[This was a particularly special year because Jakob graduated this year. You can imagine which paragraph was a little hard for me to get through.]
Family and friends, teachers and honored guests, what a wonderful evening to celebrate the achievements of an outstanding group of young people, the Science Leadership Academy Class of 2022.
Graduates, before we celebrate all that you have done, let us also honor the work of all of those who have helped you reach this moment in time. So please, let us have a round of applause for the parents and friends and teachers and loved ones who have helped you reach this milestone in your life.
Parents and guardians – one of the things that makes graduation so emotional for all of us at SLA is we aren’t just saying goodbye to your kids, but to all of you as well. For many families, today is the end of a four year journey that you have embarked on with us, and for more than a few families in the Class of 2022 – today is the end of a journey that has spanned many years and multiple children. You all have been such an essential part of the SLA family, and I know I speak for all of the adults at SLA when I say – thank you. Thank you for sharing your children with us. Thank you for every Parent-Advisor conference. Thank you for cheering at all the sporting events. Thank you for believing in the idea of the little school that could – even when I am sure with all that has happened in these past few years there were moments when that belief was sorely tested.
And of course, this year, there are several of us on staff who were able to watch our own children learn with and from our colleagues. It is something very special to be a teacher (or principal) and a parent at SLA. To see your own child grow through the work of this community is quite something. So, on behalf of Mr. Clapper, Ms. Menasion, Mr. Ames and myself, I want to join with all the parents here tonight and thank our faculty and staff for taking such good care of our children. We have seen our own children grow up thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind, and truly, we are forever grateful.
And if I may, Jakob… it was always our hope that these four years would give us the stories we would tell for the rest of our lives, and my goodness, has it ever. I can’t imagine it was always easy to be the principal’s kid, but you handled it all with a grace and joy that left me in awe. I will miss every ride home, every early morning practice and every shared Halal cart lunch. The school will be a little emptier for me next year without you in it. Your mom and I love you so much, and we are so very proud of you.
And now… to the Class of 2022.
So that happened. I am pretty sure that there isn’t any one of you who, had we asked you four years ago, what do you think your high school career would look like, would have come up with what you all have lived through. And I realized something as I was writing this speech… you all are our 13th graduating class, and so, yeah… this all makes more sense now, because my goodness, it seemed like every time we turned around, there was another crisis to overcome for you all.
But in spite of all the challenges you faced… you have thrived. And you all stand as the class that bridges SLA’s past and future. You are the last class to have gone to school at Arch St., and you are the first class to gone to school and graduated from Broad St. And in between of course, you survived asbestos, 440 and 18 months of Zoom school. It was not easy – in fact, it was far harder than it should have been. You have seen first-hand how our systems can fail its constituents, and you had to become advocates for yourselves and your neighbors. You had to learn across multiple modalities and in locations that were not meant for children. And of course, you had to deal with a world in crisis – from a worldwide COVID pandemic to a racial reckoning to continued rise of white nationalistic violence in our nation to the gender inequities that continue to plague our society to ever-increasing gun violence that – just this past weekend – once again hit far closer to home and reminded us how needed young people of integrity are needed to help us fix that which broken. And I can think of no better group of young people to inherit that challenge than all of you.
Because, despite everything you have faced, you have thrived. You have proven that – even though you should not have had to – you are capable of meeting all challenges and overcoming them. You packed yourselves into conference rooms at 440 and called them classrooms – and you breathed a life into that building that it had not seen ever in its existence.
And just when you thought you were going to experience your new home, the world came crashing down and we experienced another disruption. And now, you all had to pivot back to online classes – after our first experience in the fall. (As we like to say, we were doing Zoom school before it was cool.) You lost your spring sophomore season and your fall junior season. You had to figure out what SLA looked like online. And you had to persevere as two-weeks online turned into the rest of 10th grade and the rest of 10th grade turned into all of 11th grade.
And then, you had to come back and lead the school into our new era. You set the patterns of how we walk through our new hallways – making the school immediately feel like home, whether it was in the Commons or in Siswick’s Office or my office or the hallways, you re-established SLA as a school of the kids and for the kids.
And last week, you presented capstone projects that blew us away. From engineering projects to incredible films to philosophy papers and murals and art work to teaching elementary kids science and running SuperSmash Brothers tournaments and more, you set a high standard for all the underclass students who saw your presentations.
In all, you took our core values – inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection – and applied them to your own ideas, your own passions, and in doing so, created incredible artifacts of your learning. You stood in front of your community and said, “This is who I am. This is the scholar I have become. This is what I can do.” And in doing so, you reminded all of us of what young people can do when given the freedom and the support to dream big.
