A few short hours ago I completed my tenure as a teacher at the International School of the Americas, I said goodbye to some of the greatest kids ever to walk the face of the earth, I honored my colleagues, and I ate some soup. All in all it has been a banner day. I know the flood of emotions will hit me later tonight, or tomorrow as we finish packing up, but for now I am just happy to have done my very best.
Below is the transcript of my remarks tonight. I am including it for all of you loyal readers who couldn’t be present to hear the speech. And for anyone who was there and just wants to relive the fun time. This post is dedicated to the graduating class of 2010 and the faculty and staff of the International School of the Americas. Go Globies!
The following speech was delivered at Laurie Auditorium in San Antonio, TX on June 10, 2010.
Before we begin I just need to let all of you know I’ve never worked harder on any piece of writing in my life. Over the past several weeks I have written out and discarded multiple drafts of this speech. I put myself under a lot of pressure to make this speech perfect, first because you all mean so much to me, and second because we are being simulcast live over the internet. Tens of people are watching us at home.
After about the third draft, and reminders by nearly all of my friends, it occurred to me that all I really needed to do today was speak from the heart. When you were freshman we talked about how the highest aim of any author is to write something true, something that speaks to people because it is so real and so honest. I hope I can achieve that aim in my speech here today, and I hope I have achieved that aim over the past four years as your teacher.
You might not know this, but I’ve been keeping tabs on you. It was easy those first two years because you were required by law to attend my class everyday, but it got harder as you moved downstairs and became upper classmen. Nevertheless, from the day you walked into the doors of the old ISA building four years ago, I have felt a deep connection to you as a group and as individuals. We have a special bond—a psychic connection. Ironically, the things I love most about you are the things that others often under appreciate. For example, one of my favorite traits of yours is the fact that external rewards and external threats have no effect on your decision making (A certain talk I gave you in the auditorium at MUNSA your sophomore year comes to mind) You do what you think is right, what you believe has value, what you find personally significant or intrinsically rewarding. You are one of the most authentic groups of people I have ever interacted with. I know that can be aggravating to some, but I would so much rather you be real than perfect. Real people change the world while perfect people fear ever making a mistake, and in so doing never make a difference. You all are not afraid of making mistakes, and you bound whole heartedly in the direction of what matters most to you.
Your exuberance, the way you pay no heed to your detractors, the way you always let the personal take precedence over the practical reminds me of one of my heroes. One of my favorite people, besides you guys of course, is Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A few of us got to meet Archbishop Tutu together last year in Los Angeles at the International Peace Jam conference. One of my favorite things about Archbishop Tutu, besides the fact that he exudes more joy than the happiest child, is braver than the strongest soldier, and is not afraid to giggle publicly, is that he is not afraid for things to be messy and complicated, and he greatly appreciates the fact that perfection is hard to come by but authenticity can change lives.
Last summer Mr. McPherson, my brother-in-law Scott and I rented a car and drove across South Africa. Along the way I read several books on South African history, including Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness. The basic idea behind the book is this—South Africa, in the wake of the atrocities of Apartheid, could not emerge as a whole and heeled country until each individual got to tell his or her own story, share his or her own truth. The process was literally called Truth and Reconciliation. I bring this up because in this book Archbishop Tutu strives to help the western world understand a concept that is essential to South African culture—the concept of Ubuntu. Literally translated it means “I am because you are.” Several of your ISA teachers and administrators have spoken to you about this concept before, in fact I am pretty sure Mr. Magadance mentioned it at rite of passage. It is a concept that is definitely not foreign to the ISA community. But I think it is more than appropriate to bring it up again today. Archbishop Tutu says, “A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.” So I’m driving around South African, visiting the birth place of Nelson Mandela, watching FIFA Federations Cup games with people from all over the world, and this idea keeps spinning around in my head—Ubuntu—I am because you are. And then I thought about ISA and your class and something resonated.
