Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Advice to the Class of 2017 from the Class of 2023

Following are excerpts from my remarks to the Class of 2017 delivered at Graduation on June 5th.

Members of the School Committee, Mr. Sicotte, faculty, guests, parents, and members of the Class of 2017, good evening!

To prepare my remarks for graduation I found it necessary to consult with some of the greatest minds available.  Fortunately, Boston is home to renowned colleges and universities staffed with leading researchers and professors.  We live in a metropolitan area rich in corporate know-how and populated with talented and world class artists, musicians, and writers who work alongside prominent religious, civic, and social leaders.

I spoke with over 50 brilliant scholars, all of whom have important stories to tell, and each one eagerly proffered pointed, salient, and sincere advice for the Class of 2017.  Frankly, I was overwhelmed with ideas, suggestions, and insights—And I know I can’t do justice to the sages who took time out of their research, their studies… and their recess at High Rock School to sit with me and offer a perspective on life and learning that only a 6th grader can possess.

Yep, I leaned on the youthful insights of Needham’s 6th graders, all of whom are your neighbors and even a few are younger family members, sitting here this evening, applauding as you receive your diploma… and watching and listening to make sure I get it right.

Now, granted, the perspective and wisdom of a 6th grader may be limited by age, schooling, and height.  But I think the young people I spoke with have advice that should resonate with the Class of ’17 and, frankly, with us all.  The advice they shared for the graduates falls into three broad categories: The Practical, The Profound, and The Personal.
First the Practical. Sixth graders are remarkably sensible, and they want you to get right down to business after graduation. No wasted time or dithering with parties, beaches, or lounging around.  No wallowing in nostalgia, sipping Starbuck’s, or Snapchatting late into a summer’s afternoon.  Some of their more prudent suggestions include:

  Keep a curfew.
  Don’t worry about the party; worry about the homework.
  Don’t do bad things and do your class work on time.
  Eat vegetables.
  Don’t waste your parents’ money on unnecessary things. (Oh yeah, sure…)
  Try to network and make new friends who will help you out.
  Drive safely around little kids and never drink and drive. (I like that one a lot.)
  Don’t sass your teachers.
  Study hard so you don’t end up living in your parents’ basement after college.

6th graders can also be quite philosophical, and they offered some profound and erudite suggestions to the members of the Class of 2017.  For example:

  Stand up for your beliefs to make this world a better place.
  Keep trying:  You never fail; you only learn that some things don’t work.
  Think about the world around you; how can you make it greener and safer?
  In all of these years the teachers taught you tremendous things, and hopefully you remembered how important character is.  (This, from a 6th grader!)
  Don’t be afraid.  Take risks. Climb the mountain.
  Be proud of the community you come from but also be willing to grow and become part of a new community.
  Always remember that if you fall down, it’s OK as long as you get back up again.
  Be kind to people and don’t bully.
  You’re going to have a hard time if you don’t maintain a positive attitude.
  (And I like this one a lot: ) What you do shows who you are.

A few of the young scholars I spoke with are related to some grads, and they had lots of personal advice and some reminders. One eager student of a grad suggested: “You know, it’s a good time to think about moving out!”  Mostly, though, their advice was a little more personal and poignant.

  Keep in touch with the family.
  We may fight a lot but we are still sisters and we love eachother. 
  Don’t forget what mom and dad have taught you.
  I love you so much… and I hope it goes as planned… and I’m taking over the bathroom and your bedroom.
  Like mom always says:  “Say please and thank you and make sure you include others.”

Pretty impressive advice, huh?  Advice that comes from some of the youngest among us… the neighborhood kids and little brothers and sisters who idolize you as heroes, emulate you, and who watch everything you do and say. As one 6th grader put it to me:  “I look up to them to know what to do.”

Their advice is innocent, full of wonder, and reminds us to look after one another. Their advice suggests that the world you create is not for me, your parents, or our generation, it is for you and it is for them.  They want you to lead, create, and nurture a world that is both exciting and innovative… and caring and humane.

Their advice to you, spoken so poorly through me, is a wish for their own future. 

They are depending on you, and if you have listened carefully, their voices offer messages of courage, hope, and love.   

Advice for us all, and a gift to the Class of 2017.