut desint vires, tamen est laudanda voluntas -- although your strength maybe insufficient, your will is praiseworthy.
When drugs or alcohol came up, as they did, he said: Mens sanis in corpore sano -- you can only have a healthy mind in a healthy body.
He also had some general-purpose slogans for when I or my brothers or sister had a rough time: Palma sub pondere crescit -- the palm tree grows under pressure. And: Per aspera ad astra -- through trouble you reach to the stars.
At the time those phrases seemed pompous, silly and inadequate to me, and they still do. They are cliches, and cliches are the biggest enemy of a writer. They do not make me angry anymore. I now think of them fondly, because they are part of the memory of someone I loved.
I also realize that while talking onto my own children, I have been repeating some of my father's phrases. It is true that when you go out together, you should come home together It is true that a van der Kolk, or anybody with pride and self respect, should always enter through the front door.
I even added a few phrases of my own: I often, and out loud, quoted Thoreau, who called for Simplicity! Simplicity! Simplicity!
And I do believe that is a virtue. I also believe that being confused can be a virtue, because there is a strong connection between confusion and creativity. Hence my favorite quote from Walt Whitman: Do I contradict myself? Very well, so I contradict myself.
And from Edmund Burke: A clear idea is but another name for a little idea.
I realize that to my children these quotes must at times have sounded just as silly and annoying as my father's Latin exhortations did to me. They are the words of a parent speaking onto a child.
I am very glad that some of the other speakers have covered current events, politics, and changes in the world. I am a novelist, not focused on change, but on things that remain the same. I am not, like a journalist, interested in the house that burned down, but in the house next door that did not. And in the family who lives there.
The experience of family is not a current event, but a human fundamental. Writers have talked about it for three thousand years, and they will not stop, because parents will continue to speak onto their children, one generation will follow another, and there will always be a graduating class that leaves home.
Today it is your turn. I wish you good luck. You will need it. The world is, mostly, an unpredictable, unreasonable and unjust place. But it is also very beautiful, and inhabited by fascinating creatures.
I am really tempted to celebrate your graduation with a silly dance on stage, but maybe it's better to read a silly little poem:
This morning I asked my wife,
Who are the most beautiful students alive?
O, use your head.
That's easy, she said.
It's the Class of 2005.
Fair winds and happy voyage to you. This day is also a landmark for me. I will now, as a parent, officially step back.
Geert van der Kolk is a novelist and short story writer from the Netherlands. He studied history in Utrecht and was a Fulbright Fellow at Princeton. He worked as a freelance journalist in Eastern Europe, the US, and Central America before devoting himself to literature and the care of his two children, Nico '03 and Jana '05.
His books are published in Holland, but lack tulips and windmills. Many of his main characters are isolated and unpredictable men and women who find themselves in serious and often violent trouble in remote corners of the earth. They are at odds with society, one another, and most of all with themselves.
Geert van der Kolk is an avid ocean sailor. He and his wife, Olina, once took the children out of school for a year and sailed to the Bahamas. More recently he has sailed to Newfoundland, Labrador, and Greenland. Noordtij (North Tide), a new novel inspired by this adventure, was published in Amsterdam in the fall of 2005.
Class of 2004 Graduation
June 6, 2004
Welcome: Peter Branch, Head of School
Faculty Speaker: John-Michael d'Haviland, High School Choral and Vocal Studies Director
Class of 2004 Speaker: Eli Dvorkin
Class of 2004 Speaker: Anna Belew
Graduation Address: Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, and father of Jake Indyk '04 and Sarah Indyk '99
It is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to the 33rd commencement exercises of Georgetown Day School and to the graduation of the Class of 2004. We gather here this afternoon to usher these wonderful young men and women onto the next stage in their lives. But like them, we find ourselves at the same time anxious and joyful for this change. So before we applaud the commencement of their new opportunities, it is right to pause to celebrate their successes in facing their recent challenges.
This is a class that has remarkable tenure at GDS. 16 entered as pre-kindergarteners, and a total of 27 consider themselves lifers. Gloria Runyon was your Assistant Principal in those early days. I have known you since you were in fifth grade, struggling with social issues which you have mostly overcome. When you were promoted from the eighth grade in 1999, the first class to be promoted from the new Middle School under the guidance of Barbara Bitner, I noted that you were "wonderful and dynamic leaders of the Lower/Middle School." Those characteristics have not left you and, indeed, have been enhanced by the students who joined this class in the High School, bringing your numbers to 111 today. Whether in academics, athletics, the Arts, or extra-curriculars, you have demonstrated a spirit of joyfulness and a dedication to the School, to each other and to all the endeavors in which you have been engaged.
Entering the gym this fall with Marti Gras beads and T-shirts proclaiming, "Let the Good Times Roll," you made it clear that you had not lost your sense of fun and were determined to carry it through your senior year. The yearbook calls that approach to life, "freestyling." You have done it well.
And yet, you have also accepted the challenge of the many opportunities which GDS has offered you. Academically the Class of 2004 has been remarkable for your engagement in intellectual pursuits. This year, 95 of you took 197 Advanced Placement exams. Last year, 86% of your AP exams received college credit grades. 40 members of this class received recognition in the various National Merit Scholarship competitions this fall.
This very diverse class has demonstrated your individuality by applying to 193 different colleges and universities and will be attending a total of 67 different institutions. I am pleased that you have made a real effort to find the school that is right for you even if your indecision at times made your college counselors slightly crazy and your parents even more so.
This class has contributed greatly to the recognition of the home of the Mighty Hoppers as a jock school. The Women's Basketball team was 1st in its league and 1st in its tournament. Women's Soccer took second place in its league. In the men's league, GDS Cross-Country and Tennis took 2nd place, Soccer and Track took 3rd, and the GDS men's teams placed 3rd overall. 15 GDS athletes were named all league players, one young woman receiving recognition in 2 sports. Another student was named Scholar-Athlete by the Women's Sports Foundation. And 34 recognition awards were given to members of this class who participated on teams for all four years of high school, a real record of dedication.
This class has also been devoted to helping others, contributing well over 12,500 hours of community service. 32 students provided over 100 hours, and 5 gave over 500 hours. Your service took you from Maine to South America and spanned North America. You have been tutors, coaches, teachers, carpenters, animal rescuers, environmental and housing advocates, congressional interns, performers, and emergency medical technicians. You have worked in hospitals, nursing homes, shelters, food kitchens, cemeteries, parks, and all sorts of educational environments. This is a class that reached out to others with generosity and respect.
Your devotion to GDS's historic commitment as a diverse school community has been both a result and a factor in the struggles and successes this year in building a respectful and caring environment within and outside the walls of GDS. Your participation in assemblies, forums, retreats, and the ongoing discussion of such issues has been essential in providing positive leadership to the rest of the student body. Working with your principal, Paul Levy, you were successful in ending discriminatory practices by Best Buy and in opening up dialogue with the highest level of that corporation. You have much to be proud of but you have also learned that trust can be maintained only if all members of a community are treated with equal care and respect.
Last night many of us attended a final concert by members of this class at The Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. Conducted by our faculty speaker this afternoon, that event featured the Honors Chorale and Five O'Clock Shadow. It was one more demonstration of the creativity, talent and dedication of members of this class. I cannot imagine a more demanding schedule, between Final Exams, the Prom and Graduation. But, like all the other events in which you have participated during your heavily scheduled years at GDS, this performance was wonderful and exemplified this class's extraordinary devotion to the Arts, both visual and performing. Several of you have literally written the book in such areas as program development, light design, and theatre production. This spring's musical, Pacific Overtures, which combined so many artistic talents, was a fitting culmination of the year with at least 26 of you engaged in the production.
Individually you have received many awards which demonstrate in small part the breadth of your activities and the depth of your talent. One of you has been named the female DC Presidential Scholar. Two were Gold Key Recipients in the National Scholastic Art Awards. Three received certificates of excellence at the Harvard Model Congress. Another was the DC winner of the AAA Travel High School Challenge. One of our soloists tonight received the Merit Award in Classical Piano from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Our other soloist was awarded first place at the National Symphony Orchestra's High School Young Soloists Competition. Two members of this class have won national essay contests, one sponsored by the Mars Society, the other by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Two of you are dancers who have received recognition, in one case, as the Outstanding Festival Dancer at the Washington Independent Schools Dance Festival, and, in the other case, as 1st place winner in the Youth Grande Prix Dance Competition.
There is much more that could be said of the Class of 2004, individually and as a group. Your work in student government, in publications, in academic and intellectual competitions and pursuits has shown the variety and strength of your abilities. GDS is the better for your many efforts.
As a historian, it is impossible for me to offer remarks today, June 6, 2004, without remembering that, 60 years ago, young men of the age of this graduating class, supported by equally young women, were engaged in the brutal and bloody effort to seize a beachhead on the coast of Normandy. They sought successfully to bring a close to the domination of Europe by a totalitarian tyranny. Tom Brokaw has entitled these heroes "the greatest generation." For some that title gains its legitimacy because World War II is seen as an undeniably just war. Leaving aside debates over causation, I think it is important to recognize that, generation after generation, Americans have been called to the greatness that comes with bearing a responsibility for making our world a better place. There has been a historical, even religious, self consciousness in Americans of our hope to provide an example of moral leadership, from John Winthrop's "city upon a hill" to Bush's Wilsonian vision of the United States as the exporter of democracy to the Middle East.
This call to greatness will come, as well, to the Class of 2004. There is a sense, however, that lacking such dramatic endeavors as wars, cold or hot, a generation may lack the opportunity for substantial achievement. Indeed, there are those who believe that today's generation -- X, Y, or Z -- is more focused on private gain than public service, and more dedicated to personal satisfaction than community or national sacrifice. But it should not take great imagination during these challenging times for you find ways to rise above yourselves, to recognize your responsibilities to others and to make a positive impact on your school, college, community, or nation. Given your many talents and opportunities, you have a significant burden in this respect.
The Biblical injunction in this regard comes from St. Luke: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." This theme has been repeated throughout American history. During the Revolution, Thomas Paine argued that "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must... undergo the fatigue of supporting it." During another just war, Abraham Lincoln was also conscious of this burden when he told his fellow citizens, "We cannot escape history... The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the last generation." In 1936, five years before the United States entered World War II, Franklin Roosevelt drew directly from St. Luke in accepting his renomination to the Presidency: "There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny." In 1961, John Kennedy self-consciously took up the challenge and translated it anew in his inaugural address: "For of those to whom much is given, much is required... Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans."
Now I do not intend to issue today a messianic call to battle to the Class of 2004. But with all the talk about the Greatest Generation, it is important to understand their humanity as well as their heroism and, in so doing, to understand how much your humanity can make you heroes. I am sure many of you have family links to those who lived through the years of World War II. Proud grandparents sitting here tonight may be survivors of those events. My dad was a naval officer in the invasion of Italy and southern France and my uncle earned a Purple Heart in the Philippines where he is buried. These were young men and women like you. Like our women and men in the military today, like those in the Peace Corps, like those who fight for civil rights and environmental protection, like those who have chosen lives of religious or civic service, including your wonderful teachers at GDS, and like so many GDS graduates who volunteer to help others, they had no greater wish than to be individuals of moral courage and integrity. By their dedication to values greater than themselves, they showed respect to their country, their families, their friends and themselves.
