Graduation Night

(Last night.)
Graduation at Emerson tonight. I was asked to give the commencement speech, and I also got to sing “In My Life” with some of my musical staff friends. I was so proud of all the students – they all worked so hard to get here! And their speeches had me in tears.

Here are excerpts from my speech (I got all teary and half-way through my husband had to come up to the podium to provide me with a tissue for my nose – bless his heart):

At the end of this school year I will be leaving my job as a Contract Based teacher at Emerson High School. When I look back on the seven years I’ve spent here, images of my students flash through my thoughts – images that make me smile and touch my heart.

There’s Anastacio learning what an exponent is – and there he is, grinning with pride, the day he learned he’d (finally!) passed his state math assessment.

There are my student-authors glowing with the joy of accomplishment at seeing their words published on Amazon and in print. I see the looks on my students’ faces when they see their photography published in our student calendar – and they realize that, yes, they actually ARE real photographers!

I remember the time one of my students was looking at a picture of an embryonic turtle, seeing how its shell forms from its rib cage, and she said, “I never thought about that before – turtles can’t just leave their shells, can they? But some things do. Those sea snails. They leave their shells. How’s the shell formed?” I suggested to her that maybe she could do some research about that. Maybe she could research, like, five different things like that and write papers about them. I asked her what other things she might want to research. She thought about this and then said, “How does the moon affect waves? Why does the river have a current? Why do trees lose their leaves? How do the clouds stay in the sky? Why does water evaporate? Are there other planets that are liveable? When does space end? What would be beyond space? What did we think about before we were born? How do tectonic plates move? Maybe 90% of the ocean we haven’t even explored, yet – what new things have they found in the ocean lately?

I told her I loved ending my Friday with her. She smiled and said, “It’s a good way to end the week, isn’t it?”

My students have made me laugh, and sometimes made me cry, too – in a good way. I remember the time a student and I were working through a problem on probability that involved colored marbles. At the end of the problem she observed that we still had all our marbles. “I still have all my marbles?!” I asked, kind of surprised. Without missing a beat, my student said, “For now.” I laughed so hard I had tears pouring down my face.

I want to take a moment and say something about each of the graduates here tonight. You are the reason we’re all here. We celebrate you. You have inspired us. You have given us hope for the world. Dear graduates – here are what your teachers have to say about you – and please stand as I call your name… (I’m going to edit this part out for the privacy of the students – but let me just say how cool it is to work in a school where there’s time to recognize each and every student’s achievements and talents at graduation).

I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to Sharon, too. Sharon and I are both retiring this year. Sharon, I want you to know how grateful I am to you. You kept me organized. You stepped up to the plate when no one else would. I have huge respect for you.

And I need to say a word about my CB colleagues, Kay and Elizabeth – you are both such an inspiration to me. I’ve seen how you’ve gone above and beyond for your students. I’ve witnessed how much you care. I love you.

And the rest of you are great, too! 

My years at Emerson have given me wonderful memories and friendships that will always be with me. Emerson has provided me so many amazing opportunities: My first year here I was invited to go snow-shoeing with the students for a weekend; another year I was invited to drive a van full of students to the Seattle Science Center; and another year I got to sail aboard a schooner, The Adventuress, with my Emerson colleagues. These are experiences I never would have had if I hadn’t come to Emerson seven years ago.

What makes Emerson special, of course, is the people here – the students and staff. We take care of each other in times of crises. We celebrate with each other in times of victory. We care about each other, and for each other. We are a family.

And now I’d like to read some excerpts from Max Ehrmann’s poem, “Desiderata” – this poem has never failed to inspire me:


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others…

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time…

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself. 

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy. 

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

golden sunrise

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