13 June 2011

What I said when I one time gave a commencement speech.

editor's note: This is the text of a commencement speech the BlazeBlog's author gave to the graduates of Vista Ridge High School in May, 2011. He may have deviated slightly when he actually gave the speech. He'll provide a video link when it becomes available. 


Members of the class of 2011, allow me to say “congratulations”. This is a big day for you. It’s a day many of you have been waiting years for. I’ll finally confirm you as friends on facebook. I know that you may think I’m comfortable right now, but actually, this isn’t all that comfortable for me. I’m not used to this many people actually paying attention to me. In fact, to make me more comfortable, go ahead and feel free to text, it’ll make me feel like we’re in the classroom.

I would spend this speech encouraging you to go out and great things. In fact, I’ll probably end with that, even though it is predictable. But instead of wasting your time and my breath on that, I’m going to say something else. I’m going to say thank you.

I sat in the library at the School That Shall Not Be Named, while we were planning this school. One of our first tasks was to decide on what our vision would be. We chose 4 simple truths, maxims to guide everything we did. We told each other that  we would be, to quote the sign you walked under every day for the last 2 years, Focused on Results, Committed To Learning, Built on Relationships, and Dedicated to Excellence (some of use wanted “commitment to excellence, but the Bronco fans overruled us). These were easy promises for 20 adults to make in a library about a school that only existed on paper and in our imaginations.

Even so, there were arguments in that library. There were people on that cadre of teachers, administrators, and parents who said that those goals were too vague. They said that there was no way we could find data to support that we were built on relationships; no data to define “excellence”.

And that’s why I want to thank you. You took our words and made them truth. You, through your hard work and commitment, showed the doubters that we don’t need mere numbers to define excellence. You lived excellence; on the field and stage you didn’t allow a lack of facilities to impact the quality of the product you showed the public. In the classroom you didn’t allow the constant shifts in building leadership and district philosophy to stop you from reaching academic excellence.

This was no easy task. From the first day, it was clear that we would be creating Vista Ridge’s culture on the fly. You were an integral part of that. Though you never thought to yourselves, “I’ll do this well so that future classes will have something to live up to”, that is what your actions have done. Through your personal dedication to excellence, you have provided a map for the coming classes of Vista Ridge Wolves to follow. You have always been willing to give of your unique talents to make our building the best high school in the city. From your acting talents on the daily Wolf-Wire to your construction of robots, you gave your and talent to us. From your successes over people on the football field to running to state track titles, you shared your athletic abilities with us. From your work ethic at your jobs, to your passion for Vista in the stands, you you shared your passion with us. Everything you have done, in school, and in public, has shown that you were not willing to accept the mediocrity that is all too rampant in young people, not just in this city, but nation wide.

You have an understanding that none of this success comes without hard work and dedication. You have spent innumerable hours outside of class working on the things which Vista Ridge has quickly become known for. The vast majority of that time, you were supervised by a staff which put in almost as many hours planning and grading homework and running practice as you spent writing essays and doing sprints. They haven’t received a raise in the time Vista Ridge has been open. I hope you’ll join with me in thanking them in a more meaningful way right now, with your gratitude, and applause.

Now, you leave the sheltered, confined world of Vista Ridge. You have to take the skills you’ve perfected here out into the wider world. I am confident that you will find success in that wider world. I can be confident because I, like the rest of the staff, have seen you grow and mature over the last three years. We have spent more time than you can imagine discussing you, and your futures. We have wondered aloud how we might teach you to think, how we could convince you that this homework really was important. Now, our time for wondering is over, we know that you are ready, that you will go out, on your own, and help to shape an ever changing world.

So, as we send you out to adulthood, I’d like to ask two favors of you, on behalf of the staff.

First, please don’t stop striving for excellence. Since I’m not afraid to use a cliché, I will: this ceremony isn’t called adjournment, it’s called commencement. It’s called commencement instead of adjournment because it’s the beginning, not the end. So, if you take nothing else from the years you’ve spent under our tutelage, take your Dedication to Excellence  from these last three years and apply it to your life as a whole. No matter what you have planned for the years following today, be it school, work, or service, commit yourself to your actions with the guidance of excellence. Though there is no easily quantifiable definition of excellence, you have enough practice to know excellence when you see it.

My second request is less about you than it is about myself and the rest of the faculty. For three years, I’ve ended every pretty much every gathering of the school with our clarion call; “We are VR”. For you, that cheer ends today. After you walk across this stage, shake some hands, and smile for the camera, you’re not Vista Ridge students anymore, you’re the very first Vista Ridge alumni. My request to you  is that you never forget that. You see, you’re going to be out in the world, being excellent, and doing amazing things. Naturally, people are going to ask you who you are, and where you’re from. This is where you can do us old people a great service.

You see, even though your journey through our halls is over, we have to go back to work. And every year, the competition to convince the city that we really are excellent becomes more and more fierce. Increasingly, parents look at the scores on the CSAP. They read the Gazette, and watch the news. They understandably want proof that the school they choose to send their children to is the best they can find. We want their children to walk through our halls just like you have. We need to prove to them that Vista Ridge is the best school in the city.

We’ve never been afraid to tell people that we are excellent. We’ve been proud to shout at the top of our lungs that We Are VR. But now we have walking, living, breathing proof that we are excellent

You are our proof. You are our calling card. When people are deciding where to send their children to learn, you are the tangible thing that they recognize as being great. You represent us, and our lives’ work better than any state created report card ever could. So, I ask you to pay back all the faith we had in you by doing something easy:

When people ask who you are, tell them, simply: “I AM VR!”

1 comment:

  1. My favorite part was definitely when you pulled out the white board and wrote the "objectives" for the ceremony.
    I'm going to miss you, you crazy, old man!