There are always many unsung heroes. No mention may be made of your good deeds in The Washington Post. But you will come to a time in your life when you will take the measure of yourself. I hope that the principles you have been taught at GDS - of the worth of each individual, of the value of a diverse community and of the joy of learning - will have served you well. You may find that you will need strength to maintain your beliefs but you will discover rewards in holding true to your ideals. In the midst of the great struggles of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wrote words that we should all heed: "I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me."
My best wishes to the Class of 2004. I have every confidence and hope in the greatness of your generation.
Family and friends, my fellow colleagues, distinguished guests, and my dear GDS Class of 2004 -- welcome to this wonderful celebration. It gives me enormous pleasure, on behalf of the faculty and staff, to give you a shout out: "Congratulations! This is finally it!" After all of the blood, sweat and tears you have shed these past four years, you deserve to bask in the pride and joy of your accomplishment. In the words made famous by some good friends of mine, "It is time to chill."
What an interesting process this has been for me, this graduation address. During the last few weeks, the most popular questions posed to me have NOT been, "Who's going to win American Idol?" or "What's up with Katie and Veronica on MTV's The Inferno?" or "Can I still graduate if my community service hours are done, but I haven't talked to Elsa?" Or most important, "What's next year's musical?" In fact, the most popular questions were, "Have you written your speech?" "Are you going to say something funny?" "Would you say something poignant?" And an imperative: "Don't have a boring speech."
For actors and performers, there are always fleeting moments of pressure-especially when the lights and curtain go up. During these short-lived moments, the inner critic (for you actor types) takes over. You know, that little voice we all have which always lingers heavily in moments of pressure, causing uncertainty and panic (like when the traffic light turns from green to yellow).
For me, because my astrological sign is Gemini (the Twins), I have the pleasure of hosting TWO inner critics. During this speechwriting process, both were vying for dominance while causing some uncertainty and panic along the way. Inner Critic #1 liked the anecdotal approach, i.e., "Tell them something meaningful which relates to an experience you have had, apply it to their lives, send them into the world armed and ready to go." Inner Critic #2 liked the "artistic" approach -- "Acknowledge their heightened emotional state, take them on a journey, and hope they leave the theater affected or humming a song from the show." So, since Gemini also are notoriously famous for not being able to make a decision, I have decided today to appease BOTH of my mercurial critics. My speech will be in TWO parts; two acts with very short scenes, if you will.
Act One, Scene One.
This is the part of the address that, according to tradition, must impart thought and reflection. I will keep this SUPER short because I know you are focused, attentive, and receptive to all that is going to be said today. You are not thinking about what you forgot to pack for the beach, or how long it will take you to get to the beach after this ceremony. And I know your inner critic is not talking to you about tripping up the stairs or across the stage as you get your diploma. You are completely focused. Right, Dane?
Here it goes:
1. Embrace the things that give you the most pure joy. We live in a time where there are many stimuli, which can easily distract us. Find your passion. Embrace and hold it tightly. Whether it be writing short stories, designing a hovercraft, breaking the genetic code, or creating a spectacular lighting design, your life's passion will nourish and constantly energize your spirit; you will live until you are 120 years old, and look 30.
2. Surround yourself with people who, and with environments which, allow you to express yourself freely and honestly.
3. Beware of those folks who are out to "dim your light" in order to brighten theirs.
Act Two, Scene One.
It is difficult to exactly articulate how much you have meant to my colleagues and to me throughout these four years. Yes, classes and faces come and go, but yours-yours is the most special. We have grown together through, as Topher, the anthropologist, would classify them, "rituals" -- our trip to Calleva, our Lock-In, our Powder-Puff Football Whipping, the Quests, class meetings, and our unforgettable journey to the Pacific, learning to appreciate together a subtle and elegant culture. Through the years, your focus has become clearer and moved toward self-awareness, care of each other, and toward a graceful "exit strategy". It has been amazingly gratifying to watch you grow up, and to serve as your class Dean.
With one of my favorite songs, I would like to pay tribute to you and to say "Thank You" for being simply good people-open, honest and good-natured.
The end of the script reads, for you, my dear Class, not just "Fade into Blackout," but "Lights Up, Curtain Call." Take your bow, for you exit the Georgetown Day School stage replete with honesty, focus, humility and humor. I'll be seeing you...
If there's one thing I know about writing to meet a deadline -- instilled in me by many years at Georgetown Day School -- it's that you can usually use the Internet to cheat. So picture me, if you will, seated in front of my Mac (that was for you, Topher!) combing through Google in search of aid. I tried "graduation" AND "speech" AND "funny yet insightful" and I even went for "I'm Feeling Lucky" once or twice, but to no avail. That is, until I stumbled upon a pirate webpage hosted from an undisclosed offshore location that boasted of "immediate results" and, somewhat less promisingly, "more bigger size." Intrigued, I clicked on, and, after entering my credit card information for verification purposes only, I found myself staring at a concise guide to graduation speechwriting. You can imagine my relief. At last! Not only would I be receiving a free trial subscription to Guns and Ammo magazine and a refinanced home mortgage, but my graduation speech would virtually write itself. Thus, it was with great anticipation that I began to fill in the blanks.
1. Every graduation speech lives or dies by its quote, preferably from a popular musician to whom your audience can relate.
Easy, I thought to myself. A few lines from a troubadour for the ages, words that relate the essence of my feelings for the Class of 2004. Something sweet and inoffensive, that nevertheless befits the solemnity and grandeur of the occasion. So, in the words of Tom Jones,
It's not unusual, to be mad with anyone
It's not unusual, to be sad with anyone
but if I ever find that you've changed at anytime
it's not unusual to find out that I'm in love with you
2. Choose an apt, timely metaphor for the graduating class.
This portion of the speech also seemed to write itself. I had to look no further than my own back yard. I refer, of course, to the cicadas. For, like Brood X, we are just now bursting from the muddy ground of our childhood, shedding the exoskeletons of our immaturity, and soaring into the trees of future possibility where we will have lots of sex and die. Fine, so the metaphor only goes so far. I'm satisfied. Check.
3. Decide whether you are speaking to your class, or on their behalf. Discuss Meaning of Life and make someone's relative cry.
It was at this point in the, um, creative process, that I began to have some doubts. First of all, if I'm here to speak directly to my class, I need to radically alter my vocabulary. After all, we do not communicate among ourselves the way we communicate with others. For example: Is anybody here tryinachill, and if so, can we do dis? If the answer is yes, I'll meet you at 6 P in twenty. See where I'm going with that?
But what if my duty is not to speak to you, but to speak on your behalf? It was then that I realized the impossibility of the task. To speak for you is to assume that 111 individuals can be forced into a single mold. Thankfully, you prove that assumption incorrect. If you paint with us, you have at your fingertips not a single shade, but the entire spectrum. If you write the words in our mouths, your pen spills forth prose and poetry, lyrics and lines, in languages that span the globe. The ideas in our heads could fill an ocean. But I refuse to define you, because you refuse to define yourselves. We are the graduating class that melts the melting pot.
I have heard our class described again and again as "Old School GDS." Knowing this school's history, I believe we can take that as a profound compliment. Old School GDSers know that it's not all about points, no matter what Bobby Asher might say. Old School GDSers know that doing the right thing is not just the only option that allows us to make our opinions known and start a ruckus -- it's the only option, period. Old School GDSers know that it's not about graduating high school knowing who we are, it's about graduating high school with a burning desire to find out, or, at the very least, to ask a lot of questions, although preferably not during Town Meetings, because Old School GDSers value their mini-breaks. And, although I know this one might stir some controversy (and that's OK, because controversy is very Old School GDS), Old School GDSers may read the Cliff Notes for the quiz, but Old School GDSers read the book, too.
And, of course, there would not be an Old School model -- to which we all aspire -- were it not for the teachers who shape this institution. We have been privileged to learn from some of the most wonderful people I ever hope to meet. I have been made to both think and laugh harder than I ever expected, and for that I can offer nothing more than my thanks, and this promise: despite renovations and departures, changes both physical and personal, even the farewell of our beloved Paul -- if the future of GDS is placed in the hands of the teachers, then we have nothing to worry about.
But enough of GDS. After all, we are gathered here, in part, to celebrate the ending of this chapter of our lives in order to focus squarely on that which lies ahead. So what are a bunch of multi-colored, multi-lingual, multi-talented, unpigeonholeable people to do? There are forces at work in our society that would have us continue to plan for a distant future until we suddenly find ourselves looking over our shoulders, wondering how, with all this talk of tomorrow, we managed to let the present slip away. All we know -- all we can ever know -- is that infinitesimal moment in time when what could be becomes what is before passing into memory. In shifting our gaze from the multitude of possible tomorrows to the single reality that is today, we can live for ourselves, realize our dreams, make a difference, do the right thing, and still want to dance all night. Now that's old school.
About two weeks ago I was watching Peter Branch scooting around the High School lobby in a homemade hovercraft, and all I could think was "man, am I going to miss this place."
I know we all are. This is a time for nostalgia, after all. We're supposed to be whipping out disposable cameras every ten minutes and getting our friends to sign everything we can lay hands on. If our lives had been well-scripted, we ought to be having one last crazy party where bonds are forged, friendships renewed, and one wacky incident makes it a night to remember. Then we can finish it all up with a particularly bittersweet rendition of Green Day's "Time of Your Life" on a classmate's guitar. We should be having an awesome senior prank. I know I probably should be hanging on tooth and nail to the remnants of high school. I should have spent every day in May weeping in the hallways, clinging to my teacher's shirts, and rubbing my face on the lockers. Because that is how much I am going to miss GDS.
But for some reason, none of that's going on.
Why not? Well, it could be something like dignity or sanity. But I think it's a quiet acceptance of the knowledge that we're about to be birthed out into a world much more vast and threatening than what we've known. We've got to toughen up a bit to go out there: no wearing our feelings on our sleeves; no town meetings; no sage headmaster to dispense advice and chocolate frogs. The place outside the high school is not a community that "strives to embrace and encourage diversity" (sic), it's a place that’s full of evildoers and bad men! A place that eats puppy dogs and rainbows for breakfast! A great gaping maw that stinks of indifference, fear, and distrust! We know what's coming, and we've already got our backs up. We're too busy practicing our poker faces to sit down and bawl because we're leaving the best place we've ever known. And it really is the best place I've ever known.
Freshman orientation. Me, a scared thirteen-year-old, strutting and preening to prove her worth to these new classmates. I've got my stupid freshman hair all brushed, and my stupid freshman it's-okay-if-you-don't-like-me-cause-I'm-cool-anyway-please-love-me face on. Didn't take long for me to figure out that it took no strutting for these people to accept me. Effortless inclusion. The thing that continues to stun me about this class is that pretty much everyone is a nice person if you sit down and talk to them. They will actually hear out whatever you’re saying and attempt to appreciate it. And I know for a fact that that is an astounding quality to find in an entire group of 111 people.
