Being such a large high school, Berkeley High has dealt with attempting to meet the demands of what amounts to a small city of teenagers through a program of small learning communities within the school. As such, I teach in the Arts & Humanities Academy, a unique (though representative) cohort of high school students. On June 5, 2012, we held our small school graduation (compared to the Big School Graduation to take place at the Greek Theater on June 15) at a small local venue called Freight & Salvage.
In spite of the weird time-gaposis, the small school grauation was really cool. There are a couple of performances and the a faculty speaker then the presentation of the graduates at which point they all take a couple of minutes to say a few words about what they need to say, and then there is the student speaker, and then, well, we are done. Photobooth, food, and mingling commences after the more formal commencing has commenced. It was quite intense for a first year faculty member to be a part of.
Oh, and I was the faculty speaker.
And so I spoke. With nods to great thinkers, great reminders, great shoes, and a friend gone to soon, I began, and tried to calm the wobbles in my voice.
Here is what I said:
Good evening families, friends, colleagues, and a very special hello to you, Berkeley High School Arts and Humanities Academy, Class of 2012.
Here we are.
Perhaps it is a bit of an unlikely match, you and me. But then again, maybe not. Last summer after accepting a position in AHA, Stahl (who I had met only once) phoned me saying – why didn’t you say you were an artist? I felt compelled to correct her and tell her she must be mistaken – you can imagine how that went – I was just so surprised to realize that someone would consider me an artist. But now I think maybe this is one of the collective failings of humanity – this habit of limited self-identification: I AM this; I am NOT that. This year you all have shown me through your own examples how we can be so much more than anyone, even ourselves, might think.
We are always warned: do not judge a book by its cover, and there is not a more apt sentiment to describe the journey this year has been for you and me. It would be impossible to articulate the richness of diversity, talent, personality, and perspective you have shared with me. [Over shared?]
As you have marched through your senior year, sometimes with leaps and bounds, and at others only with the cajoling and encouragement (or straight up threats) of your teachers, friends and parents, I have been witness to what can only be the briefest representation of who you are. And what have I seen?
Behind the brains, I have seen beauty. Behind the introvert, I have seen the comedienne. Behind the clown, I have seen the thinker. Behind the sprite, I have seen strength. Behind the charmer, I have seen compassion. And behind the artist, I have seen the scholar. It is a lesson to us all, to remember to look beyond those first, most obvious impressions, not just as we meet new people, but also as we meet all sorts of challenges and experiences in our lives. In looking past the obvious, the view is unlimited.
In you I have seen perseverance and tenacity. From breaking the bank in the stock market game, to teaching me what it means to be ratchet – and how to avoid this. From begrudgingly coming along on a treacherous IDP, to finishing the millionth question on your US Constitution worksheet. From completing that last piece for your AP Art series, to discovering that everything we are exists on one tiny, pale blue dot. From making movies to making arguments. From Alcatraz to the Fed to Point Bonita and beyond, you have done so much already. And in rising to the myriad challenges on the road to achieving success – not only in my eyes, but in the eyes of your families, your teachers, and the admissions officers of the more than 25 colleges you will attend next year – you have reached a watershed moment.
We sit here tonight in testimony to that fact.
So, on an occasion where I might actually have your full attention for a moment, indulge me just a bit more and let me offer a few final unsolicited suggestions:
- Know that good shoes open many doors. But so do authenticity, integrity, and honest effort. Together, the combination is unstoppable.
- Remember, as the Dalai Lama says, to be kind whenever possible, and that it is always possible. At the same time understand that kindness comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes the most meaningful displays of kindness may not appear so at first.
- At a time when we hear so much about the terrible state of affairs in the world around us, believe that through your actions you can engender change. When you are feeling overwhelmed or insignificant, consider the African proverb that reminds us: “If ever you think you are too small to make a difference try sleeping in a room with a single mosquito.” The world is more malleable than you know. Don’t forgo the opportunity to make a difference.
- Know your capital T Truth, or truths, but also know that what is true for you may not always resonate with those around you. This makes your truth no less vital, no less valid. But this understanding allows you, and your truth, to be heard, which in turn will allow you to engage and flourish in the world that awaits you.
A few months ago my friend Kim wrote some words of advice she hoped to share with her students, and tonight I would like to share these words with you:
“Be an active participant in the things that your family and loved ones enjoy. Try to make time for yourself each day and do something that makes you truly happy; whatever that is. Exercise, read, and attend events that inspire you and feed your soul. Nurture your friendships both old and new. Stave off dishonesty and falsehood. Do whatever you can to prevent feelings of guilt. Pay attention to the feedback from those you respect, and know that it comes from a place of caring. Don’t waste your energy on impostors.”
Live fully, Class of 2012. Do not limit yourself with preconceived notions. Live your Truth. This is your time.
And that is a capital T Truth.
*Announcement artwork by Brion Casimiro