Friday, July 7, 2017

Tribute to Dan Morgado

July 7, 2017

Today was Shrewsbury Town Manager Dan Morgado's last day of service to our town before beginning his retirement. In honor of his leadership and in appreciation for all he has done for Shrewsbury, I am publishing an edited version of the remarks I gave when I had the privilege of introducing him when he received the Shrewsbury Education Foundation's Community Service Award this past January.
It is my privilege to have the honor of introducing this year’s recipient of SEF’s Community Service Award, our highly esteemed Town Manager, Daniel J. Morgado.  I was very pleased when I learned that Dan would be honored in this way, as his leadership has had a significant, positive impact on so many aspects of the quality of life in our community during his almost 20 years as the Town’s chief executive officer, including his support of our schools.  During my time as Superintendent of Schools, I have gained an increasingly greater appreciation for the work that Dan has done, and an understanding why he is revered among his peers and why our town has the reputation as being one of the best managed municipalities in the Commonwealth.

You should know that Dan has always done his best to recommend the most funding he feels he can to our community’s schools, because he has tremendous respect for the importance of public education.  Dan often will reference his and his wife Luanne’s appreciation for the education his son, Dan, received at Shrewsbury High School when their family moved here when he became Town Manager, and for the role our schools play in the life of our community.  From his own upbringing, Dan has talked with me about the negative effects he experienced due to insufficient school funding when his school used double sessions as a cost-saving measure, and I have witnessed first hand his passion for wanting all of our community’s youth to receive the education they need and deserve.  During his time as Town Manager, a time of incredible growth in the town’s population and school enrollment, Dan has been a superb steward of the limited resources available to the town, enabling our schools to thrive.  His thoughtful and innovative approaches in the areas of health insurance, custodial services, and regionalization of the Health Department, just to name a few, have stretched the dollars available to address other Town needs, including education.

His leadership has also been indispensable for the improvement of the Town’s infrastructure, with the wonderful new Public Library just the latest example. During a time period when we needed to add significantly more school space, his diligence and skill have been key for the many successful school building projects we’ve had during his tenure, including the new Shrewsbury High School, the renovation of the former high school into the Oak Middle School, the addition of several modular classrooms at our elementary schools, the conversion of the old North Shore School into the Parker Road Preschool, and the most recent addition of the new Sherwood Middle School.  The fact that Town Meeting just unanimously appropriated over a million dollars for a feasibility study for the Beal project is tribute to the fact that Town Meeting members know that when Dan Morgado is recommending a project in the best interests of the town, you can trust that it is.

The impact that Dan’s leadership has had on all aspects of our community’s quality of life is substantial, but since he is being honored tonight in the context of education, I want to conclude my introduction with my appreciation for the fact that Dan is, himself, and outstanding educator.  He educates when he provides information, explanations, and insight when speaking at board meetings and Town Meeting.  He also is a superb adjunct professor at Clark University; it is a treat when Dan shares his final exam questions with me, as it is clear that his public administration and policy students are gaining a tremendous amount of knowledge and wisdom from having Dan as their teacher.  And, like all excellent teachers, Dan is a student, especially of history and current events.  Many of you know he avidly consumes both historical biographies and various news sources, and I always appreciate the wisdom I gain from conversations I’ve had with him about his latest reading.   It is with great admiration that I can say that Dan is among the most learned individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing – period.

It is fitting that, after two decades of extraordinary service to Shrewsbury, that Dan is being honored with this award.  Our town has benefited from his deeply held core values and principles; his extraordinary work ethic; his skillful leadership; and his devotion to the wellbeing of our community, including its youngest citizens through his many contributions to the quality of their education. Dan, on behalf of those many thousands of students, as well as the employees and residents who have benefited from your leadership: Thank you for all you have done.  It is now my distinct pleasure to ask this year’s very worthy recipient of the Shrewsbury Education Foundation’s Community Service Award, Dan Morgado, to come forward to accept this honor.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Live Lives OF Purpose, ON Purpose

These were my remarks at the graduation ceremony for the Shrewsbury High School Class of 2017.