Beyond just acceptance, this place abounds with good vibes. Something about this school fosters a kind of unabashed humanity I've never found elsewhere. Fast forward to my senior year, just a week or so ago. I'm heading to Take Back the Night, a rape awareness event organized by GDSers and held in the lounge. Now, even being surrounded by you hippies for four years, I've still managed to maintain a little bit of lovable cynicism. "Goody," thinks I, "feminist whinings. Male-bashing poems. Unshaven armpits. This will be a blast." And yes, you've guessed it, by the end of the night I was genuinely surprised and moved. I curse GDS for making skepticism and apathy so difficult, but it's almost impossible to resist that raw openness that seeps out when the student body comes together.
Every Winter Assembly I would bashfully feel my heartstrings being tugged when we'd all sing Good King Wenceslas. I'd never felt anything as close to true fairy-tale Christmas spirit as when the entire student body would come together on a day when they didn't have classes to have plastic snow dumped on their heads from the theater catwalk. Peace on earth, goodwill towards men; it seems like a realistic goal when you're surrounded by people who you'd trust with your life for those few minutes of Jingle Bells. During every Variety Show, you can't quite contain the affection for whoever's performing at the moment; you want to give them a standing ovation and a bear hug. Watching your principal grill hot dogs and serve them to you on Community Day is a joy most people aren’t lucky enough to have. Hearing opposing viewpoints argued heatedly and respectfully makes you put a dangerous amount of faith in people. Everyone at a student gathering seems to be one of the best people you've ever met, and you could argue that that's true.
I think they might be putting something in the water.
You’ll still hear me making fun of whiny idealists, never fear. But I’m afraid I’ll never again be able to wholeheartedly mean it.
I implore all of you not to toughen up too much. Watch your backs, but don’t forget how humiliatingly, painfully exposed you’ve been here. Don’t forget that it didn’t kill you to be so vulnerable. As embarrassing as it might be to have to acknowledge our humanity, our soft sides, our inner hippies, it’s what I’m forever most indebted to this school for. For making it okay to have strong feelings, I thank GDS. For making apathy tough to justify, I thank GDS. For making laziness less excusable, I thank GDS. And for making it harder to be hardened, I thank GDS.
Peter Branch, incoming Chairman of the Board of Trustees Ralph Cunningham, Paul Levy, Gloria Runyon, Barbara Bitner, teachers, parents and families, but most important, you, yes you - the Georgetown Day School graduating class of 2004, sitting there in your finest clothes, enveloped in the warmth that comes from all the love and pride that's flowing out of the hearts of your families and teachers and friends that encouraged you toward this moment. From up here you look amazing, awesome, dare I say it "you are chill."
And me, up here? I'm definitely "NOT chill." In fact I'm sweating profusely. Why? By now, I must have given thousands of speeches. I've had the privilege in my life of advising princes and potentates, kings and presidents and prime ministers. But I've never been more daunted by this honor and this challenge of addressing and advising you.
I'm immobilized partly by the fact that I normally speak about peace in the Middle East, or rather the lack of it. But I was surprised to hear from my son Jake, who is graduating with you today, that you really weren't interested in me discussing those prospects today.
I'm immobilized by the fact that as a graduating parent, I have the honor and responsibility for speaking to you on their behalf too -- and since there's so much that they all want to tell you, I'm afraid I won't cover it all.
I'm also afraid that I'll embarrass Jake by choking up with the emotion that every one of us parents is feeling at this moment, as we realize that our job is essentially done and your work is just about to begin for you, as we reflect on all those memories of your childhood and growing up -- all the joy and tears, all the setbacks and triumphs, all the conversations and arguments, all the challenges of preparing you for the responsibilities you are about to have to take on for yourselves. I'm afraid I'll find it difficult to talk because of that lump in the throat that we all have as we look on you with such great pride at what you have achieved for yourselves and with such great concern for how you will cope with the exciting but often unfair and harsh world out there beyond the cocoon we have maintained for you over these past 18 years.
I'm also immobilized by the challenge implied in this invitation to address you, the obligation it imposes on me to try to impart some wisdom that I have garnered from the life I've led, some piece of advice that you will remember from this day and that you will take with you and that will somehow help you make your way. And I am humbled by that challenge. I want to try to explain why, in the hope that just maybe through the explanation you will be able to draw your own conclusion, and learn your own lesson for the opportunities and choices that await you. For that's what today marks. It's the end of your formal school education and the beginning of your informal education in the school of life. It's the end of living a virtual life by watching reality shows on television and the beginning of living your very own reality show.
My life story begins in Sydney, Australia, as you might have figured from the lingering accent. Americans view Australians as just like us, only a little less complicated, living life on the frontier with beautiful beaches, shrimp on the barby, and endless barrels of beer -- a bit like college in the U.S. I'm told. Why would I leave such a paradise for Washington, a place as you know that is overpopulated with politicians and lawyers and monuments, a place that has far too much weather, and doesn't have a beach?
There were many reasons, but the most important was that I discovered for myself what people mean when they call this "a land of opportunity." You see Australia is a country with a small population -- when I was your age it had only 12 million people and the vast majority of them live along the coastline because in the middle of Australia there's just desert, lots of it, and some kangaroos. So Australia may look like a large country on the map but it's actually a very small country and in a small country the opportunity is limited. And what that does to its people is not just to limit their horizons but also to lead them to believe that their success can only come at the expense of somebody else's. It was so prevalent in Australian culture at the time that they actually had a name for it, they called it "the tall poppy" syndrome - meaning that anybody who stood out amongst the pack of poppies because of their ambition and drive and creativity, had to be pulled down to the same level as everybody else.
In America, I discovered, the exact opposite was true. People here want to see you succeed; indeed they see your success as a validation of their values. There are enough resources to go around here; the market is big enough to support any and every good idea and quite a few bad ones as well. In this country we are not constrained by fear and scarcity and lack of opportunity. Where else in the world could a recent immigrant with a funny accent rise in a decade from an obscure job writing a newsletter for a lobbying organization to become the first Australian Jew to be the American Ambassador to the state of Israel?
Or where else in the world could the son of an itinerant shoe salesman born in Tampico, Illinois, an indifferent student and an actor in B-grade Hollywood movies, rise to become first the Governor of California and then the Fortieth president of the United States? Ronald Reagan, who died yesterday, and whose memory we honor today, was a man who believed that, in his words, "America should reach for the stars." And that's exactly what he did in his life. And this land of opportunity supported him and rewarded him for it.
You, many of whom have grown up in an environment of immense privilege, you who have had the benefit of an education in one of the finest schools in America, and you who are now going on to attend some of the very best colleges in this country, you have an extraordinary opportunity to reach for your own stars, to define your own dreams and to follow them with courage and conviction.
Will you take advantage of that opportunity? Will you come to understand that, in Maurice Sendak's memorable words (in Higglety, Pigglety, Pop), "there's more to life than having everything?" From here on in, it's basically up to you. And that's why I'm also immobilized today, because I don't know how to convey to you in a way that you will understand and remember -- that you must never take this privilege and opportunity for granted.
Perhaps you've heard of Jimmy Wolfensohn? He's a fellow-Australian who like me became an American and took advantage of the opportunities in this country to become President of the World Bank. He puts the point I'm trying to make in this way: There are 1 billion people who live in the developed world and 5 billion people who live in the developing world. The one billion of us enjoy over 80 percent of the world's income; the five billion of them, enjoy under 20 percent; 2.8 billion of them have to exist on under $2 a day. By contrast with the education you have enjoyed, Wolfensohn points out that in the 47 countries of sub-Saharan Africa there are 130 million children, most of them girls, who don't even have the opportunity to go to elementary school.
To the extent that you internalize that reality, to that extent you will come to understand over time that the privilege and opportunity you have been given as a birthright also comes with an expectation -- that you will make the most of it, that you will do the best you can, and that along the way you will give something back to your family, to your community, to your nation and yes to the world -- even if it's just your world and you do it just one person at a time. And to the extent that you fulfill that expectation, to that extent you will also enrich your lives.
In my case, I thought the way I could serve was to put my knowledge and experience to work in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. For eight years I worked with President Clinton and a team of deeply dedicated Americans on what I thought was a noble endeavor. We had some important successes along the way - we helped make a lasting peace between Israel and Jordan, we established what I believe will end up being the parameters of final peace agreements between Israel and Syria and Israel and the Palestinians. But all along the way we were beset by obstacles, by violence and terrorism and by the assassination of one of peace's most courageous exponents, Yitzhak Rabin. And in the end, as you can see by all the Israeli and Palestinian blood that has been shed in the last three years, we failed. What was the lesson here?
Was it that it was better not to try at all, than to try and fail? I don't think so. We sallied forth with naive optimism. It's the American Way. We think it's our duty to try to share our values of life, liberty and equality with the world, to be a beacon unto the nations. We approach every problem in the belief that it has a solution, that it's only a matter of figuring out what it is. And then we come up against the reality of a brutal and cynical world - a world that I hope you never encounter but chances are, in this day and age, that you might. You see, opportunity begets hope and hope begets action. But as we now know from our bitter experience in Iraq, action also begets disappointment.
What do you do when that happens? Retreat into yourselves, put up a wall, give up the effort? Or do you learn from your mistakes, figure out what you did wrong and try again, the next time with less arrogance and more humility, greater realism and lower expectations, less ideology and more pragmatism, less talk and more listening. That too is the American way. Or to put it in the words of Winston Churchill, an Englishman with an American mother, believe it or not in a graduation speech to the students of Harrow, his high school in England: "Never give in -- never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in..."
It was the very same sense of conviction that informed the words of the Hebrew sages centuries ago, when one of them wrote in the Perkei Avot, the Sayings of the Fathers:
"The day is short, the task is great. It is not up to you to finish the job. But neither can you desist from it."
That I believe is the critical lesson of our failure so far to bring peace to the Middle East. And I offer it to you today with all my own humility as a lesson that you might want to carry with you in your life. Don't expect to succeed at everything you do; but don't ever stop trying. Don't expect to finish what you start, but for heaven's sake START IT! And in doing so, I hope you will come to recognize in your lives -- as I have come belatedly to recognize in mine -- that satisfaction and fulfillment comes from the road you take and the way you travel on it, and the love and friendships that you make and nurture along the way, rather than whether or not you ever reach your destination. I hope you will come to see that your journey is your destination.
As you embark on YOUR road today, I would urge you to remember one other thing too. When you find your dream and decide to follow it, don't forget to take your imagination with you, don't forget to imagine the consequences of your actions. Because they do have consequences, and many times they turn out to be unintended, sometimes even disastrous. Look at us. We tried to make a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and we ended up with what looked like comprehensive war.
Your life, if you choose to live it to the full, will also be full of those unintended consequences, those ironies great and small that you will come to pick up and appreciate along the way, which will represent the getting of your own wisdom.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the English poet and critic who lived at the beginning of the 19th century once wrote, "The light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind us." And that's my last wish for you. We as your parents have tried to shine the light which experience has given to us as a "lantern on the stern" to illuminate the waves that we leave behind and that you will encounter ahead of you.
You are about to embark upon the exciting adventure called LIFE. It's a little scary to be sure. Your teachers and we have given you a sturdy and swift boat to maneuver in. And we will always be there to provide you with a safe harbor in the storm. But ships were never designed simply for staying in safe harbors. Now you have to put to sea, to set your own sails, decide on your own voyage, AND make your own waves. With a tear in our eyes and a lump in our throats, we wish that the waves that you make and illuminate with the lantern on your stern will be wondrous to behold. We wish you Godspeed.
