From Dr. Steve Bellis
Students, faculty, trustees, parents, grandparents, alumni, family and friends - it is a privilege to stand before you on this special evening. Two words are often used interchangeably for these ceremonies - graduation and commencement. One means a conclusion, the other, a beginning. Both are apt.
Tonight, in fact, in this very moment, we find ourselves at the place where one of life's most important periods ends and another begins. These students have graduated from their life with us. Tomorrow they will commence their life in the world beyond our campus. It is a moment in which we wrestle with a powerful mix of emotions. Pride, grief, hopefulness, anxiety - they all rush headlong through our minds and bodies.
The most powerful of these feelings is joy. Tonight we are joyful because to my left sits a group of young people more than ready. They have worked hard. They have prepared well. They are ready to take flight from our world and soar into the futures that await each of them.
But make no mistake, their departure will leave a void among us. Our joy for them is tempered by our own sense of loss. The problem with life in a school is that just when we really get to know our students, it is time for them to move on.
There have been too many special moments with the Class of 2012 to count. Among there are:
· Little girls beaming past too much lipstick at Showcase while the boys danced in a way I thought it was not possible to get 14 year old boys to dance
· Covering the Commons in red in Color Wars
· The win on our home field over St. Pius to go to a first ever Final Four in girls soccer. That unforgettable game at 3and2 against Boonville to return to state for the first time in 25 years. The boys going through the tunnel of students after soccer semi-finals in Blue Springs this fall. And just this month, the lacrosse team’s thrilling first ever KC Cup title game at Livestrong Sporting Park. And, while I am on the topic of athletics, I want to congratulate the 2012 State Championship tennis team and Will Welte, who this afternoon became the sixth Pembroke Hill singles state champion.
· There were spectacular, laughter filled nights in Hall Student Center with The Music Man and Oklahoma!
· And all of those May Days, starting with the little green Robin Hood costumes, moving on to beautiful dresses and flowered hoops and, lastly, coming back to wrap a final May Day pole earlier this month.
· Or for me, simply sitting in the back of a BC Calculus, AP French or English class enjoying the comfortable, energetic, confident flow of ideas among you.
Everyone here tonight has their own special memories of these students and the class of 2012. These memories will always be a part of us.
And, so will that long night in October of 2010 when we all simply gathered together in the Commons because being together was so much better than facing things alone.
Pembroke Hill has a long history of excellence. Amidst that history this group stands tall. They are 100 young people who, individually and collectively, have distinguished themselves even by the high standards of this school. From Allen to Yu, from 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning to 8:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, from the classroom to the community - their accomplishments represent the very best of our school. What I am most proud of, however, is the kind of people they are. They will surely leave their future communities and professions better than they find them. For our country’s sake, I wish we were sending one million of you out into the world and not merely one hundred. For our city’s sake I hope that many of you will find that your path through life eventually leads back to Kansas City. We could use you.
During a recent lunch conversation I was asked what I thought of young people today. I was quick to reply that while I did not pretend to be an expert on young people, in general I do feel like I know a lot about the thousand or so that I spend my days with here at Pembroke Hill. I then gave a quick answer, but a couple of hours later, as I re-played it, many thoughts came to mind that I wish I had expressed at the time. So tonight, upon greater reflection, is my answer to the question, “What do you think about this generation?”
Well, I can’t talk about this entire generation, but I can talk about the 100 young people sitting to my left.
Class of 2012, in one word, I think you are inspiring.
You are remarkably hard working and resilient - putting forth a sustained level of effort that is extraordinary for people so young.
You are incredibly versatile. In a typical day you speak Spanish, conduct physics labs, learn Handel’s Messiah, discuss MacBeth and then top it off with football practice or debate. I can’t think of a single adult I know whose day includes a range half that wide.
You are fun loving. Five minutes in the Commons during meetings period or one look across the floor of Phillips Gym when a raucous home basketball crowd is cutting loose – all decked out in various hues of red and blue - says it all. When it is time to have fun, you certainly know how to do it.
You are highly competent. Whether it is tennis or golf, programming or chemistry, writing an essay, playing the piano or many others – there is one and, most likely, several of you who are accomplished at it.
You are surprisingly mature. It seems to me that you have thoughts about the world and the world of adults that are far beyond those my friends and I had in 1980. You plan ahead, make trade-offs, and prioritize your time.
You are delightfully polite. I often receive unexpected emails and calls from visitors to our campus who tell me how impressed they were by the number of doors opened for them or the friendly offers of assistance they received. One substitute teacher, who also works at other schools, was so impressed by your kindness and habit of saying “thank you” when leaving class that he was compelled to write me a letter last month in which he said, in part,
“Pembroke students are bright and motivated, but what has really amazed me is their civility. I don’t know what you do to encourage this civility and maturity, but it is there. I think the important academic things your staff does are obvious, but the thing that is not obvious is the learning environment that goes on at Pembroke. I only wish I could bottle it up and take it with me.”
Do you have any idea how good it makes a headmaster feel to receive a letter like that?
Finally, and I think most importantly, you are refreshingly open minded and respectful of others. In his world-changing speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. wished for a world where his children would be judged, not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. More than once, when I have watched you interact and observed how you treat one another, Dr. King’s words have come to mind and a smile has crossed my face. We live in a world where difference slams us in the head every single day – MSNBC vs. Fox, Palestinian vs. Israeli, coastal elite vs. small town traditionalist – the ways in which our world identifies and magnifies differences among us is both relentless and debilitating. But you do not operate that way. You are able to see the views of others and appreciate them. You are able to see past the divergent opinion to respect and value the opinion holder. You judge someone on the content of their character.