Members of the School Committee; administrators, faculty, and staff; parents, family, and guests; and, most importantly, members of the Class of 2017 – it is an honor and a privilege to address you this evening.

It is inspirational to me to look out at you and consider both how much you’ve accomplished and how much potential you have to live interesting, meaningful lives in the decades ahead.  As I’m sure is already happening now, and will more so at upcoming graduation parties, you will be asked lots of questions about your future.  What are you doing next year?  Where are you going to school, and when do you leave?  Do you know what you plan to major in? Where do you want to travel or live? What do you want to be when you “grow up?”

However, there are other interrogatives that you are likely to hear less frequently, but I think are more important; namely the queries “How?” and “Why?”  Heather E. McGowan, an author who focuses on the future of education and work, suggests that in a rapidly changing future, for many of you it is difficult to know what you might be doing for work, as many jobs will become obsolete, others will evolve, and many haven’t yet been invented.  Because of this, she says we shouldn’t be asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?” but rather “How do you want to be when you grow up?”  

Despite uncertainty about the what, you do have control over how you will be in the future.  How represents the choices you make regarding the ways in which you act. Thanks to the values you have learned from your families and from your education in Shrewsbury, I hope that you make...

  • the choice to be ethical;
  • the choice to be kind;
  • the choice to be respectful;
  • the choice to be charitable;
  • the choice to be empathetic;
  • the choice to be industrious;
  • the choice to be grateful;
  • the choice to be humble;
  • the choice to be purposeful; and
  • the choice to be loving.  

While not always easy, these choices are yours to make, and no matter how the future evolves these aspirational characteristics, this “human touch,” will never become obsolete. No matter what you do, if you do it in these ways, your lives will make a positive difference for others and will be satisfying for yourselves.

The more difficult question than “How?”, I think, is “Why?”  This is a question I encourage you to embrace as you enter what can be an exciting, but also unnerving, phase of your lives.  Of course, as adolescents you have asked your parents “Why?” many times, and I’m sure, like I often do at home, your parents have answered this query with a bit of deep wisdom handed down, generation to generation, through the ages: “Because I said so.” (You may laugh, but I promise most of you will utter that phrase someday to your own children…).  

Figuring out your why is a crucial part of your transition into adulthood.  The author Simon Senek defines why as one’s personal purpose, cause, or belief; it is what gets you out of bed in the morning and motivates you to navigate your life in the direction you’ve determined.  He writes: “Most of us live our lives by accident – we live as it happens.  Fulfillment comes when we live our lives on purpose.”

It is my hope that what you’ve learned during your time in school has been an important foundation for the development of your sense of purpose, and I challenge you to build upon this in the coming years so that you can clearly articulate your own why. Sinek says that the values that express our why should be verbs, as our actions ultimately demonstrate our values.  Each day for the past four years you have passed under the banner in the SHS lobby with the school’s mission statement emblazoned across it.  My wish for you is that you convert that mission into verbs that will help you find your purpose.  Challenge yourself to improve; create ideas, and solutions, and art, and music; think independently; keep learning in order to build your capabilities; care for others and yourselves; and contribute your talent and time to others in order to make a difference.  Live lives of purpose, on purpose.

On behalf of everyone in the Shrewsbury Public Schools, please accept my very best wishes and hopes that you choose to lead purposeful, fulfilling lives.  Congratulations.

Shaping Good Students and Good People

This post was published as the "Superintendent's Corner" column in the Winter 2017 edition of the Shrewsbury School Journal.

In 1980, the Shrewsbury School Committee adopted its policy on the “right to study controversial issues.”  This policy reads:
Teachers are responsible for encouraging students to search after truth and think for themselves. Students have four basic rights with reference to the study of controversial issues in the classroom:
1. The right to study controversial issues which have political, economic, or social significance on which, at their level, they should begin to form judgments.
2. The right to study under competent instruction in an atmosphere free from bias and prejudice.
3. The right of access to all relevant information freely available in the school and public libraries.
4. The right to share and express their ideas and opinions on controversial issues, and within a forum of fair and open discussion, grow in their understanding of the difficult and complex problems they face as citizens in today's world.