Class of 2003 Graduation
June 8, 2003
Faculty Speaker: Topher Dunne, High School History and Social Sciences Teacher
Class of 2003 Student Speaker: Nick DeCell
Class of 2003 Student Speaker: Adriane Quinlan
Graduation Address: Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and mother of Jordan Mathews '03
Friends and family, staff colleagues, members of the orchestra pit, Tom, Paul, Peter, Ms. Mathews and members of the GDS class of 2003! Good afternoon and Bright Moments!
It is uncertain whether my role as faculty representative calls for advice in a traditional sense or something more anecdotal. To the traditional end (and unfortunately many of you have already heard this), let me simply say: Don't speak with your mouth full! Floss! Beyond that, lots of choices exist for how, why and even where to live your life. Accordingly, I hope you can do something you really want to do and love as well even if along the way you may want to do things you may not enthuse you.
From my perspective as a faculty member, I pose to you this question: what do you bring away with you from your GDS experience? There is identifiable information. Just in History we have taken pains to see that you can differentiate Daoism from Maoism, Stalin from Hitler, Dewey from Truman along with a host of other concepts and bits of information. There is, however, a sense of your experience that no statistic about your accomplishments, quantification of cultural literacy or single anecdote can convey. Suffice it to say, whether you aced your way through, slept your way through, plodded your way through or are here by the "skin of your teeth" that we as a staff commend you through this graduation ceremony for completing a critical mass of learning. We feel you are ready for the next phase of your lives. Do we hope you remember as well? Sure but we are realists.
As memorable experiences go, graduations themselves may not rank highly. My own graduation from high school was rather lackluster, I had to reflect for a while even to remember who came to the Torrington High School gymnasium back in 19-xx to send us off. Therefore, what I say and what happens here today may become "little known nor well remembered." You will, however, get a commemorative piece of paper from this ritual ceremony and periodic reminders from the Development office lest you forget your time here.
Considering your situation as an anthropologist, however, the ritual of graduation places you seniors in what is called a liminal period, that charged state when crossing the boundary from one phase or stage of life to the next. Something is happening to you right now! Whether or not you are sure, or even aware, of that fact. Look around at everyone who came here today (including yourselves) just to mark the simple basic act of handing out diplomas. That part of the ritual is simple, mechanical, and your receipt of that diploma is a "boundary event." (Many of you may already be thinking beyond this to the reception, evening festivities, beach week, summer or anything beyond right now.) Yet the impact of RIGHT NOW on yourselves and those around you is not mistakable. Well-wishers offer gifts and congrats, juniors now stand ready to rise to become seniors so the cycle will continue. Parents may be already lamenting the empty nest or making plans to turn your room into a home office. You may even be packing your bags. Two boundary events from my own life which I have shared with you over these past four years to demonstrate how rituals and events may end but their impact will remain.
In the fall of 2000, when you were much smaller ninth graders, I met my birth mother for the first time. As my wife Kathy and I drove to Central Jersey (and before you ask, it was exit 8 for 195) I could only think "how can I represent what I have done with my life in one meeting to someone I've not seen in 30-xx years?" It was a great reflective moment. Fortunately that wasn't my only opportunity. The following Mother's Day, for example I got to inform her that Coach Epstein and I saw the GDS softball team defeat a Quaker school on Wisconsin Avenue to win the 2001 softball tournament. That victory also saw me get into my full Javanese costume for the Sports Banquet to honor a promise I made, but more on that issue later.
Another liminal period (which many of you may recall) came during the last review day during your sophomore year. I was paged from my 6th period European History class. The energy I felt was unmistakable, even if it was only from me and not Elizabeth, Peter, D, Tom, Andrew, Davlyn, Morgan, Bobby, Sam, Micah, Jordan, Liz, Alexis, Courtney, Peter and Tameem. Ben Safran's mom, already informed of the impending event, arrived at the Hospital to deliver my daughter Kayla. GDS is everywhere sometimes.
Put those two tales together and I say Family is what you make it! Various relatives in the traditional sense, blood, half-, step-, adoptive, in-law, "fictive kin" (considered by anthropologists as close but without sufficient title) are assembled here in order to wish you well. You are also, however, bound to one another from years of common experience, like it or not. This isn't so surprising; GDS was founded as a family-based school, choosing the familiarity of first names and commitment to our internal community as well as the outer community. My rather inclusive view of family in my life brings my birth-mother, crazy Slovak grandfather, John the Revelator and a host of other characters permeate explanations and discussions with my GDS family. We as a faculty join you as another familial body in various ways beyond basic classroom teaching and that's something I love about this job. You may see in loco parentis as just a Latin phrase by which the school can enforce rules, but we may take it a bit more seriously as a staff.
Honor/Stand by your commitments! Choices abound, from what you eat, wear, download, protest, support, like, abhor. Some of these choices may have seemed limited over your lives thus far, by courses you had to take, couldn't manage to take, homework you had to do, or outfits you felt bound to wear to the Sports Banquet in 2001 [well remembered there?]. These choice sets expanded slightly in your college searches. Like it or not your lives will include many more choices of greater importance as time goes by and need to remember to live with the choices themselves and their consequences. Be careful with making your choices and, perhaps for once, don't be so cynical about how "real" any choice is.
Use your power to choose! Be the change you seek! This was a class and school who saw a profound changes, many still ongoing, in the world around it over the past four years. We evaluated the 2000 presidential election together, were at school together on September 11 and its anniversary, went through sniper lockdown together and for the most part stopped attending classes together at least a couple of times to make a social statement this past spring. GDS students seem to have no difficulty expressing opinions, and, if I may generalize, our hope as faculty is to provide ways to defend, understand and express those opinions and go beyond expression into ACTION.
Have we left you with a warped sense of reality by stopping school at various points to discuss any number of issues, perform community service, and allow or excuse social protest during school hours? Probably. GDS is an idiosyncratic school full of idiosyncratic individuals, and I say so from the point of view of a 40's-tie-wearing-Chapman-Stick-playing-djesbenite-wayang-playing-javaphile with interests in the cultural quirks of post-colonial societies and comparative religion. Might these idiosyncrasies have skewed the perspective of the world in your education? Huh, just being in Washington will leave you with that, regardless of the political bent of your schooling, so I would like to think that my faculty colleagues and me, along with each of you, all pool our idiosyncrasies to see the world as a complex and wondrous place.
Where does life take you or leave you? You will soon cross this stage and be a different person of sorts, like it or not. Rituals end, but their impact remains! Life goes on and you need to choose and live with those choices. Let family be what you make it! Honor your commitments in your lives! Be free to choose! Change your attitudes, appearance, even change your names (maybe more than once!). And don't forget to let your family back in the GDS crib know what you are up to. Congratulations!
I just want to start by saying that it has been a privilege to be part of this community that, as Peter said, "values and celebrates difference." Now, I planned to be wearing a cap and gown, but I was told to celebrate my differences and individuality by wearing a suit like everyone else. So please just picture me in a long black gown like the Amish and a cardboard cap on my head.
There are ways to distinguish a GDS student from anyone else: If you hear someone complain about having to wear shoes in school, you know it's a GDS student. If you hear someone argue that a due date isn't going to work for him, it probably is a GDS student. If you ever hear of someone turning an assignment in early, it's definitely NOT a GDS student. But you know you're talking to a GDS student if he or she is ranting about the deep meaning of the movie The Matrix. Let's not kid ourselves, it's an entertaining movie but there is nothing deep about Keanu Reeves. But, you have to hand it to the GDS student for trying to find meaning in just about everything. Believe me, I used to scoff when someone would analyze the significance of, say, the font-size of a text, but I've curbed my cynicism ever since I invented a new game. Now some might criticize me for also over-analyzing things but I'm tired of only reading Plato and Socrates for my philosophical guidance and therefore, I've invented this new game. It's called Searching for the Unlikely Philosopher.
As some of you know, I am always looking for new life philosophies, little quotes or sayings here or there that have special meaning and that I can use as guidance throughout life. Last summer, I started playing this game when I met my first Unlikely Philosopher.
His name was Bob. I was in Denali National Park in Alaska, and Bob was the bus driver for our Denali tour. Now, at first, Bob seemed like a simple sort of guy. He was kind of quiet, very friendly, but looked as if he might have spent a little too much time in the mountains. Bob's job was to drive the bus through the park, pointing out animals and stopping for us to take entirely too many pictures. At first, I didn't think much about it, but after a while I noticed that after every stop, before Bob would start driving again he would say over the speaker, "Seatbelts. Here we go."
Now, as I said, at first this meant nothing to me until I looked down and realized that there were no seatbelts. And yet, every time, "Seatbelts, here we go." What I realized was that Bob was not simply telling us to put our seatbelts on — that would have been impossible. No, Bob was in fact talking to us about life. You see, Bob was always on the move, ready to go, always ready to do something, and that was what made Bob exciting. However, no matter what, Bob was never unprepared, never too quick in action, for he was always taking appropriate precautions. Seatbelts first, then we go. Bob was telling us never to settle down too much, never stop living; never let your passions die, always be ready for adventure, but never be reckless. "Seatbelts. Here we go."
Bob was my first Unlikely Philosopher, but since him, there have been many more. For instance, my next Unlikely Philosopher was my Hellmann's mayonnaise jar.
If you're like me and you like to read the directions on the back of your condiments, you would recall that on the back of the Hellmann's mayonnaise jar it used to read, "Keep cool, but don't freeze." Now it just says "refrigerate," but that's because people didn't really understand "Keep cool, but don't freeze." You see, as we go off to college, we're going to be meeting new people, figuring ourselves out and where we fit. In this search for ourselves it is inevitable that we will get into some situations where our tempers may rise or we may get a little too excited and what the mayonnaise is saying is to keep calm, keep relaxed, don't over-react. Keep cool.
But the mayonnaise is also telling us not to become apathetic: Don't freeze! Especially when we leave college and are faced with more responsibilities and families and jobs, it can be easy to forget our passions and become too focused on the worries and stress of life. Listen to the mayonnaise, Don't Freeze. Stay passionate. Stay interested in life. Keep cool, but don't freeze.
I fell in love with my most recent Unlikely Philosopher, Jack Kerouac. I wrote my senior paper on Kerouac and during my research on him, I ran across this quote, "And god in his mercy gave me alcoholism, instead of leprosy."
Now, the simple mind might say, "Wait a minute, who gets leprosy these days?" But the thinking mind realizes that that's not at all what Kerouac is saying. Kerouac is reminding us that despite the hardships we face, we all have things to be thankful for. Yes, we worked entirely too hard at GDS and there are many nights where I personally lost a lot of beauty sleep doing work. But, we were privileged enough to attend one of the finest high schools in the country. We may all consider Armand's cafeteria food, but just think how lucky we were to have food at GDS that we could grab while running from meeting to test to class to whatever. You see, we will face hardships and unfortunate situations. Just remember that things could be worse. It seems unlikely with today's medical technology, but you could get leprosy.