You are comfortable in your own skin and so you are comfortable letting others be who they are. I am so proud of you for it. I hope that you not only never lose this trait, but that as you leave our campus you infect others with this way of being in the world.
Hard working, resilient, versatile, polite, competent, mature, open minded. That’s what I think of you.
So, here you are.
100 individuals, ready to go out and enter 68 colleges in 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, and the United Kingdom.
Ready to go out and major in music and physics and accounting and English and biology and psychology and countless other fields.
Ready to go out and live on your own, with no one looking over your shoulder or managing your time or choosing your friends.
Are you ready? You are more than ready. I can’t wait to see what you make of the opportunities that stretch across your broad horizons.
Before you go, I want to put a couple of ideas in front of you.
The first of these is
No one is keeping score
What do I mean by “No one is keeping score?” This year you have had a good taste of the many questions that will fill your life when you were asked about a thousand times, “Where are you going to college?” I am sure it was ever present for you this spring.
This question will be followed by “What are you majoring in? Do you have a girlfriend or boyfriend? Where do you work? Where do you live? Are you married? How many children do you have? And many others. These questions come so often, it is easy to begin to feel like the purpose of your life is to make sure that you have good answers to them.
Before you fall into this trap, and many people do, I believe, it is important to always remember that the people asking them don’t really care what the answer is. I don’t mean that in a cynical way. What I mean is that they are simply making conversation or they are mildly interested and, quite frankly, any answer satisfies them just fine. They have their own life to live. So . . . don’t give them, or these questions, any power over you by imagining that they are judging you by your answers. The only person to whom the answer to any of those questions should matter - is you. And if you decide to get married, your spouse (and, of course, your mom and dad might be in there somewhere too!).
I can assure you that when you disabuse yourself of the notion that the world is marking your progress through life on a big imaginary scoreboard, it will not diminish what you do in the slightest. Instead it will be wonderfully liberating and healthy, especially when you have the inevitable stumble. We have all had that experience where we are walking along by ourselves and we trip awkwardly. What is the first thing you do? You look around to see if anyone was looking, don’t you? When you realize they weren’t, you dust yourself off, and start on your way again and the stumble is quickly forgotten. Your travails in life will be much the same. No one will REALLY be looking if you stumble. No one, that is, except those people whose sole motivation is a deep love for you. So accept their offer of a hand up, dust yourself off, and get moving again.
The second idea is:
Happiness is found in doing small, personal things well
Two weeks ago, as I was in the audience at my own daughter Annie’s college graduation, I was struck by the lofty expectations the speakers were putting on the 22 year-olds sitting in long, straight rows in front of them. Speaker after speaker implored them to change the world. In fact, it seemed like they were expected to change the world. Well, the world is a pretty big place, filled with enormously complex problems.
It may not be the right thing to say at a graduation, but I am not going to ask you to change the world. I ask you to simply live a life of positive goodness, to try every day to make your little corner of the world better for you being in it.
If you think about it, that is what a teacher does. Look at one of your teachers sitting right in front of you now who have truly made you and, thus the world, better because of how they taught their class and worked with you. She didn’t “fix” education in America. He didn’t even make the next department over better, let alone the middle school. But each of them certainly made the world better by starting a small ripple called you.
It is hard to fix the world. It is very much within your grasp, however, and highly satisfying, to do what you do very well. And by doing it well, you will positively affect the world in ways you can’t even see.
So, my hope for you is that you to find your little places to be productive every day:
· Find work you enjoy and do it well.
· Be a great employee – show up a little early, do more than is expected. Help someone else be successful.
· If you choose to be married, be a generous spouse.
· If you choose to have children, be a devoted and loving parent.
· Be a good neighbor – keep up your home, chat across the yard, help out when needed.
· Be a good citizen – care about your community.
Most of these ideas have a common theme, which is to put someone or something else first ahead of you. Benjamin Franklin, that man of incalculable wisdom, captured this idea 250 years ago when he said, “When you are all wrapped up in yourself, you make a very small bundle.”
Class of 2012, when you get to college next fall, I urge you to follow Horace’s adage “Carpe Diem” – seize the day.
· Jump right in.
· Make something happen that first semester. In fact, start with that first weekend.
· Introduce yourself to a professor on the very first day. Tell her how thrilled you are to be at her college and taking her class.
· Join a group – an a capella choir, a fraternity, a service club.
· Drop into the dorm room across the hall and say hello.
· And, always, always widen your circle to welcome in someone who seems like they could use it.
If you do, you will have a great first week. That will lead to a great first month, which will lead to a great first semester and before you know it, you will be like my daughter Annie two weeks ago - standing in a big circle of friends, small tears dripping onto happy smiles, as you can’t believe four years went so quickly, but thrilled that you got to spend them in that place with those people.
That is how we feel tonight. We can’t believe that these four years (or in some cases, 15 years) went so quickly, but we are lucky that we got to spend them in this place with each of you.
Class of 2012,
Be Kind. Work Hard. Have Fun.
Be Generous. Be Grateful.
And, know that on this little patch of ground in Kansas City, there are people who care about you, people who are pulling for you, and people who always stand ready to help, if you should ever need it.
Pembroke Hill Class of 2012, we are very proud to call you our own.
Congratulations and Best Wishes.
Steve Bellis, Ed.D.
Head Of School