Middle School Graduation AddressPosted: June 13, 2014
It’s my privilege to give you three last bits of advice…. about checkerboards, Ben Franklin, and smiles.
When I was in middle school, my parents, who were both active in the Civil Rights movement, moved us into an integrated community—black and white families living side by side on purpose, making one of the best neighborhoods I ever remember.
Fifty years ago I remember walking into that 5th grade room for the first time, and counting only three girls who could be my friend. I remember the thought, “Wow, I only have three friends to choose from.”
Almost immediately it dawn on me that at the tender age of ten, I had become one of those bigots that my parents warned me about. I had scanned the classroom, and counted only the white girls as possible friends. Shame on me.
Wherever you attend high school, whether here at TASIS or elsewhere, please don’t limit your friend choices to only those who look like you, who think like you, or dress like you—unless your school has uniforms.
If the dining hall in your school looks like a checkerboard, with students of one color or nationality sitting here, and other students of other colors and nationalities sitting there, remember TASIS Middle School, and start another rainbow table, a better rainbow table….one where all are welcome.
Make it your job to find those on the fringes. You know the ones—those who look out of place, alone, sad. Welcome them along with everyone else to your table, and to your life.
Two: Ben Franklin
You know who gets that best letters of recommendation in high school? It’s not just the students with high grades. It’s the students who take the time to get to know everyone around them.
One of the best way to get to know someone is to ask for a favor. Ben Franklin realized that by asking someone a favor, you endear yourself to that person. Try it! Maybe ask to borrow something, or ask for help. It sounds counterintuitive that asking for a favor would gain you a friend, but as Ben Franklin realized, once you’ve asked someone a favor, that person will feel comfortable asking you for a favor in return and, for that reason, consider you a friend.
Yeah, I know it’s easy to get to know people who smile a lot and I do recommend that all of you smile your way through life—a smile a day keeps the doctor away—fake being happy until you are happy.
But if you truly believe in our TASIS Mission Statement and the teachings of your religion or philosophy, you’ll probably agree with me that it’s important to take time to get to know those without smiles on their faces.
Make sure that every person you encounter counts in your life. People are not just furniture. Every person at our school—at any school—whether teacher, librarian, cleaner, gardener, administrator, secretary, caterer, computer tech—every person is important. Every person—of whatever age or description—has a viewpoint, a philosophy, a goal, a dream.
Our TASIS Mission Statement and the dreams of our founder, Mrs. M. Crist Fleming, require respect for people as a key ingredient of education. Think about it: culture, wisdom, knowledge, and truth, all require people and all happen best when there’s a wide variety of people in your life.
So go forth, class of 2014, make all sorts of friends. Do it even better than you did during your precious time with us.
I gave this graduation address on June 12, 2014 at the TASIS Middle School graduation in Thorpe, Surrey, United Kingdom at end of my five years of teaching English, Journalism, and Broadcast Journalism to seventh and eighth grade students and serving as a dorm parent to ninth through twelfth grade boys from around the world.
Here’s a link to a 2004 NPR report about the Ludlow neighborhood of Shaker Heights, Ohio, where I spent my middle school years.
I took the above photo on May 18, 2013 of Thorpe Place (in the left half of the photo) and Tutor Dorm (in the right half of the photo). Straight ahead is the TASIS Upper School library, which use to be a chapel.
The entire graduation ceremony was live streamed to the Internet. If a video including my address is posted online, I will add the link to these notes. UPDATE: The video is located here. My address is about one-eighth of the way into the program.