I know I haven't talked about the memories we've all shared at GDS and I haven't said those clichés we all expect to hear during graduation, like our futures await us. But I just wanted to share some of the unlikely philosophers that I've found helpful in guiding me so far through life, those that we don't get to read about in school. Also, I wanted to prove that reading the back of mayonnaise jars isn't a total waste of time. Really, it's just important that although we have finished the majority of our schooling, our education doesn't have to end. Everyone you meet is his own philosopher, his own scholar, his own theologian. And just because he or she may not be famous or whose work may not be taught in schools, doesn't mean that he or she can't teach you anything. And sometimes, the greatest wisdom comes from the most unlikely of sources.
Must I remind us of what our pillows and mattresses say? "Do not remove this tag under penalty of law." I mean, who would have thought there was a law against that? So aren't we glad we could read those tags before making a terrible mistake?
Anyway, I'd like to finish by reading read one last thing, a poem of sorts that I wrote while thinking of what I wanted to say here today.
Congratulations graduates of the class of 2003 you are ready to see that the world can be far greater than the great metropolitan DC area now don't let me scare ya when I tell you that life might not be quite so easy as GDS has been but I will contend that the preparation you've had from your mom and dad and teachers and friends will prove most effective as you pick and choose your new electives make and lose new friends and old but all told you've had an amazing trip through school they've signed that graduation slip proving you're no fool you can count and subtract, in fact, you might even be able to read with ease through Faulkner and Sophocles and now that you've put your time in handed all your assignments in relatively on time begin to look forward to next year, sure there'll be tears as we say good-bye to those who stood by as we had our low times and high but the memories will last forever so never hesitate to kiss fate and leave home, go to college all alone or with faces you've already known meet new people and pursue your passions in life take a stab when facing adversity with the metaphorical knife and go to your university or college with all your knowledge and morality, whatever it may be, and find your place make your mark, be a guiding light in the dark, and just try to be the best person you can stand up for those who can't and lend a hand when others need it and in the end you will make your best friends you won't even believe it and college will roll by and you'll look back and realize that it was GDS that gave you the great start in the first place and allowed you to set your own pace for the education that will eventually land you in whatever workplace you find most appealing and don't worry I'll only be stealing your time for a few more minutes just let me say that there are no limits to where your mind can go so feel the flow and let your passions reach inside you and never let go for a life without passion and meaning would be demeaning for those of us who nearly went nuts working as hard as we have to get here this day stand up here on this stage and get this diploma say thank god for graduation day.
Seat belts, here we go.
Just to answer your question, Nick, The Matrix was based on french postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard's masterwork, Simulacra et Simulacrum, but this is about my speech, so...
So, the other day I was at the hairdresser's. We made small talk, discussed gardening, puppies, how we hated going to the dentist.
And then she asked me where I was going to college. At first I was going to say UDC, but then I decided just to say that I had made the tough decision not to go to college at all.
She thought this was interesting. She asked me what I was planning to do instead. I thought I would say I was going to be a hairdresser, just like her, but I didn't know the names of any beauty schools, and I didn't wear enough makeup for this to be plausible. So instead I told her that I was fixing up a 1969 Saab Sonnet and driving across the country. I told her I would rename myself after the town where my car first ran out of gas.
Then I realized I had stolen this plot from a Barbara Kingsolver novel.
But no matter, I could tell she liked my story.
What color is the car? She asked.
Yellow, I said. Yellow. It looks like a banana.
It turns out the hairdresser's boyfriend fixes up cars, she gives me his business card, and later, she discusses her love of bananas, her addiction to Chunky Monkey ice cream, and the road trip she took when she was twenty-one to see the Grand Canyon.
She views me as a troubled teen, in need of her guidance. She leaves me with a story she sees as intense wisdom. And though I didn't really know where I was going with this before, this is exactly what I wanted. She tells me, don't leave too quickly. She tells me that high school was the best four years of her life. She tells me that each year of her life has been worse than the last. She tells me about gas prices, phone bills, her backlog of boyfriends and her struggling sister. She tells me that I should be cautious, that I shouldn't forget my parents and I can never forget my friends.
I tell her I don't have any friends.
This is also a lie. But she frowns and tells me if I cheer up they'll come running. She tells me to drive by the salon in my banana car when it's all fixed up.
Somewhere she knows I'll never do this.
Yet throughout high school, I've just keep thinking of this thing I read a few years ago, that when Joyce Johnson was in school, she took a creative writing course. On the first day, the professor asked his students to raise their hands if they wanted to become professional, published writers. Everyone in the room raised their hand.
Then he asked why anyone raising their hand was in this classroom at all, instead of hopping trains to Mexico, instead of really living.
Sometimes I flirt with the idea of leaving, but people like me don't want things to happen to them anyway.
It's easier to go along with the flow, to go through high school without ever really knowing why.
But there will be no Saab Sonnets, no road trips, and no train hopping, unless its some sort of new, posh outdoor excursion program we'll embark on this summer. Most of us are just graduating to bigger, different versions of high school. GDS hasn't really taught us to be that creative or that original.
So what have we learned?
What have we been doing for the past half a year with the ten thousand dollars our parents shelled out?
I'll tell you what we've been doing: Nothing. We've been stuck in a sort of "nothing purgatory" - a shifty period of months where we used only the past or future tense. And through this period, we've been waiting for letters from colleges, waiting for classes to end, waiting for this slip of a diploma, this day, this minute. We've been blocking out the days in the little calendars at the backs of our hoppers every first period with that black sharpie. But this is that last day. This is now.
But I have to admit I never expected the year to end this way.
Some of you may remember an emergency meeting held earlier in the year concerning the school's response to a terrorist attack.
Others of you may not remember it. You may have been in the alley or asleep on the couches in the Tenley Starbucks. The rest of you will recall Paul's bone-chilling sermon.
In the event of biological warfare or a nuclear holocaust, Paul proclaimed that our lives would be entrusted to the construction club - whose duty it was to seal us from our fate by duct taping windows and blocking doors with pillow polo sticks. While our destiny would be in the hands of the men's baseball team, who would retrieve supplies from the stairwell while the track team watched.
Then we were to fall back to the gym, where we would wait out the years. After a few months spent eating protein bars, the survivors would tunnel under Davenport Street and loot the dusty aisles of our beloved Safeway. I imagined a sort of post Apock ah liptic scenario - pale, thin seniors, dressed in ragged P.E. uniforms, munching on freshmen and inevitably breeding a race in which they could instill a "lifelong love of learning."
GDS would finally meet its goal of having constant town meetings, while simultaneously taking over the world.
And yet what interested me most about this speech, was that not only could those separated from this loving community never return to the building, but those trapped inside could never leave. We could never escape GDS.
Today marks our escape, and for those of you - those lifers - who have been here for something absurd like thirteen years, today is a bittersweet finale.
But I get the general feeling from my classmates that we all are dying to leave. We avoid the campus like seniors avoiding English teachers the week before papers are due, we don't even want to come back to play a prank - it's just simply not worth the pain and effort.
And if we cannot possibly imagine the idea of never escaping, if we can't possibly imagine ever going back to school, ever trying to do anything intellectual or even meaningful, then when will we change?
When will I have one of those midlife crisis makeovers, so I can come back and impress all my high school friends? When will I audition for a WB show centered around my dream high school reunion? And when will I start caring about these years, when will I begin reforming them into a perfect, nostalgic childhood?
Will we come back to the reunions older, richer, and fatter? Will we arrive fashionably late, our helicopter landing on the helipad that was recently constructed over the fourth floor pool, emerging from the cockpit with a trophy wife on one arm? Will we return as world-weary misanthropes? Or will we live in Potomac and have obnoxious pseudo-bohemian children like ourselves who we'll pimp through the college process? And if we look at the odds, in five years, one of us will inevitably be dead. Who will it be? I'm curious.
And maybe that's what I have in common with my hairdresser - that we're both looking forward to our high school reunions, though for different reasons.
And now that we're graduating, should we be hopping trains to Mexico, should we be embarking on road trips, getting our white dresses dirty, changing our lives and really living?
Or should we have left a long time ago?
What did we do for four years?
When we were told our graduation year back in 1998, 2003 was still being used in sci-fi movies. Was this really a waste of time?
And despite all the nights I've wasted reading the canon of American literature when I could have been watching Fox, it definitely was not. Although I can't say these were the happiest four years of my life—because that doesn't give me much to look forward to—I can say that I wouldn't mind coming back. I can say that I look forward to that reunion, that although I don't remember a thing I've learned, that's not what we'll be discussing there. Because it's not what we learned, but the fact we learned it together.
And because we could also have suffered out eternity in the GDS gym, this graduation, this escape—if you will—feels more like a gift than an expectation. So don't waste it. Leave here and hop trains to Mexico, fix up old cars and see the world, take chances, make mistakes, and most of all remember that your parents are living vicariously through you, so whatever you do have fun.
Hello '03 — Congratulations to all of you. For all you've learned, all the fun you've had — and the friendships. For all you've achieved; and all you will achieve in the future. It is a commonplace to say that it is a privilege to be here, but in this case it is very true. However I must admit that if Peter had told me when he called about the fabulous faculty and student acts I would have to follow I'm not sure I would have agreed so readily.
I understand that I'm speaking here today as a parent, and though I wouldn't presume to speak on behalf of that august body, I hope there is one point on which I can speak for all of us, and that is in thanking your teachers. All the way back to pre-K, they have worked enormously hard, and cared tremendously. They have understood that education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire. More than any faculty I've encountered, either as a student or as a parent, all of them, all of the time, have made it clear that their goal every day is for each of you to succeed. For all of that, we parents would like to say a final, heartfelt - deeply felt - ' thank you.'
I can remember as though it were yesterday an experience many of you will have in a few months, the opening convocation in my freshman year at college. The president of the college, who was a scientist, spoke on the subject of the importance of going to graduate school. Now you have to understand, that I was metaphorically hunkered down, staring at a vast plain that stretched seemingly endlessly ahead of me. It was studded with great mountains with names like 'Organic Chemistry', and 'Thermodynamics' and 'Quantum Mechanics'. Even 'Freshman Writing' loomed very large. As far as I was concerned, it was only a matter of time before someone discovered that there had been a terrible mistake and that I didn't belong there at all. In short, you could say that I was pretty terrified about getting through college, and that graduate school was close to the last thing in the world I wanted to hear about.
As I walked back to the dorm, I asked myself angrily how someone whose job it presumably was to know how students felt, could have given such a wildly inappropriate speech. She must have been crazy I thought. Wel,l crazy like a fox, because I certainly don't remember any other such formal occasion from those years, and yet I surely remember that one.
In just the few minutes that I have, I want to do something that may feel to some of you a bit like that talk felt to me. I hope not, but if it does, perhaps for a few of you, the thoughts will linger and make a difference as Polly Bunting's words did to me. Because what I want to do is to leap over not just college, but your entire formal education, and talk for the few minutes I have about the world you will inherit when your formal education is complete - whenever that may be.
You will be leaving school and beginning your careers as your country faces a brand new challenge for it. For the first time in its history, the U.S. has both global interests and overwhelming power unlimited by any peer competitor. Always before, we have had either much narrower interests, much less power, or both, or faced a serious threat in the shape of the former Soviet Union. What we have now is brand new for us and history tells us that it is very dangerous terrain. In a word, what we face is the challenge of managing dominance.
