[This year marked the first graduating class of our second campus – SLA@Beeber. I was honored and thrilled to be asked to be the keynote speaker. It’s been such an incredible experience to watch this group of students and families and educators build this school into something wonderful, and I was so excited to share the day with them. — Chris]
To the Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber inaugural class – the Class of 2017 – congratulations!
I cannot begin to tell you how much it means to me to be standing in front of you today. What you all have done – what you all have accomplished these past four years – will stand as a tribute to your willingness to build, to take risks, to go on a journey together – for years and years to come. Every student who follows you through the halls of your school will feel the impact of all you have done and all you have built. On behalf of all of them – I thank you. What you have accomplished is profound.
And you did not do this alone. You did this with a dedicated, passionate and caring group of educators who walked this walk with you, so please, take a moment and applaud for the incredible principal, teachers and staff of the Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber who have walked this walk with you.
And still – there were more. There were the people who stood with you, stood behind you. Cheered for you. Urged you on. Pushed you. And probably wanted to clobber you at various points of time. And many of them are here with you today. So please, graduates, take a moment to applaud and thank your families, your parents, your friends who have helped to get you to this moment of celebration today.
And now – what I want to talk to you about this afternoon is what all this means for the rest of your life. You are founders. You are builders. You are makers. And that matters. We live in a world and in a time where far too many people would rather tear down than build up. It’s easier. You know – you lived – the fact that there’s nothing perfect. You know better how whatever we build together has flaws. And so, know that those who would settle for tearing down, rather than building up, would miss the whole point.
What we build may not be perfect – but it can be beautiful.
And that’s what you did. You built something beautiful. Take a moment now… think of the experience you had together. Think about the incredible artifacts of your learning that have you created. Think of the meaning you have made in the classes and halls of the building.
What you did was beautiful.
And not just the outcomes – the process matters too – a lot, actually. It’s called “the beautiful struggle” for a reason. The hours you spent on benchmark projects – the moments of frustration – the mistakes you — and we — made along the way. All of that matters. All of that is part of the beautiful thing you created. Because the struggle informs both the thing we create and the people we become.
After all – If it were easy, everyone would do it.
And so, for the rest of your life, you know something that many others do not.
You can do it. You can build. You can make. You can create.
Whatever the challenge you face next, you know what you have already done. Whenever you are faced with the moment where the odds seem insurmountable – think of that moment back in September of 2013 when you walked into a school that had never existed before and remember that you did this. And know that you can thrive.
But it’s not just about overcoming the odds on a personal level. Your charge – your mission – as you leave high school is much greater than that. You are builders – makers. And builders make the world a better place through what they create – even when it is hard. Even when it seems impossible. Even when you aren’t even sure where to start.
Think about it – what would have happened if Mr. Johnson had never taken the leap of faith that we could start a new school? There was every reason to not do it. The School District of Philadelphia isn’t exactly the easiest place to start schools, after all. But he was willing to take a risk. He was willing to sign up for what has been an incredible – and incredibly hard – four years. And know that for all of the confidence he has had in all of you — and all of the confidence he has had in all that you have built together — that there were incredibly hard moments where we both have had to wonder if we could make it all work. But makers make, and builders build. And so Mr. Johnson has always pushed forward and pushed through and worked with all of you to create something special that will matter for generations of students to come.
And now it’s your turn.
You’re not done building. You’re not done making. You’re not done creating. You are just getting started.
Take the values and skills and care that you have learned over the past four years and build those values into everything you do next.
Build things that make others wonder and question and seek. To do that is to honor the spirit of inquiry that we live every at the SLAs.
Write the stories that make people see the world through new eyes.
Build the structures that challenge the way we interact with the world.
Create the communities where people understand what it means to truly care for one another.
In short – create the things that help us to heal, to grow, to learn. Do this in whatever communities you inhabit next. Do this because the world can’t wait for someone else to do it. Do it because you know you can. Do this because you know on a personal level how powerful it is to create something new that is a force for good in the world.
Do it because that’s what it means to pay it forward.
Do it because we need you to.
That’s what it means to be a founder. A builder. A maker.
And know that it won’t be easy. Know that there will be those who will try to tear you down. Know that there will be those who will tell you it can’t be done. Know that there will be those who will tell you it’s not worth the effort.
And, then, think of your school. Think of today. Think of all you have already built. And know that they are all wrong.
And then create it anyway. Because you can.
I stand here tonight and I look at you all, and I know that you are more than capable to meet the challenges ahead. You have all already accomplished so much, and you have only begun to scratch the surface of what you can do. And with that, I want to thank you all for building a school – for creating something that did not exist before you came – for making something that matters. And with that, congratulations to the inaugural class of the Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber – the class of 2017. I know I speak for all of your teachers, for all of your families, and for Mr. Johnson when I say, we all cannot wait to see what you do next. Congratulations!