The wisdom of this policy remains relevant today, with the only key difference being that our students now have much greater access to information through the Internet than what was then mainly available in libraries.  I am struck by the assertion that learning about controversial issues is not considered to be merely an opportunity that should be provided to our students, but their right.

There have been many periods in our nation’s history where there have been significant divisions among American citizens regarding important issues, and there is no doubt that we are living in one right now.  Given the proliferation of information through online sources and the prevalence of social media, I believe that it has never been more important for our schools to teach our students how to discern the credibility of sources, weigh the validity of arguments from both pro and con, and build a strong understanding of such issues in order to form their own judgments.

This work will differ depending on the age of the students, with the ultimate goal being that our SHS graduates will enter the world beyond high school with the ability to think critically for themselves, make sound judgments based on solid evidence, and communicate their perspectives effectively and respectfully.  If we are successful in this, Shrewsbury alumni will be inoculated against propaganda and ideological “groupthink,” regardless of the source and its place on the political spectrum. Ultimately, our graduates will have different perspectives on controversial issues, because there are typically no easy, clear solutions to such disputes.  Our job is to give our students the skills and knowledge to form their own perspectives, especially by developing their capacity for strong reasoning.

Our policy rightfully indicates that this education must take place in an atmosphere free from bias and prejudice.  I think that this not only speaks to our schools’ responsibility to be appropriately neutral regarding political matters, but also to ensure that our articulated core values are taught and honored, especially when it comes to issues such as treating others with respect. It is important to note that, regardless of what anyone who represents any particular political party or viewpoint might say or do, our expectation is that members of our school communities will act in accordance with the time-honored values of treating others with respect, consideration, honesty, and integrity.  
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit a sixth grade student exhibition of learning at Sherwood Middle School, where students presented projects on “rules to live by.”  After completing research on the “rules” that a famous leader of their choice lived by, these students then created their own.  Many focused on hard work and perseverance in pursuit of one’s goals, but I was struck by how many also cited the importance of acting with kindness, respect, and courtesy.  

Our students need this kind of education more than ever.  Unfortunately, they are growing up in a world where too many, especially adults who should know better, don’t follow the rules of common decency and respect, and instead use the availability of social media as a means to post insults and/or untruths that few would ever utter to someone in person.  Almost worse is when others then validate this attention seeking with judgmental comments, without having any knowledge of the truth.  Maligning others, with no sense of fairness or respect, has become all too common.  My disgust with this behavior, however, is tempered by the recognition that people who act this way are a minority, and countered by the hope I gain from students and educators who are demonstrating the opposite.  As one sixth grade student, Gabriela Cardoso, wrote for her project:

I want to remind myself that the way I treat others is a reflection of who I am.  The way I act around my family and friends shapes my character, and my attitude and actions ultimately form my reputation.  Therefore, I try to be kind to each and every person I meet, so I can positively impact their day.

I think you’ll agree that that’s wise advice from a sixth grader.  It reminds me why it is so important that our schools and community work together not only to help our children to become good students, but also to become good people.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Our Kids

This post is adapted from remarks I made at the Shrewsbury Youth & Family Services annual meeting in October 2016, and was also published in the Fall 2016 edition of the Shrewsbury School Journal

As I’m sure as you have, I’ve been thinking a great deal recently about how community life has been evolving in the United States, and I think it’s clear that we as a country are experiencing a time where there is a great deal of anger, divisiveness, mistrust, and coarseness.  I am not a sociologist, nor an economist, nor a political scientist, but as an educator I am very concerned about our current state of affairs nationally, and what this ultimately means for our town of Shrewsbury.  