We should note, to start with, that there probably has never been a power that dominates the global system as we do. Britain ruled the seas and its colonies, but not the globe. There have been a few previous attempts to achieve hegemony - dominance over all nations - since the beginning of nation states three hundred and fifty years ago. The Hapsburgs tried it. Louis XIV tried. So did Napoleon. Germany tried in World War I, and together with Japan, again in World War II. The result is pretty plain. All those who have faced this position before have failed sooner or later.
There are of course differences from the past. The technology at our disposal, the size of our economy and our sheer numbers together give us far greater capacity to do either lasting damage or to make a positive difference for the world than mankind has ever remotely had before. We are not trying to conquer and occupy territory, although all the assets I just mentioned make it possible to impose our will from a distance to a much greater degree than ever before. In other words, we may not need to occupy a foreign land to have the same degree of influence over its fortunes that occupiers had in the past. On the other hand, there has never been a leveler of power - a great equalizer - like nuclear weapons before.
What hasn't changed is human nature: its passions, its irrationality, its greed, its propensity to feel fear, envy and resentment, its capacity for prejudice and misunderstanding. All of that is hard-wired in us and will never change.
Since human nature is the driving force of history, it would therefore be wise to believe, no matter how powerful we feel at this moment, that our moment will be limited too, and that we should therefore approach it with a sense of limits, a sense of humility, if you like, rather than a feeling of triumphalism. The best guide, I think, would be to ask ourselves what kind of world order we would want to see if we were not in charge. Or think of it this way, what kind of world order will we want to have in place when our moment of dominance ends? This involves asking questions like: how much international law would we want? How much trust among nations? How much cooperation across borders? Do we want strong international institutions, or do we want to rely on ad hoc coalitions when a big problem emerges? The difficulty with the latter, of course, is that it is only a crisis management strategy. Nothing is in place for management between crises. And so on. You get the idea.
My point is that on your watch the U.S. is going to be making some choices of immense, long-term consequence for itself and for the world. It is unfamiliar terrain and, history tells us, dangerous. We are not well prepared for the responsibility. Most Americans know less about the rest of the world than do most citizens of other developed countries and of many developing ones as well. We think we are special in ways that are very good - that hold us to certain high standards - and in ways that are very bad - that tempt us to ignore political and cultural realities outside our borders.
For America to succeed at this critical juncture, it will need people like you. Whether you are ultimately policy makers, politicians, teachers, activists, businesspeople or professionals in others fields or concerned, aware, engaged and informed citizens. (Citizens who vote!) Your country will badly need the services of every one of you: your wisdom, your energy and your commitment. I hope you will be there for it.
Enough heavy message. I hope you have a ball in college. Learn as much as you can in class - and from your classmates. Waste only the absolute minimum amount of time on television, CDs, and video games. That's all someone else's experience - get out there and experience all you can for yourself. Look for what you love to do, because you'll do it best. But don't expect to find it right away. Remember that life is what takes place while you are making other plans. Above all, have fun. And in the words of that immortal philosopher, Yogi Berra, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.
Good luck — and congratulations.
Class of 2002 Graduation
June 9, 2002
Welcome by Wes Gibson, Assistant Head of School
Student Speaker: Philip Ungar
Student Speaker: Aminah West
Faculty Speaker: Chris Thompson
Parent Speaker: Sanford Ungar
Welcome to the graduation of the Georgetown Day School Class of 2002. In addition to our blissfully happy seniors, I want to extend warmest greetings to your proud parents, family, and friends and to the faculty and staff who guided, inspired, supported, and cheered you on during your years at GDS.
There are two reasons why I have the honor to kick off today's celebration. First, as most of you know, our Head of School Peter Branch is attending his stepson's graduation at Dartmouth College and deeply regrets that he can't be part of this important day. Second, with Ben Benskin's retirement last year, I now have more GDS seniority than anyone else who wanted to speak.
From the perspective of my years of experience, I would like to make an observation about one of the effects of working at Georgetown Day School. GDS ages adults at far a more rapid rate than students. This phenomenon is caused by the fact that educating a Georgetown Day School student is, while often joyous, an intense, all consuming and draining experience. In fact, I calculate that a GDS teacher ages 2.2 years for each year spent at the School, and administrators age even faster. Most of you probably don't realize that Paul was only 21 when he became the GDS High School principal just 14 years ago. In those days he had thick wavy hair and drove a red convertible.
It has been an honor and a privilege for me to be involved in the admission of the entire Georgetown Day School Class of 2002, except for those of you who entered in pre-k. For you, I accept no responsibility. It is a fascinating process to build a class in a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 school. We could only wonder at what the class of 2002 would be like when we admitted 38 of you as pre-k, k, and 1st graders (we knew you were cute, but who could tell then if you could solve quadratic equations or hit a curveball). From 3rd-7th grade we added 29 more GDSers to your class. Now, with more to go on it was a bit easier to determine who had learned how to share and play well with others. By 9th and 10th grade, when the final 50 members of the class of 2002 were admitted to GDS, we had nearly a decade of your previous school experience to help us determine that your interests, talents, and values would make a strong class even stronger. And, we chose well.
Now, as you finish your GDS years today, we celebrate what you have accomplished and who you have become in your time with us. Brilliant painters, scientists, writers, filmmakers, athletes (including All-Met performers in soccer, cross-country, golf, and track and field), debaters, actors, singers, dancers, diversity leaders, classics scholars, musicians, politicians, It's Academic stars, masters of improvisation, lights and set designers, published authors, humorists, linguists, graphic designers, community service innovators, school spirit directors, a ballerina, and a Presidential Scholar.
We will not soon forget the joys of your musical and dramatic performances, the wonder of your paintings and ceramics, the excitement of your athletic triumphs, and the leadership you showed in guiding us through the discussion of difficult issues. And, you are to be commended for your hard work and outstanding record of college acceptances that show the quality of your efforts and breadth of interests.
But your growth as individuals and as a class is defined even more by the depth of your friendships, the strength you have found in your diversity, and your development of a social perspective. Whether you have been engaged in the hard discussions about issues of equity and justice at GDS, helping children learn how to read, offering assistance to elderly residents in the neighborhood, or taking a stand against human rights violations halfway around the world, we applaud your desire to be involved, to want to make things better, to want to make things right.
And, now as you prepare to continue your educational and life journey I pose this question:
Are there legacies of your GDS experience that will serve you well?
Let me offer a short list of what I believe are some of the most important qualities of the GDS culture which have been useful legacies to the alumni who graduated before you. You'll have to come back in a few years to let us know if they proved to be important for you as well.
- The closeness of the GDS family. It really is true that you can go to GDS for years and never know the last name of some of your classmates or your teachers. But this special informality and privilege does help you learn to talk with adults effectively and respectfully. Most important, the closeness of the GDS family builds friendships with peers and with teachers who will be a source of advice, love, and support for years to come.
- Your writing experience at GDS. It was stimulated initially by your discovery of how words become windows to ideas and feelings, then painstakingly developed through inspired instruction and hours of writing and rewriting-until you were able to craft powerful persuasive expository essays and imaginative creative pieces. You should make a special point of thanking your teachers before you head off to the beach today.
- The intellectual character of GDS. Fostered by the day-to-day exchanges with your teachers and your classmates, it is characterized by questioning, outside-the-box thinking, and spirited discourse. It probably ensures that you will want to seek out the company of people with ideas and never be intimidated by pretense. A GDSer can always distinguish substance from form.
- The joy of artistic exploration and expression. Arts have always been core to a GDS education. Whether or not it becomes your life's passion, your enjoyment of the arts will likely be a refreshing counterpoint to your academic work in college and your career.
- The appreciation of diversity in all its forms. We have worked hard at GDS to teach you to appreciate and celebrate differences and to seek out dissenting ideas from diverse groups of people, even including those who may dislike or disagree with your way of life. In view of recent events, this cornerstone of our mission has never been more important and relevant.
- Social and political awareness. In one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, Calvin says to Hobbes: "When I grow up I'm not going to read the newspaper and I'm not going to follow complex issues and I'm not going to vote. That way I can claim that the government doesn't represent me. Then when everything goes down the tubes, I can say the system doesn't work and justify my further lack of participation." Calvin's view is, of course, antithetical to the GDS way. Your sense of activism may be latent right now, but it's there. "GDSers do not simply go along, look the other way, or do what we are told-without close scrutiny of the integrity of the authority."
- The comprehensive nature of a GDS education. Your in-depth exposure to mathematics, science, literature, foreign languages, arts, history and social science, and physical education will open doors to all kinds of college and career options. Whenever I meet a group of GDS alumni I'm always struck by the rich variety of fields they have chosen to pursue and their happiness with their choices.
- Respect for the integrity and worth of every person. We've tried to nurture in you a sense that all people are gifted, that all people are precious. As Alice Randall, a 1977 GDS alumna and bestselling novelist put it, "A true GDSer loves people for who they are, not for what they have or who they know."
- A love of learning—another core part of the GDS mission with a very practical application given the unpredictability of today's world. This legacy encompasses both the idea of learning for learning's sake and knowing how to learn, and will ensure that you will be able to deal with whatever changes and challenges the future may bring.
- No matter where you go from here, whether you become a tiger, bulldog, terrapin, cardinal, or badger at the next level—you will always bleed true green, you will always be a Mighty Hopper.
"We sing of Georgetown Day School, where each of us is free,
To be different from each other, and celebrate our rich diversity"
So begins the hallowed anthem of the green and white, as passed along to us by Jackie Marlin in Middle School. Today, the Class of 2002 has gathered to celebrate an abrupt end to that freedom. Four years of hard work, stress, dedication, and parental expenditures manifest themselves in a framed piece of paper with our names printed on it. What does this "diploma" represent? On the one hand, it embodies the academic struggles and triumphs of its recipient. For some, this can be flaunted as a trophy for receiving good grades at a competitive private school. Competitive school in this context means an exclusive learning environment for the offspring of well-intentioned baby boomers. For others, who were less academically inclined than their colleagues, the diploma serves as a badge of survival. Many thought high school would be a four-year party back in the carefree days of the FREP, but the emotionally traumatizing nights before the Senior Paper was due culminated an entirely different experience.
But this sacred parchment, bedecked with fancy typeface, Latin slogans,and grandiose signatures, is not merely a testament to the student's ventures in academia, no sir. This is the last chapter of our childhood. We must bid farewell to the awkwardness and monotony of our teenage years. The new friends we meet in college-in my case the throng of devoted followers-did not bear witness to our own particular fragile years characterized by acne and orthodontia. They have their own bittersweet past to overcome, but we will all meet each other on a level playing field. The flaws and hardships of youth give it substance and therefore make it more memorable. As the Venetian romantic Casa Nova remarked after his death-defying prison escape: "Without intense experiences it is impossible for a man to properly reflect on his life." The same holds true with adolescence. Sure, we all wish we could spend our carefree days fishing barefoot at the abandoned quarry, but without authority figures to defy and rules to break there would be nothing to look back on, the time would be wasted, frittered away in a daze like an eighth period class on Friday.
