Learning from the silver lining: Graduating in the time of COVID

The International School of Prague held a unique outdoor, pandemic-safe, graduation ceremony on our sports field, to honour the class of 2020. It was a blustery but beautiful day and ceremony with the Sarka Valley forest as our back drop. Below is my address in which I talk about the silver linings of this crises and what we might learn from it.

This is an exceptional time in all of our lives and I’m happy that we have found a way to bring our graduates and family members together for this unique occasion.

I don’t have to remind you that we are living through unusual times. Even though we will overcome the immediate challenges posed by this virus, it is not an exaggeration to say that this pandemic puts the world community at a historic crossroads.  

Things we have taken for granted, we can no longer rely on, and in the face of such disruption, it’s a good time to take stock. Many have said that things will not be the same after we move beyond the current crisis: not only do I believe this is true, I believe in many ways that it is a good thing.

While we have all been getting used to the new normal of lockdowns, quarantine, social distancing, wearing face masks and gloves, video conferencing and learning online, there are silver linings that we should not ignore.

To begin with, the world is cleaner and quieter since the start of this pandemic. This momentary pause in our frenetic pace, gives us a glimpse of a less polluted and less frantic world. Even though the economic and societal costs have been enormous, we have, as a world community, been forced by this pandemic to drastically change our behaviors.

We are driving and flying less, and finding other ways to interact and communicate. We have become more creative, flexible and agile as we address the challenges posed by this pandemic.

ISP, like many schools around the world, has had to rapidly shift its practice from face to face to distance learning, and recalibrate our approach to provide effective individualised learning.

In the world of work, many people are successfully working from home and companies are questioning whether it’s necessary for many in the workforce to return to the office after this pandemic is over.

We are also realizing that our personal time can be spent in new and perhaps more meaningful ways. Many of us are reading more, taking long walks, or running, gardening, or even mending rather than buying, or playing an instrument or just dusting off old hobbies. We’ve even been checking in more regularly with friends and family. There are, I’m sure, many other examples that we can identify.

So while the world is facing a serious and deadly crisis, there are silver linings that should not be forgotten or ignored. While we can’t and wouldn’t want to live in long-term lockdown mode, these past few months have demonstrated our capacity to adapt and change.

Why is this important? Because by stopping to look at how some of our changed behaviors and ways of being have brought positive results, we should consider what behaviors we might retain and nurture, long after this pandemic is behind us.

We should also consider what is truly important to us, as individuals and as citizens of the world.

While I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball, I do know that many aspects of our lives, whether it be the world of work, travel or education, will change, and there is, if we are wise, the potential to make things better.

In all the disruption we are experiencing, there are lessons to be learned. We have learned, that we human beings have the capacity to change our behaviors, if we see the imperative. We have learned, that we humans have enormous creative capacity to adapt to new situations. We have also learned more about our deep and enduring capacity to care for others.

Let us remember that before this pandemic, the world was already facing enormous existential challenges, from poverty to hunger to climate change. These issues have only been exacerbated by this crisis. In fact, some have argued that there is a direct link between these existential global issues and the pandemic.

With or without the current crisis we must be willing to challenge ourselves, our behaviours and our assumptions. There is not one person on this planet who has not been impacted by COVID-19, except perhaps the astronauts currently floating above the earth in the international space station.

If there is one lesson I hope our graduates take with them, it’s that we are all in this together and that we must come together and work together to insure a better future for our planet and all its inhabitants. Everything you choose to do, dear graduates, has an impact, like the ripples from a stone tossed into a lake. As you go out into the world, remember that we are all connected and your actions, big and small, will have consequences.

At ISP, one of our core values is compassion, the act of showing kindness, caring, and a willingness to help others. The act of compassion itself is a recognition and demonstration of our interconnectedness, our common humanity.

I hope that your time at ISP has taught you, from the context of our little international microcosm of diverse cultures, perspectives and nationalities, to celebrate our differences and that we are one humanity.

As the great Czech philosopher and educator Comenius said:

We are all citizens of one world, we are all of one blood.  To hate a man because he was born in another country, because he speaks a different language, or because he takes a different view on this subject or that, is a great folly.  Desist, I implore you, for we are all equally human….  Let us have but one end in view, the welfare of humanity; and let us put aside all selfishness in considerations of language, nationality, or religion.

These prophetic words written over 400 years ago, can be found on a large carved wooden plaque as you enter our school, and the truth of these ancient words has not diminished over the centuries 

Fast forward to earlier this year, when we had a very special visitor. (One of those astronauts I referred to just a moment ago) Many of you had the opportunity to meet international educator and NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold and his wife Eloise, during their week-long visit to ISP last October. I am proud to call them my friends. Shortly before his visit to ISP, Ricky was living on the International Space Station, circling our planet every day for almost 8 months, along with his fellow astronauts from around the world. His visit to ISP was a inspirational experience for our community – to be with and learn from someone who has a truly unique perspective about our shared planet and our interconnectedness

A few weeks ago, Ricky wrote and asked me to share the following message with our community: 

Eloise and I are so very thankful for the week of friendship and learning at ISP.  The warmth of our reception, the delight in discovery, and the profound sense of community buoy us to this day. We are enduring some global challenges right now, which only highlight the primary message that we tried to share,

We are all in this together.

And that is the message I hope our graduates take with them wherever they travel and throughout their lives, We are all in this together!

Congratulations to the class of 2020!

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