Monday, November 5, 2007

BSHS Commencement Speech

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Good evening, friends, family, faculty, staff and graduates of the 2007 class of Berkeley Springs High School. I am honored to be among you tonight. The lines I read are from a poem that Dylan Thomas wrote for his father. Thomas’ father was a robust and militant man most of his life. He had a hard edge to him. He was ambitious, honorable, and courageous. Thomas was disturbed when his father became blind and weak with old age. He was not the man that he had grown up knowing. He wrote the poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” to help empower his father to not give up his fight, but to continue on in his fierce natured ways. The idea of his father simply giving up and lacking the ambition to continue scared and upset him deeply. I understand that fear. I have shared those similar emotions with Thomas. Though they aren’t fears of death and dying, they are fears of apathetic attitudes and forgotten lessons. These feelings emerge every August and every May; when a new group comes in the classroom door and an old group goes out.

Every year I have 100-150 students walk through my classroom doors and that isn’t even counting the students that I don’t have in class, but am in daily contact with. The thought of the daily contacts with students is mind numbing. My first thought in August is, “OK, I have 9 months with these kiddos. We have our work cut out for us.” I ask myself, “How can we meet test scores, teach the curriculum, and in the process teach students how to think like life long learners? How can we ensure that these young adults will continue to fight for their lives, their believes, their plans, their goals, not just here, but more importantly after they leave our classrooms? How can we help them guarantee success? How do any of us make a difference in the lives of another, especially with only 9 months?”

The answer is: I have no idea. I can’t guarantee any of it. However, I can guarantee that I work really hard to help you discover the gifts inside each of you that will enable you to attempt to do all of those things. I can guarantee that when you walk into my classroom I will challenge you. I will challenge your beliefs. I will challenge your thoughts. I will teach you to challenge yourself, to reevaluate your own thoughts and beliefs. I will challenge you to dig deep within yourself to find accountability, personal success, relevance, empathy, dreams, and a hunger to do the right thing even when it seems that you can’t or it would be easier not to. I’ll guarantee that I will teach you to rage against the dying of the light and not settle for less that what you deserve. That I will guarantee. In return, I guarantee that you will challenge me daily as well.

Tonight is May 25. I told you I normally get weary in May. I, like Dylan Thomas, fear that students will no longer feel ambitious or want to take on the world after all of the hard work. I am fearful that the time we spent together will be lost and forgotten. It isn’t the idea of ME that I am fearful they will leave behind; it’s the life lessons- that is what I worry will not transcend onward with them when they leave the comfortable confinement of these high school halls. Tonight, I don’t feel that way. Two years later we are together again, still learning, still feeling, still challenging, and most importantly, still raging.

Though the Dylan Thomas poem that I opened with is technically about life and death, I find it relevant standing here today. I find it relevant because we need to embrace the middle moments. So often we are trying to get to an end or a finish line that we forget about the process, we forget about the middle of it all. The beginning and the end of everything are quite important. However, we must ask ourselves about the relevance of what happens in between the two, and how we must rage with every second of the middle. The middle part is what makes life worthwhile and meaningful. The middle moments are what we live and where we can be an active participant. The middle is where we learn, practice, and perfect our rage.

When I talk about rage, I am not referring to the hate, anger, and violence we see all around us on the news, in the movies, in music, etc. I’m referring to the passion of a positive fight. The passion of belief. The passion behind knowing and believing in right and wrong. The passion behind love. The passion behind choice. The passion behind having the right to decisions and creating opportunities. The passion behind not giving up and giving in. The passion to fail and learn from it. The passion to set boundaries and plans only to revise and start all over again. All of these wonderful middle moments are yours to experience.

As you go into the world, you will begin new chapters of your life, and these middle moments will take place at the most random of times. At times you will experience confusions, sorrow, happiness, helplessness, love, hate, pride, success, all of the emotions in the spectrum. I remind you to identify them, claim the emotion, embrace them, and learn from them. In this process, I ask you not to forget who you are and who you want to become. Remember all of the lessons that we learned together here; look forward to all of the lessons you are about to embark upon. Continue to create a belief system. Continue to stand up for your beliefs and your values. Challenge yourself. Challenge those around you. Continue to grow. Continue to learn. Continue to educate yourself. Continue to give back to your community. Continue to raise the bar and expect more of yourself and more from those around you. Rage against the dying of the light and never settle for mediocrity. Create what defines you. Find what makes you passionate. Find what makes you rage.

Today, not knowing when we will meet again, when you may see one another again, or what the future has in store for any of us, I say the same words to you that Thomas said to his father, “DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT. RAGE, RAGE AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT.” Seeing that today is a Friday, I can’t let you leave without saying my closing remarks for the week, just like I have done every other Friday before, “Be safe. Be careful. Be fun. Be you." And to steal a line from Ms. Files, ‘Return with Honor.’ Live with Honor.”
Thank you and Congratulations to the Class of 2007.

1 comment:

I'm The Chez said...