But what of the institution where all these childhood memories have their root? Many of us I know, are happy to be leaving-of course some of us still go back to the weight room every day. But GDS seems to be getting a bad rap, not with the public, but from within the school itself. For all the whining that is done, one must take a careful look at the contents of these complaints: too much homework, no partitions in the bathroom, too short a lunch break, a paucity of parking spaces, and no football team. And the most puzzling question of all: if the school was 5 million dollars in debt, why did it buy those foam gladiator sticks for the PE Department?
If these are the primary grievances students have against the school, it suddenly doesn't seem so bad. And who among you can say he or she would prefer the coat-and-tie approach at the Cathedral schools, or the overall lameness of Sidwell Friends, to the open-campus-sandal-and-tie-dye-wearing attitude that we have all come to take for granted? And can any of those schools say they were the first integrated educational institution in the Nation's capital?
When I woke up this morning, I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to say in my speech. How could I characterize the graduating class, what one word could I use to describe this remarkable cohort? The clock kept ticking and I kept thinking in vain. It was getting close to graduation, almost time for my Dad to tie my tie. But it occurred to me, there is no one word that can define this grade, and that is the beauty. We are blessed, more so than any other class in recent memory, with a wealth of talent and a diversity of personalities. Musicians, skeptics, athletes, communists, artists of the highest caliber, nihilists, poets, dreamers and apathetics. It is this great variety that has prevented our grade from becoming bitter and stale.
Before me I see future CEOs, Senators, cynical film critics, environmental activists, and used car salesmen. We must all define success individually, and strive to achieve it. If we find that all our goals cannot be accomplished, then we can take a page from our parents and live vicariously through our children. Perhaps the grades below us will continue some of our traditions: the clandestine senior sleepover, the endless hours spent painting masquerading as community servants, and the election of the grade's two best-looking students to deliver graduation speeches. But it is the individuals who will be remembered, for better or for worse. When I am an old man with arrogant, pretentious intellectual children of my own, I will see my classmates in their faces. In closing I would like to thank the parents, teachers, and administrators who contributed-whether positively or negatively-to the journey that has been the last four years. To my classmates, we all made it, and that's good enough. The Grateful Dead sang it best, and their words seem appropriate now: "What a long, strange trip it's been." Thankee.
— Philip Ungar
As I look out on the sea of tasseled caps and gowns, … oops, I must have picked up the wrong speech. Unlike many commencement speakers, I speak not to a homogenous, formless mass, nor do I stand here to claim some specific recipe for success. Instead, I speak this day to a community and a class that is unified by the common threads of achievement in pursuit of excellence, prosperity, and service. The GDS community is best characterized by its uniqueness, and indeed by its successes. My own 12 years at GDS have been eclectic in both nature and nurture, and as I transition through and out of this community, I reflect and wonder out loud whether I'll ever experience another place like it. I'm reminded of the ease and comfort with which I've come to address and know my teachers, and how readily teachers and staff relinquished their free time to meet with students who needed extra help on material, or even just wise words of support and guidance. I'll never forget the swell of pride that filled my chest when in the midst of our last Christmas assembly, in addition to biblical stories and holiday caroling, we also heard the "bismila-hirahman-nira-him" that began schoolmate Nora's recitation on the birth of Jesus from the Holy Qur'an. Visions remain of impromptu all-school meetings when we crammed sardine-like into the lounge to discuss issues of diversity, or sought to mend an upset to the community.
I'm young enough yet seasoned enough to remember the days in second grade when we played kick the can, and in fifth grade when we mastered the zip line at country campus while trying to dodge the resident 250 lb. hog. If I recall correctly, classmate Jonathan Orchin not only got the thrill of a zip through the air, but also on the ground, a nip from that hog which left him with a black and blue calf. Who ever thought that those colorful markings would be a harbinger for the even more colorful artistic designs for which he is better known? Some of our survival skills were gained through such adventures as our three-day trip to Colonial Turkey Run Park in the third grade. We roughed it for real—wearing cotton bonnets, long skirts, and breeches…eating biscuits and chicken stew cooked on an open pit and relieving ourselves in cold latrines that were no more than huge pits in the ground. Seriously, I'll cherish the way Grant Braswell coached some of his more tentative classmates up trees and through elevated tires and wires as we forged bonds of friendship and trust at the Madiera ropes course in eighth grade. There have been a plethora of culinary delights at GDS, a sampling of ethnic diversity and world culture. Speaking further on seasoning, I'll remember the succulent Jamaican foods that Spanish teacher Michelle Lindgren whipped up to the body-rocking tunes of Bob Marley in her festive International Day workshops. These times were accented by the Bar-Mitzvahs and Bat-Mitzvahs of coming of age.
And so we finally arrived at out high school years. I'll be a long time forgetting the dirt we raked, the walls we painted, the tiles we scrubbed, and the valentines decorations we cut out during our various community service initiatives around the city. It might have been a freakish dream, but I believe I once came to school to find that a sea of marshmallows bathed the front patio in a sticky white snow-much to the amusement of the class of 1999 seniors, and to the dismay of Paul, our beloved principal. I'll have much company in my surreal memories of the somewhat unsettling sight of classmate Pierce McLain ripping the pulsing cherry Jell-O heart out of Cliff Kaplan during our last variety show this year. And then there are the truly surreal memories like; the refreshing afternoon swims in our roof top Olympic-size pool; like our first homecoming and its original "Under the Sea" theme to celebrate our football team's amazing victory over… wait did I say football?…Oh well, surely you can savor the memory of the tantalizing food in our state-of-the-art cafeteria. Indeed, no one leaves GDS without some sense of imagination and humor as lenses through which to view life's various travails.
GDS's stated mission is to encourage students to wonder, to inquire, and to be self-reliant, laying the foundation for a lifelong love of learning. This day, molten achievement is poured carefully into a time-honored mold to form a key of the highest quality and distinction. We take this key, forged deeply in the GDS values of diligence, achievement, integrity, service, and compassion, and use this key to unlock the gates to our future education. So today, I ask each of my beloved classmates, has GDS fulfilled its mission through you? When we stumble upon unknowns within ourselves, and in life, do we pose questions and proactively seek solutions? We are solitary vessels with independent thoughts, needs, and will: do we rely on the energies of our spirit and intellect to guide us or are we easily seduced by the amoeboid-like movement of the group? We have been trained to write papers, to manipulate mathematical and chemical equations; to speak in foreign tongues; to follow paths that lead to "the grade", but are we truly educated? Are we brave enough to follow paths best suited for our personal growth and development even if those paths are less tread by those around us? The training we receive is measured by what we qualify to do after we train, while our education will be measured by what we actually do in word or deed. Education is a living, growing entity; it's what's left after the training is past. I challenge each and every one of you sitting here today to distill meaning and value from your training and experiences, and actually put it into practice. Remember: service, such as that rendered by Sonija, Jessica, and other classmates, teaching youth to read and think, is the mark of an educated person. The housing and construction services provided by schoolmates Nick DeCell and Richard Minkoff demonstrate true degrees of refinement and learning.
I challenge you to broaden your horizons and clarify your definitions, to reach beyond the clichés, soundbites, and stereotypes. When you venture into communities outside of GDS where you have greater freedom to self select your friends and acquaintances, seek companionship with those who are different from you and who will further enrich your point of view and way of life. For example, mix some Oshun, Obatala, and Salsa into your life. I accept this kind of challenge whole-heartedly.
As I confessed at the start of my address, I have no specific recipes for success, no magical formulas to follow or to synthesize, but I grant you this: each and every one of us, from classmates Alia Akhtar to David Zax, is a success story in the making. We are all intelligent, talented, and accomplished in some manner. I'm sure our success will include comfort, wealth, and recognition, but it will be defined more so by the mechanisms of its creation. By our character and carriage, by the way we treat those around us, by our clarity and indeed, by our happiness. We all co-other a book of life. In the Holy Qur'an, in surah Al-Isra, "Journey by Night", (chapter 17, verse 13), a sign is revealed: "And we have fastened every man's deeds to his neck, and on the day of resurrection, we shall bring out a book for him which he shall find wide open." So let us not tread lightly or blindly on the paths of passion and morality. Let the brightest stars be our guiding lights. Let our greatest fears inform our strongest ambitions. Let's seek balance, seek love, and seek to give back to the people and places from which we sprung.
In the words of a favorite poet, my little brother Tariq:
"At times like this,
Each of us is a quickly darting arrow,
Soon to find its mark,
A newfound beam of sunshine,
Lancing through the dark"
Ladies and gentlemen, friends and family, teachers, staff, and students, it is my pride, my joy and my greatest honor to present to you the illustrious stars, the graduating class of 2002. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the future.
— Aminah West
Wes, Paul, Sandy, Marc, Moms and Dads, Grandma's and Grandpa's, Brothers and Sisters, Special Friends, Dear Colleagues, and last but not least, the much-loved and soon to be much-missed, Georgetown Day School Class of 2002 ....
I'm honored to speak here at your graduation. You'll be glad to know that nothing I say here today, nothing at all, is going to be on the test. The test is over. And you have passed.
This is my sixth GDS graduation and I know that it is not customary for the audience to participate in a speech, but I really can't see the very people about whom I am speaking, so I'll need to hear you once in awhile. Class of 2002, are you out there? Let's do a sound check.
Are you the best and brightest class to ever graduate from GDS?
Are these the best moms and dads, Grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters, brothers and friends anyone could ever be so lucky to have?
And are these the best educators and coaches any student could ever ask for?
Good. Now that we've taken attendance, we'll get down to today's lesson.
Two score and twelve days ago, in mid-April, the class of 2002 went forth downtown on a community service trip, to paint the homeless shelter run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, known as CCNV. I was assigned to a corner of the third floor-the men's floor-with my colleague John Frazier and a few seniors, to paint the walls there a pastel blue, the color of blue traditional parents might choose for a little boy's bedroom. We had to move beds and possessions of the residents to get to the walls, and I couldn't help but notice in my hands the pieces of men's lives, stashed under and around the beds and lockers. At some beds there were things we might normally associate with poverty-trash bags overfilled with wrinkled, out-of-date clothes; worn, dusty shoes; pamphlets about alcoholism and other dependencies, and the like. But near one of the beds I had to move was a makeshift closet holding some decent suits, white shirts, and ties, and from beneath that bed were polished shoes, with shoe trees in them. This man's belongings included golf paraphernalia and some decent literature…John Steinbeck, as I recall. This stuff looked not all that different from my stuff or maybe some of your stuff. It was for me a strange moment of recognition. This moment of recognition got me to thinking about these men who had fallen somehow, out of home, out of the economy, and how the CCNV had made a decision that this place was where their fall would stop. The CCNV in essence had said below this floor we will not let you fall. I watched our students painting these men's walls little-boy-blue and chatting away about movies and music and college, and somehow William Wordsworth's line "The child is father to the man" came to mind. That line, the Child is Father to the Man, is from Wordsworth's poem "My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold."
Watching our kids painting away, it occurred to me that Wordsworth in a way could have been describing one poignant aspect of how Georgetown Day School, at our best, teaches our students—to be fathers and mothers to the men and women that they are on the way to becoming. Class of 2002, during your years at the high school, we encouraged skeptical questioning, we gave you choice in the curriculum, maybe not enough choice for some of you, but choice, still. We gave you as much autonomy as we could and allowed you leave the campus when you wanted. We gave you room to grow, but to grow yourselves.