Last spring, I had the opportunity to hear Robert Putnam, the Harvard sociologist and author who has done extensive studies of American society and who, in his recent book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, makes the case that the sharply growing gap between the wellbeing of children from wealthy families vs. poor families is, and will be, the most important issue facing our country now and in the coming decades.  His argument lays out the stark differences created by increased segregation of social classes in America, from where people live, to the quality of education, to whether parents are married.  He illustrates how family and social bonds are fraying within the lower socioeconomic classes, and how children from lower income families are living not just in a marginally different environment, but essentially in a different universe than their more affluent peers.  The contrast he draws from his own upbringing in a small Ohio town in the 1950s, compared to what currently exists in that community, is stark, and he concludes that a significant cultural change has occurred.  He says that when he grew up, in his town the phrase “our kids” referred to the entire community’s children.  He suggests that now “our kids” is more likely to mean “my own kids and my friends’ kids,” and that many Americans have a narrower and more selfish perspective when it comes to the wellbeing of the next generation.  

While Putnam’s view of a more equitable playing field in the past may be a bit narrow, as opportunities were certainly different than they are today if you were female or a minority back in the 1950s, I think his larger point is on target relative to the extreme differences between social classes in today’s America, and how this is affecting children’s chances at upward mobility during their lifetime.  Interestingly, despite his findings, Putnam is an optimist who sees parallels between where we are now and where we were as a country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where many of the problems of the so-called Gilded Age are present today: the greatest gap between rich and poor (until now); very high rates of immigration; and significant political alienation.  Putnam asserts that these issues were addressed effectively by what he calls the greatest public policy decision in the history of our country:  the implementation and widespread adoption of the American public high school.  This investment, which was significant at the time, raised productivity so much that Putnam says it was responsible for a huge amount of the economic growth in the 20th century; it helped level the playing field between social classes; and it was an engine of upward mobility that was a manifestation of local communities providing opportunities for their youth, regardless of their socioeconomic background.  He also reminded those of us in the audience that this was a bottom-up solution that played out in local communities, not a national mandate from Washington D.C.  Providing educational opportunity to all the community’s young people through access to public education turned out to be an excellent investment with long-lasting positive effects.  

Public education is what made the American dream achievable for millions, including my parents, my siblings, and me.  Now, in 2016, the expectations for what a public education should provide to students have multiplied and become more complex, and the world our students will  enter after they graduate is not only complex but changing rapidly.  Our school district is working very hard to figure out how to best prepare our students to be successful in the future, and I am optimistic that we will find ways to equip them with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed.  Ultimately, it will take the entire community to support and sustain this effort, in the spirit of providing all of “our kids” the opportunity to achieve their American dreams.

Acting with Class

These were my remarks to the Shrewsbury High School Class of 2016 at their graduation ceremony in June 2016

Members of the School Committee; administrators, faculty, and staff; parents, family, and guests; and, most importantly, members of the Class of 2016 – it is an honor and a privilege to address you this evening.

Class, I think, is an interesting and important word.  Of course, this evening it refers to you, our graduates, who for the rest of your lives will be members of the Shrewsbury High School Class of 2016.  Educationally, class refers to a course of study over a semester or school year, and you all have earned the right to be here by successfully completing the requirements of the classes you took over the past four years.  Of course, class also means a single, daily meeting of a course, as in “I was a rock star in class today because I studied so hard last night,” or, conversely, “I didn’t have a clue in class today because I binge-watched eight episodes of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix last night.”  

Class can also refer to one’s economic standing relative to others in society.  Most of you are fortunate to have been raised in a family that has had enough money to provide you not only with the basic necessities, but also niceties that have made your standard of living truly remarkable when compared to previous generations, and unthinkable for the hundreds of millions of young people in our nation and around the globe who live in poverty.  I hope you have a sense of gratitude for the circumstances into which you were born, which allowed you to grow up and attend school in a community that has provided you with an education that, by many measures, truly is world class.  You are clearly well prepared academically, but I also hope that the opportunity you had to attend school with classmates from different economic classes, not to mention different racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, and personal backgrounds, has given you a real-world perspective that has enabled understanding, respect, compassion, and empathy. These relate to the definition of class I want to focus on this evening -- that is, class as a personal attribute that you develop, not something that you are born with, and certainly not something that depends on how much wealth you inherit or earn.  I am referring to the class that reflects the substance of one’s character.  

