Commencement 2017: Opening Remarks

June 13, 2017 by Guest Faculty Bloggers

The Class of 2017 chose faculty member Jake Steward to deliver opening remarks at their graduation.

Good morning friends, family, and students. Welcome to Stoneleigh-Burnham school, and please join me in congratulating the class of 2017. They have worked hard (often), stayed focused (for the most part), and today they make us proud. They do have one final task to accomplish before we can name them graduates of Stoneleigh-Burnham school, but more on that in a moment.

My name is Jacob Steward, an English teacher here, and I am honored to have been chosen to welcome you today. I apologize to all of our guests, but while this welcome is for all of you, I’d like to take a moment, my last moment, to talk directly to the class of 2017. You see, I first came to SBS their freshman year, and we’ve shared a lot in that time. The opportunity to speak now, here, is a chance I can’t let pass.

But, bad news, seniors. I’ve decided that writing a welcome speech is too difficult, so instead, I’ll be defaulting to what I know I can do: giving homework. That final task to complete before you’re allowed to graduate? This is it.

Your assignment is: Write your autobiography (the final draft will be due on May 26, 2067, and fine, due by 11:59pm... why are none of you writing this in your planners? Fine, I’ll post it to Classroom). As always we will break the writing down into small, manageable tasks. Let’s start with the title. It sets the tone for the text, after all. There are so many I can imagine for you: Perhaps My road to the Academy Awards, tales of a ten-time winner (by Romy Arsenault), Cruise Control: The first horse with brain implants (by Maren Vogel), Dr. Piano: Tickling the Keys as an MD (by Molly Li), or I Love Messing with your Head (by Victoria Subritzky Katz). Whatever title you choose, you need to begin living it today.

But just as with writing an essay, we take small steps, right? First, consider this: when was the last time that you woke up and were a different person? We can probably all remember being kids and expecting our birthdays to magically make us bigger, better. I have a seven-year-old at home who will turn 8 in just over a week. He has talked confidently to me about all of the things he will be able to do on that day. I smile, nod, and encourage, but all of us here know the truth: change is incremental, and requires commitment and time.

So, what do you want to be able to say about yourself in your autobiography? Maybe you want to say that people could always count on you, or that you were admired throughout your career for your diligence, or that you always knew how to balance work and play. Maybe you want to say that you were devoted to your family, or never missed an opportunity for adventure, or lived life on your own terms. Whatever it is that you want to say, you have to start living that now. The day will never come when you wake up and everything has taken care of itself. That might sound great, but who would really want it? How could you take pride in it if it was easy to accomplish?

You don’t attempt to change anything all at once. Instead, you start small. Commit yourself to getting up when the alarm rings (no more snooze for you!). Remember to go outside and play once in a while. Or try to develop the habit (one that many of your parents and teachers wish we all had) of pausing for thought before you agree to give your time. The first few times you try it, you’ll forget, or put it off, or find a reason not to. But, in time, you’ll have more and more success. That’s growth. That’s improvement. That’s what you’ve spent your time here at SBS doing. Now, start doing it for yourself. You’re ready. Approaching self-improvement this way will take you to the successes you’ll want to write about.

Now, about success. The truth that any adult can tell you, but which is so hard to imagine now, is that there is never a point when you have arrived. Think about it: when do you plan on saying, “That’s it! I’m done”? You may want to be a millionaire by 2025. Whether you accomplish that or not, do you stop there? On January 1, 2025, do you say “I did it” and just sit down quietly for the rest of your life? Of course not. Or look at us here today. This ceremony marks a huge success for you, the fulfillment of years of study, sacrifice, and effort. But are you ready to sit quietly and be done? No. Some of you are so impatient to get to the next challenge that you were wishing for the end of the year months ago. Clearly, accomplishments aren’t a measurement for success in life. Instead, living is.

So, how will you live?

On this last day of high school, then, we don’t look backward at what you’ve done. Those successes and failures were important, and remain important, but mostly as building blocks for the person and the life you have now. So, instead of thinking of today as an ending (and I know it’s cliche), today is a beginning. I’ll give you the opening line of your autobiography: On May 26, 2017, I graduated from Stoneleigh-Burnham school, and [...] And what? The terrifying and exhilarating thing is, you write the rest of it starting today. It’s a blank page, and you can say anything you want.

So your autobiography is due in 50 years. No length requirement. Please choose a readable font, and use MLA formatting for your citations. You are allowed to turn it in early, for those who don’t want to scramble at the last moment (you might have a lot to do that week, so plan carefully!). But, the last thing: audience. Well, take a look around this room with me. This is your autobiography’s audience, and we can’t wait to read what you will write with the rest of your lives. Get started. And welcome, everyone, to the graduation ceremony of the class of 2017!

Written by Guest Faculty Bloggers

Occasionally we feature guest contributions from members of our faculty. Their voices provide an exclusive view into the classrooms, halls, lounges, and residence halls that make Stoneleigh-Burnham School such a great place to live, work, and study. To find blogs exclusively from our faculty members, use “The Faculty Perspective” category.

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Filed Under: commencement address, Class of 2017