I am because you are. I am because you are. I kept thinking, things kept resonating and it occurred to me that I taught you for literally half of your high school career. Fifty percent of your English instruction came from me. I’d like to apologize right now for not teaching you how to diagram sentences. Ms. Barnett and Ms. Smith will both be available in the lobby to go over that with anyone who is still interested after the ceremony. Seriously though, I am fifty percent of the English teachers you have had at ISA and you are forty percent of the students I have taught during my tenure at ISA. Math Department, these mathematical figures are a shout out to you. I bring this up to indicate, mathematically, that we have invested quite a bit in each other. In fact one might say we have been available to each other, that we have affirmed each other, that we have belonged to a greater whole. And it doesn’t stop there. Think about this, if I am because you are, and you are because I am, we’re not the only people in the mix. We have a broader community to thank. If I am a good teacher, it Is because Dr. Breidensten was a good professor. If I am a good teacher, it is because Ms. Bieser is a good leader. If I am a good member of the sophomore team, it is because Ms. Brawner, and Ms. Tissiere, and Mr. McQuillen each bring their A game every day. And if I am good at taking attendance it is definitely because Ms. Tamez is the single greatest administrative assistant to grace ours or any front office.
And the opposite is true as well. Dr. B was made better by my diligence as a student, Ms. Bieser is supported by my dedication as an employee, the sophomore team does great things because I too bring my A game, and when I remember to take attendance, Ms. Tamez has a way better day.
WE the faculty and staff of the International School of the Americas are all made better by what each of YOU has brought to the table over the last four years. When you are present and contributing to the community as your authentic selves we are all made better. We are able to travel to foreign countries, we are able to get exemplary scores on our state mandated tests, we are able to host visitors from all over the world, we are able to lead the way in the free, fair, and uncensored use of 21st Century technologies in public schools. ISA is because you are.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the contribution of your families to this equation. In the most literal sense you are because your parents are. But more than that, you are bold because your parents instilled in you confidence at an early age, you are kind because your families showed you kindness, you are quick, clever, funny, and talented because your parents handed you microphones, applauded your efforts, and nurtured you into the fantastic, funny, dynamic people you are today. You are because they are.
I wasn’t invited here to give a speech about my summer vacation from last year. Although I think I worked that topic in nicely. I was invited here to honor you, and to represent the faculty and staff of the International School of the Americas. I cannot do either of those things well if I don’t mention a little something about your future. And I can’t mention something about your future without mentioning something about my future (I still am because you are after all). In many ways I too feel like I am graduating today. Although it took me five years instead of your four, I feel like we are all standing in similar shoes. Today is your last official day of high school. Today is my last official day of work at the International School of the Americas. Soon you will begin packing bags and heading off to new adventures. On Monday, Mr. McP and I will be loading up a U-Haul and heading out to start a completely different life. We are all in a position where we will have to make new friends. We are all in a position where the people who supported us and helped us get to where we are today won’t necessarily be as close by as they have been for the past four years. On the surface this sounds horrifying. But speaking as someone who has been in your shoes and who has unwittingly put herself in those same shoes again—I can say that this is one of the best possible positions to be in. We are on the cusp of great adventure and great learning. Georgia O’Kefe is famous for saying, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” As a class you have consistently exhibited great courage and I can’t imagine that you would stop exhibiting it at this stage of the game. You’ve had the courage to be yourselves, you’ve had the courage to defy convention, and you’ve had the courage to follow your dreams. Harness that courage, and live a life that shows that you are not willing to let fear hinder your potential for greatness.
On a final note (and this is a final note, the speech is exactly one minute and seven seconds long after this point, I timed it, twice) one might even call it a final REFLECTION, I’d like to leave you with this idea. Find what it is in life you love, and find who it is in life you love, and spend the rest of your life embodying that love. I know this might sound cheesy, and I know Soy is allergic to cheese, but I have to tell you. I loved all of you before I knew you. When you were just names on a roster, I loved you, and my colleagues loved you too. It is only because of love, that people would care this much, work this hard, and take these kinds of risks to ensure that you would learn and through learning would obtain the freedom to make your own choices and live the life you want to live. It is love that keeps Leslie Ramirez in her classroom as late as 7:30 each night, tutoring, planning lessons, making math approachable. It is love that has Ms. Bieser, and Mr. Magadance, and Mr. Smith up at school on Saturdays and holidays so students can earn credit, or so that parents can stay informed about what is happening at school, or so that teachers can benefit from homegrown, authentic professional development. And, I believe it is love that keeps Globie from tripping even though his shoelace has been untied for all these years. Class of 2010, I love you! I believe in you, and I look forward to hearing about your great successes, your great attempts, and your lives lived with courage and love. Congratulations, this is your moment, and you have earned it. Go Globies!