This is the type of class that each of us has full control over attaining, as it is a measure of our actions:
  • How we treat our family and friends.  
  • How we act towards people we don’t know personally or who can’t do anything for us -- especially those who have less power, or less education, or fewer resources or opportunities than we do.  
  • How we serve our own community, and the larger world.  
  • How we communicate our thoughts and beliefs to others -- especially when we disagree -- and how we respond to others’ thoughts and beliefs that are different than our own.  
  • How we deal with success, and how we handle adversity.
It’s not about whether you will act, it is about how you act.

Unfortunately, at this moment in our society, it seems to be much easier to find examples of what is crass than what exemplifies class.  One simple definition of crass is “being rude and insensitive.”  I’m concerned about how rude and insensitive behavior has become more prevalent in politics and the media, especially social media, and how our culture has become more tolerant of it.  I urge you to rise above and set a higher standard for yourselves.  I want you to recognize that even if you are well educated, have great talent, or have achieved material success, these have no bearing on whether you possess class.  Class has everything to do with how you choose to act -- whether you behave in ways that demonstrate respect and kindness.  As a much wiser school leader than I, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, once said to Harry Potter, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Members of the Class of 2016, I know you have the abilities, skills, and knowledge to build prosperous lives, but, more importantly, I hope that you make choices and act in ways that cause those who know you to say, “Now there’s a class act.”

On behalf of everyone in the Shrewsbury Public Schools, please accept my very best wishes for bright futures lived with true class.  Congratulations.

Stepping into Your Future

These were my remarks to the Shrewsbury High School Class of 2015 at their graduation ceremony in May 2015

Members of the School Committee; administration, faculty, and staff; parents, family, friends, and guests; and, most importantly, members of the Class of 2015: It is my honor and privilege to address you this evening.

I’m looking forward from center stage, on this graduation day, and it’s time to get the future started.  Let’s celebrate today, because there will never be another.  Now that all the hard work is done, all for one and one for all, open your heart to all the possibilities, because this could be the start of something new.  If you get your head in the game, anything can happen if you take the chance.  It’s the time of your lives, and with anticipation, it’s your last chance to share the stage before you go your separate ways. Who knows what you’ll find, it’s the great unknown -- but you’re all in this together, so if you reach, you can fly, and once you see there’s a chance that you have -- and you take it -- you’ll make your dreams come true.

Now, I’m sure that advice sounds awfully familiar to many of our graduates, because you’ve likely heard all of these phrases before, some of you many, many times.  When trying to decide what to say to you on this momentous occasion, I thought it might make sense to seek wisdom in the classics, and what better source than the masterwork that tells the tale of a group of adolescents finding their true selves and determining the paths they will follow into the future, as they navigate conflicts related to family cultures and expectations, economic and social stratification, and peer group stereotypes, with a pair of star-crossed lovers at the center of the story.  Some in the audience may be wondering whether this couple might be Romeo and Juliet, but I suspect that most of the graduates have already deduced that I am indeed referring to Troy and Gabriella, and the opening lines of my remarks are a mashup of many lyrics from Disney’s 21st century paean to the American high school experience, the epic film trilogy of High School Musical, High School Musical 2, and High School Musical 3: Senior Year.  

So, why High School Musical?  Because thanks to iTunes and Netflix and a 10-year-old daughter, I cannot escape it.  As was the case with many of your parents when you were that age, over the past few months my ears have been continuously assaulted by the peppy, perky and perniciously catchy songs that narrate the saga of the East High Wildcats.  Yes, High School Musical lives on...and on, and influence a new generation, as it influenced so many of you during your formative years.  

Now, I know your class has connections to High School Musical, as many of you actually performed in its stage version as part of the Oak Middle School spring musical in 2010, and I know your senior lip dub was performed to one of its anthems.  By all accounts you have been a class with exceptional spirit, dedication, and loyalty, and I can’t help but wonder if the lessons so many of you absorbed from these films, as saccharine or cheesy as you might perceive them now, may have shaped your own view of high school and the choices you made over the past four years.
However, while the teens in this idealized version of high school face many of the universal challenges of adolescence, we know that your lives are far more rich, complex, and real than those of stereotypical movie characters.  All of you have faced challenges along the way to this milestone of graduation, and some of you have experienced hardships or tragedies that are far more serious, some very public and some known only to a few.  The strength, resilience, and character you’ve shown, individually and as a class, are impressive.  Regardless of your path to this moment, you should know that the depth of your families’ and your educators’ pride in whom you’ve become, and the height of our hopes for whom you are yet to be, are far beyond anything a mere movie can convey.  