You are the class that set the tone to help three classes of SLA students learn what it means to go to our school. The work you did as mentors to the younger students will resonate for years to come. Whether it was the work you did as Student Assistant Teachers, or as leaders of our Black Student Union, or as captains of our sports teams, you all put the “Leadership” in Science Leadership Academy. You won a Public League championship. You competed at State Championships. You worked with Ms. Ryans on the Student Action Board. You hosted a senior prom.
In short, you put in the hours. You did the work. You made sure that SLA will be SLA for years to come after you leave, and for that we are forever grateful.
And the thing is, for all you have already done – already lived through – your journey is just beginning. We love to say that high school should not just be preparation for real life, and as much as I would have hoped the last four years were not quite this real for you all, you graduate with no illusions that life will hand you anything. You know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that the world you inherit desperately needs your intelligence, your advocacy, your compassion, and your sense of justice.
For while tonight is a night for celebration and reflection, it is also a night to be forward thinking. You have completed one chapter of your life tonight, but it is our hope that the lessons you have learned with us propel you into whatever comes next. You are our hope now. For the parents and families and teachers gathered with you today, you represent our best chance, our best ideals, our most hopeful promise that the world tomorrow can be better than it is today.
So, if you will indulge me one last time… let me leave you with some thoughts on how you may go about the profound challenge of trying to change the world… because I have no doubt that you will continue to do so.
You must remember that inquiry means asking the hard questions, not just of yourself, but of others. And you must remember that the true spirit of inquiry means never settling for the easy or trite answers, but rather seeking out those small “t” truths that will lead to new ideas and new solutions. You must remember those moments of the past four years when you challenged yourself and those around you to discover new ideas, to shed old illusions and create anew our world.
You must have the humility to understand that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and your humility must lead you to research what others before you have discovered, so that you do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We need you to, after all, make new and more interesting mistakes than the ones we have made. You must keep in mind the path you have traveled, the pitfalls as well as the successes, because it is that humility, that notion that our shared humanity – our moments of frailty – that will keep us grounded in the world, in the notion that each and all of us have value.
And that means that you must remember that we are better together than we are apart and seek out collaboration. You must understand that the complexity of the challenges we face are more powerfully understood when viewed through the lens of many, not the lens of one. You have walked for four years in a community that values — and at times struggles with — the diversity of voices that make up the rich tapestry of our school and our city. We all are better for listening to each other and informing each other’s voice. That idea — of collaboration — of diversity — of coming together — is at the heart of how we will all make the world a better place.
And to do make the world a better place, you must continue to make your voices heard. Continue to speak for the purpose of educating your listeners. Keep working to make your voices inclusive, so that others can pick up your cause, your idea, your voice, and echo and amplify it for many more. Ideas, after all, do not live in isolation. I know that all of you will have the courage of your conviction, and the passion and voice to speak your truths to those who must hear them.
And I urge you, no matter how busy you get, no matter how important the work you are doing is, you must remember to take the time for reflection. For it is when we reflect on our actions, on the world around us, that we can process and learn from what we have done. Never be in such a rush to do, to create, to lead, that you lose sight of the importance of listening, of stillness, of the wise counsel of others, so that you can always be thoughtful and intentional about what you have done and what you have left to do.
And, of course, make sure you remember that unspoken sixth core value – care. So many of you have spoken about how SLA is a family – granted, at times a dysfunctional one – but a family nonetheless. That is because we all — adults and students alike — take the time to care for one another.
Because all of us here have benefitted from being in a caring environment where questions like, “What do you think?,” “How do you feel?” and “What do you need?” are not admissions of weakness, but rather of strength. So know this… To be kind when the world would allow you to be cruel is to show strength, not weakness. To listen deeply to others, to thoughtfully construct answers, and to create solutions that empower many is the best – and perhaps the only – path to change the world.
And that matters, because we need you now. The work you do, the challenges you embark upon, the causes you champion once you leave our halls matter. You are our best hope for the future, because you truly are what we hope for our SLA graduates – you are thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind. And you are — all of you — what the world needs.
We face challenges in our schools, in our city, in our country, in our world, that will require the best from those who have the passion to create change and the skills to do it. You do not have the luxury of hoping that other people will say what must be said, do what is needed, work to make the world a better place. That is not the world in which we live. You must be smarter than we have been, more compassionate than we have been able to be, and braver than we can imagine.
But as I look upon you now, I see a group of young people more than able to rise to that challenge. You have accomplished so much in your four years with us, and it is only a beginning. On behalf of the entire SLA faculty, we are so proud of all you have done, and we cannot wait to see what you do next. Congratulations to the Science Leadership Academy Class of 2022. Long may you shine.