Shining eyes

This year’s International School of Prague graduation ceremony was unique in many ways and at the same time, it was not that different to graduation ceremonies taking place around the world. Like many schools, due to the pandemic, we conducted the ceremony outdoors. Thankfully due to the decreasing infection rate in the Czech Republic, we could remove our masks and actually see each other. How glorious it was to be with ISP graduates and their families face to face!

ISP 2021 Graduation Ceremony

For 12 years, my participation in the ISP graduation ceremony followed a certain pattern, in which I would address the graduates near the beginning of the program. So, I must say I was a bit suspicious when the Upper School Principal, Dr. Sturm, informed me that this year, my thirteenth and last at ISP, the program had been altered so that I would be speaking somewhere in the middle of the ceremony.

To digress a moment, for years I have frequently talked about ISP being a place of possibilities, encouraging our staff and students to try out new ideas and take informed risks, to challenge ourselves, to prototype and iterate and to learn to embrace our mistakes. When I think of ISP being a place of possibilities, I think of one of my personal heroes, Benjamin Zander: Conductor and Music Director of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, motivational speaker with a highly popular TED Talk, and author of the book, The Art of Possibility. With his bounding and boundless energy and infectious laugh, Maestro Zander captures the vibrance of life through his inspirational talks and his love of teaching and learning, which I have often shared with ISP colleagues. I love Zander’s approach to dealing with our inevitable mistakes:

You cannot learn anything unless you make a mistake. So I tell my students when you make a mistake celebrate, and the way to celebrate is like this: “HOW FASCINATING!!!” It’s actually quite difficult. Try it out on the golf course next time. You know why it’s difficult? It’s because when we make a mistake we tend to pull down, the body pulls down. Notice the next time you make a mistake the body pulls down. Instead when it pulls down you go “HOW FASCINATING!!!”

from Ben Zander – How to give an A
Benjamin Zander TED Talk 2008

So it was a great personal honour to me, when right before I was due to address the graduates, it was announced that Maestro Benjamin Zander had a special message, which was then streamed to the audience. I was deeply moved and humbled by his opening words:

From the beginning Arnie has led the school according to the vision of possibility. In terms of the conductor which is what I am, that means enabling every member of the orchestra to feel the music deeply. To internalise it, to master it, to engage with it and to give it away is the test of success in life. Not the money earned, the reviews garnered, the fame accrued, but the shining eyes of the musicians and the audience. The conductor knows that if the eyes are not shining he doesn’t get to blame those around him, rather he gets to ask this question: Who am I being that the eyes are not shining?

Arnie has devoted his life to awakening possibility in other people. He has been the relentless architect of the possibility that others can be. Knowing that the only deep satisfaction and joy is making a difference in the world, he has been the best kind of conductor, joyous, caring, inspiring, and confidence that those he’s leading have the capacity to realise his dreams.

Maestro Zander’s words were music to my ears and brought tears to my eyes. To spark curiosity and wonder, and see the shining eyes in our students is what school is all about. To create a culture where the eyes of every colleague are shining is the highest aspiration of every leader. Thank you Maestro Zander for your kind and inspirational words which I will always carry with me!

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