But, with that said, I think Troy and Gabriella and the gang at East Side High do have something to offer beyond sappy dialogue and breaking into spontaneous, yet well-choreographed, singing and dancing numbers throughout their school.  So what lessons can we derive from High School Musical?  Well, I asked that question to the expert High School Musicologist in my home, my 10-year-old daughter Allie, who, without hesitation, informed me that this is what the movies are all about:

  • Sometimes you have difficult choices, but you need to make choices for yourself

  • Don’t always stick to the status quo

  • Listen to other people, but sometimes you need to listen to yourself

  • Make time for other people

  • Keep your promises   

  • Follow your heart, and

  • Follow your dreams

You might be tempted to dismiss these as unsophisticated platitudes and clich├ęs, but sometimes the simplest advice is the best advice -- and I am quite confident that if you do these things, your lives will be the better for it.  And, just as the characters in High School Musical learned these lessons through the fictional challenges, choices, and people that made up their high school years, so too have you been influenced by the real ones you’ve experienced at Shrewsbury High School.  When the film cast sings at their graduation, “What we leave, what we take with us, no matter what, it’s something we’re part of,” they refer to a truism of every high school class:  your experiences at this school will always be a part of you, and what you have contributed to this school will always be a part of it.  I thank you for all that the Class of 2015 has contributed, which is significant, and I wish you all the very best as you take what you have learned in class, what you have learned about life, and what you have learned about yourselves, and step into your futures.  I think they’re awfully bright.

Thank you, and good luck.

Carpe Diem

These were my remarks to the Shrewsbury High School Class of 2014 at their graduation ceremony in May 2014.

Members of the School Committee; administrators, faculty, and staff; parents, family, and guests; and, most importantly, members of the Class of 2014 – it is an honor and a privilege to address you this evening.

Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the value of public education and the influence teachers have upon their students and that schools have upon their community, which led me to thinking about how I got started in this profession.  In doing so, I recalled the influence of a movie I saw during the summer before my senior year of college.  The film, Dead Poets Society, starred Robin Williams as a boarding school teacher who has a profound impact upon his students.  I saw it on a rainy Saturday afternoon in a theater in Winchester, Virginia, where I was playing in a college baseball summer league.  Our game had been rained out, and my host family had invited me to see the movie, probably to try and cheer me up.  I was a bit depressed, because my performance that summer had made it very clear that my longtime dream of pitching in the major leagues was not going to come true.  

So, I was at a point where I knew I had to figure out what I might want to do with my life since it wouldn’t involve playing for the Red Sox.  I found inspiration in that fictional teacher’s ability to transfix his class of adolescent boys and instill in them a passion for learning, and it made me think that perhaps becoming a teacher would be a fulfilling pursuit.  And so I did.

A little more than a year later, I had graduated from college and found a job teaching American history at a private school, for adolescent boys no less.  I diligently prepared my lessons for the first day of school, with the intention of inspiring my students to love history the way that Robin Williams had inspired his students to love literature and poetry.  After about ten minutes, I was thrilled that these students, my students, were seemingly hanging on my every word.  After I finished my introduction, one boy raised his hand and I approached him, leaning in so I could provide a wise response to his question, and I’ll never forget what he said: “Mr. Sawyer, did you realize that you have a giant pimple on your cheek?”  (And I did.)

And so my bubble of naivete was burst. I was rudely awakened to the truth that students are both very observant and brutally honest, and I realized that real teaching wasn’t like the movies.  And, even though I quickly came to understand that I would not be able to enrapture my students each minute of each day, I came to love the hard work of education, and ultimately made it my career.  

