An essential rite of passage for any high school senior is the graduation. Like thousands of schools around the world, the International School of Prague is no exception, except that our graduation takes place in a palace, the beautiful and ornate Zofin Palace in the heart of Prague!
My remarks, as head of school, during this year’s graduation ceremony, were focused on the graduates coming to grips with the changes they were about to encounter and finding their own voice as they step into the world.
As I reflect on this special day, I realize that in many ways the perspective of parent and educator are quite similar. The truth is that your sons and daughters, have spent almost half of their waking hours with us in school.
Just like you, we see our students succeed and fail; we see them at their best and their worst; we see them happy and sad; we see joy and heartbreak; we see proud achievement and lack of confidence; we see poor and wise decisions; and we see sloppiness and yes… neatness too.
It was only yesterday that each senior sitting on this stage had a regimen that in large part was determined by school and by home.
Time to wake up
Classes begin at 8 and end at 3
Time to eat or work or take a break
Don’t stay out too late
You can’t live on…fill in the blank…all your life!
Time to get off the computer and get some fresh air!
Homework is due on Tuesday and there will be a test on Wednesday
Our graduates will be leaving most of that behind them. But what is truly special about this moment, is not only that you are about to graduate from high school, but that you have reached a moment where you can truly be independent thinking young women and men. Although you will get a lot of free advice, more than ever, you have the freedom to think for yourself. Isn’t it strange and a bit surreal that you graduate from HS and suddenly your world is radically different? Suddenly you have a lot more control of your time. Suddenly you don’t know what to do with yourself.
Of course, we, your teachers and parents, trust that you have been well prepared to take on the new challenges you will face. We hope that we have instilled in you a strong moral compass that will help guide you. And while we are still there to advise you and support you, what advice you choose to take is up to you This can be daunting!
A poem by the great American poet, Carl Sandburg encapsulates the shifting forms of advice a parent might give to a child
It’s called, “A Father to His Son” but could as easily have been called “A mother to her daughter.”
A father sees his son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
‘Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.’
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum monotony
and guide him among sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
‘Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.’
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
and left them dead years before burial:
the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
has twisted good enough men
sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use against other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own. Carl SandburgTo me, Sandberg is showing us that it is not always easy for a parent to know what advice to give a child. But it’s natural for parents to give advice because we all want to protect our children and we often wish we could substitute ourselves for our children, in order to shield them from harsh realities. But in the end it is the child who has grown, who must decide on what is right. You, are in charge of YOUR life and we parents must allow that natural progression to happen. While your new found independence may feel liberating and alarming at the same time, take heart! You might feel scared and alone at times as you step out to the world, but you carry with you, those who love and care for you.
So dear graduates, on this once in a lifetime day, I wish you wisdom:
The wisdom to keep learning
The wisdom to listen to those that love you
But also the wisdom to find and listen to your own voice as you embark on your life’s journey