You came to the high school as children, really, but you leave, today, as intellectually sovereign young adults. The child can indeed be father to the man or mother to the woman. Indeed, you have been increasingly so these past four years. You didn't have to do all of the work you did, but you did. You didn't have to try out for plays and musicals, but you did. You didn't have to take up a grueling sport for which you were, most of you, unlikely to get scholarships, but you did. Maybe you did some of these things to polish up your college application, but that's actually the kind of foresight and dedication to purpose that is a sign of a child growing himself or herself into an adult.
Wordsworth in his line the child is father to the man was actually referring to the need for the spirit of childhood to persist into adulthood if we are to be happy in this world, that we should feel joy in the sight of a rainbow at 25 or 40 or 60 or 80 years of age, just as we did when we were 5 or 8 years old. In its heart the school, I think, has at least attempted to encourage the life of what Emerson called the piquant and charming nonchalance of youth, even as we were overtly paying a bit more attention to your journey to adulthood. The school at its best understands and tolerates, what I might call "variance in the onset of maturity" in our students, and I know I speak for more than just myself when I say that even as we encouraged you toward controlled, adult behavior, in conversations behind the closed doors of our departments we also celebrated you for the child in each of you, and we took joy in the moments when that spirit erupted. You help keep us young.
Finally, there's a third way that the child can be father to the man at GDS. During that painting trip to the CCNV shelter back in April, I was at one point up on a ladder, painting near the ceiling when one of the seniors, out of the blue, as it were, asked me a question. I won't embarrass him by saying his name, but Cliff asked: "So Chris, for a teacher, is it considered a good thing to be nominated as graduation speaker?"
At the time, about six weeks ago, I wasn't sure, actually. And I said so. I said, "Well, it's a bit odd, because I guess students nominate teachers based on who they see in the classroom, and in the classroom, and, well, you know, I teach, I tell stories, maybe some jokes, and I'm not sure I can be that way for a graduation speech, so I'm kind of afraid I'll be disappointing."
He said "Chris, we didn't nominate you because we thought you'd be funny. We nominated you because we think you can say something meaningful about a very important day in our lives."
Well. I was on the ladder and the students were below me, but the situation felt somehow reversed at that moment. I felt corrected, as I have in some of the best moments I've spent with the Class of 2002 over the past four years. Exchanges like that one, in which students and teachers, on a first-name basis, ask serous and forthright questions, and expect and get serious and forthright answers, allow moments in which the child can indeed be father to the man, offering insight or even advice, thinking and learning, side-by-side and not, despite the ladder, one above the other.
Moms and Dads, Grandma's and Grandpa's Brothers and Sisters, Special Friends, and Colleagues… One day not that long from now, we all will have entrusted the world, our world, to these children. We have allowed them to be children even as we have encouraged them to grow into purposeful and principled young adults. We have built for them staircases, which they had to climb. We might have built these staircases, but the work of lifting themselves to the top was their own. Today, as the class of 2002 ascends these stairs to this stage to a height from which there is no descent, a height commemorated with documentary evidence of accomplishment, let us honor them for who they have been, who they are, and who they will be in the years to come. The children they were have indeed been fathers and mothers to the young men and women they are today.
Class of 2002. You are loved, you will be missed, you will always be our own. Class of 2002, you are, as of this day, and will be forever more, graduates of Georgetown Day High School. Go in peace. God speed, and God bless!
Good Afternoon. Marc Efron, Wes Gibson, Paul Levy, Chris Thompson, fellow parents and other family and friends, Members of the Class of 2002, it is a pleasure and a privilege to be with you today.
My first order of business is to thank Aminah West for her thoughtful comments and - how best to put this? - to disassociate myself from the remarks of anyone else here who happens to share my last name. He claims to have been democratically chosen for his spot on the program today, but I can only assume that the results of this shoddy election were audited by Arthur Anderson and the ballots promptly shredded. Phil's mutterings, in any event, come from someone who endured a rather deprived childhood. After all, as many of you realize, he has had only four official birthdays thus far in his life. Wouldn't you be inclined toward cataclysmic predictions if you came to the realization that you were going to qualify for Social Security shortly after your sixteenth birthday?
But enough of that. It really is an honor to be asked to speak to the graduating class of Georgetown Day School - an institution with a hippie past and a buttoned-down future, where children once brought dogs to school but now lead a dog's life, taking AP courses until they drop and learning to regard a quick lunchtime visit to the Safeway as if it were a week in paradise. A place where, as in Garrison Keilor's Lake Woebegone, all the children are above average. A high school whose architecture, over the years, has engendered as much comment as its curriculum; where the Hoppers-yes, that's right, the GDS mascot is the lowly grasshopper (the founding mothers must have had something special in mind here)-play their home lacrosse, soccer, and softball games on a field where the scoreboard is greener than the grass; and where there are two very pleasant maitre d's named Paul and Tom who politely greet their customers at the back door every morning.
Including the time spent here by the aforementioned speaker and his older sister, I have been a parent at GDS over a period of fourteen years. My wife Beth and I have been to nineteen curriculum nights for one child or the other, engaged in-this is only a rough calculation-one hundred and fourteen individual teacher conferences, received seventy-six report cards, attended somewhere between five and six hundred athletic events, and brought delicious lasagna or salad to uncountable sports banquets and pot-luck suppers. We have listened to Middle School band concerts that, in Bill Clinton's time, seemed to feature all of the saxophones manufactured in the United States during an entire decade. We have heard Moses unsuccessfully beg Pharoah for his people's freedom at so many Passover assemblies that we were almost ready to sympathize with Ariel Sharon's policies. Many of these memorable events occurred in the so-called Big Room at the GDS Lower/Middle School before it was renovated. Most of you remember the Big Room: it was quite small and did not have room for much, least of all basketball games, in which the players were obligated to run into the cement-block walls whenever they went out of bounds.
This record does not take account of the six-and-a-half years I spent as a member of the GDS Board of Trustees, and a couple of those years as its presiding officer. Of course, nothing suppresses the instinct to complain about tuition like being one of the people responsible for setting and collecting tuition. But you would not believe the things that people call you about when you are in such an exalted position-the remarkable ideas parents have for reform of the curriculum so that it conforms to their personal biases; their unhappiness with the timing of spring vacation or with the holiday cards chosen by the administration; and, always, the car pool line at the Lower/Middle School. Not to mention the frequent brilliant suggestions to introduce a GDS cafeteria that would serve nutritionally correct food-an idea whose attractiveness always seemed inversely proportional to the age and grade of one's children.
Many of the people in this auditorium still have younger children in this school. They have many more car pools to drive, teachers to consult, and, in time, nights to sit up worrying. But for quite a few of us, like the graduating seniors, we are leaving the school. Our days of innocence are over. Progress is progress, and time passes in its orderly way, but we may find today's great joy mixed with a little dose of sadness. Bear with us, please.
Over the past nine years, I have been privileged to get to know many members of the Class of 2002. I go back with some of them as far as Prince William Forest in fourth grade, an experience so profound that it caused more than a few to vow that they would never commune with nature again in their lives. I watched them play in Little League baseball games that never went beyond three innings, because there were hardly ever any outs, since no one could throw or catch. These graduates were Internet-savvy by fifth or sixth grade, played many video games-exclusively for the purpose of developing excellent hand/eye coordination-and are true pioneers in the world of cell-phone use. I've had the opportunity to visit their classes and assemblies and meetings at various stages, and to be given the same hard time as everyone else.
I saw a particular infusion of talent and ideas and new perspectives when the ranks of this class expanded in ninth grade, and I sometimes sat up late at night with these articulate and interesting people, hearing their thoughts about their school and their complicated world . . . and the intense relevance of the Simpsons to our daily lives. They are an impressive group: they have published books, made films, been amazing singers and dancers and musicians, and vanquished their foes on "It's Academic." They were witnesses to extraordinary domestic and world events-and had the experience, not so long ago, of standing outside the Vice President's residence and the Supreme Court, debating with their fellow citizens the outcome of the last presidential election. Maybe this was a great exercise in democracy, or maybe they were just trying to get themselves on television. Either way, I bet they'll remember it.
I realize that not everyone in this class is going directly to college. Some will pursue amazing and admirable adventures first, for example touring the country in a punk rock band. Jessica, if you're lucky, you'll be successful enough for your classmates to violate your copyright and routinely download your music from the Internet free of charge; maybe someone will even burn a CD for your parents. Thomas will be off in search of the perfect putt, and Alexis-well, I understand you're just going to be Alexis for another year, offering sage and cynical commentary to all who will listen.
But as I tried to think about what message I could offer today to these already very wise and worldly people, I decided that my own new job might qualify me to provide some pithy advice to the college-bound:
- Change your sheets from time to time, especially in the days before your parents come to visit. It is very unpleasant to be nagged about this, and, for that matter, quite unpleasant to sleep on dirty sheets.
- Always put your alarm clock on the other side of your room, far from where you sleep. It's amazing how much of life-and your education-you can miss if you don't get up in a timely fashion.
- Don't complain about the food. It won't do any good, and this is one of several things that have the potential to drive the president of your college to distraction. You don't want to do that.
- When your parents ask how much sleep you are getting, always round upwards. It will do no good for them to worry, so never send e-mails right before bed. When all else fails, tell them that listening to their lectures about getting proper rest is interfering with your sleep.
- Bring plenty of underwear. That is the sole determining factor of how often you must do laundry.
But seriously... you are setting off on great adventures, and you will have some unusual opportunities. My real advice? Take intellectual chances. Study something from time to time that you never expected to interest you. Get to know at least one of your teachers well every semester. Try out a new persona. Find some things you can really believe in, and identify areas where you think you can challenge the conventional wisdom and bring about change. And yes, get some sleep. Take care of yourselves.
Never forget who you are and where you are from-where you learned to ride a bike, to keep an ice cream cone from dripping, to do long division, and, no doubt, to do many other things, some wholesome and some not. Keep that place close to you, even when you are far away, and remember what it gave you. You may feel angry over real or imagined indignities you suffered here not so long ago. But please, don't get so swept up in what is new that you cannot appreciate your own original spot and some of the essential grounding in life that it provided. Your home and this school are your touchstones. I hope you will return to them often, literally and figuratively.
Emerging from Georgetown Day School, you know quite a lot about many things. You may be going to the same college with enough of your classmates to have this confidence reinforced everyday, at least for a while. But I guarantee that you will be surrounded by others who know just as much as you do, or even more. They may have struggled in their own ways to get where they are. Some of those who initially seem to you like the biggest losers may turn out to be the biggest winners. Appreciate them. Learn from each other.
When I asked some of my friends in this class what I should talk about today, they said, "Please, not 9/11. Anything but 9/11." I've restrained myself thus far, but before I close, you have to permit me a few words: I hope that all of us here today have learned something more from those tragic events than the need to beef up our military and our homeland security. I hope we have come to realize the huge agenda before us in terms of international understanding yet to be realized, and I hope we recognize the need to appreciate and live our own lives to the fullest. Despite all the gloomy predictions and the fears that seem to stalk us in precarious moments, this actually is a wonderful time to be alive, to study and to think, to contribute and make a difference. Go for it, my friends. And good luck to you.