My mother was a teacher (and an excellent one), and truth be told her influence had much more to do with my path than any movie, as evidenced by the fact that my sister and brother are also teachers.  My mom and my dad were my first and most important teachers, of course, as were your parents for you, so don’t forget to thank them - repeatedly, and for the rest of your lives.  I also thank your parents now because, as both an educator and a parent, I know how critical their support has been to your success.

Of course, beyond your families, you have benefited from the support of the Shrewsbury community.  I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to both live and serve as a school leader in Shrewsbury for almost 17 years, and because of the connections I’ve made this ceremony has extra meaning for me.  This is because many of you were my students when I was your elementary school principal at Floral Street School, and it fills me with pride to see the successful young women and men you’ve become.  It is also because I’ve come to know others of you as my neighbors, my daughters’ babysitters, their basketball and softball coaches, and their role models.  They, as I,  have loved watching you perform, on the stage and field and court, so much so that I actually had to referee a dispute at breakfast yesterday when my girls were fighting over who got to  look at your yearbook first (a yearbook that is extremely well done, by the way).

I am so very proud of you as a class, not only because of your many accomplishments in academics, the arts, and athletics but because of the remarkable commitment you’ve made to serving your community.  You have given over 12,000 hours of your time over the past three years, freely, to help others, with nothing expected in return.  While I’m sure most of those whom you helped were grateful, you may also have experienced times where your contributions were neither noticed nor acknowledged.  Unfortunately, that is part of the reality of serving others; sometimes those whom you serve are ambivalent, or even hostile, despite the fact that you are working hard to help them.  But, despite the fact that throughout life you will encounter some people who are selfish and ungrateful, I truly hope you will continue to serve others, for it not only enriches the lives of those whom you help, but it also enriches your own.    

When I was playing college baseball in Virginia that summer, I was also doing research for my senior history thesis, which was focused on a Civil War battle nearby.  I learned about a Union officer from Massachusetts, Colonel Charles Russell Lowell, who died heroically in that battle, and discovered a quote of his has that has since resonated with me.  He said, “Nothing can repay you for what you have done, except the doing of it.”  Colonel Lowell was both wise and prescient, as recent social science research confirms that people who give of themselves with no expectation of something in return are happier people who accomplish more in life.  I hope you choose to be one of those people.

How you live your life is a series of choices.  Of course, there is one outcome over which we have no choice, as we are all traveling the same path to the same ultimate destination.  But we do have a choice, as George Bernard Shaw wrote, whether to live a life of purpose or become a, quote, “feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  In an unattributed extension of that quote, Shaw supposedly went on to say, “Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got a hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

And that partly is what this ceremony is about.  This evening is a symbolic passing of the torch to you, when we celebrate the fact that our community has provided you with the education you need to go into the world and make your contribution -- and that you are ready to make it.   In the future, I ask that you remember that your success was due in part to your families, your teachers, and the larger community, and that you repay that debt by passing the torch and supporting those who come after you.   Our deeply held American tradition of caring for the next generation is what keeps our communities, and our country, strong.

Recently, an Apple advertisement for the iPad caught my attention, as it uses a voiceover from Dead Poets Society, that movie that was so influential for me at an important juncture of my life.  In it, the teacher quotes from the Walt Whitman poem O Me, O Life, which alludes to life as a “powerful play” to which each of us may contribute our own unique verse.  The teacher concludes by asking his students “What will your verse be?”

This is a profound question.  To attempt to answer it, I suggest a different quote from Dead Poets Society, from the scene when the teacher has his class view photographs of graduates from long ago to impress upon his students the idea that life is too short to wait to write that unique verse.  He says, of the students in the old photos:

They're not that different from you, are they?
Same haircuts.
Full of hormones, just like you.
Invincible, just like you feel.
The world is their oyster.
They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you.
Their eyes are full of hope, just like you.
Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?
Because you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils.
But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you.

And, at that point, with every student raptly anticipating what he would say next, their teacher shared that wisdom that we all should heed given how brief our time truly is:

Carpe diem.  Seize the day.  Make your lives extraordinary.”

Class of 2014, I wish you the very best as you write the verses that make your lives extraordinary.  Carpe diem.