graduation

Ninety-nine percent perspiration

Thomas Edison


As we do each year, ISP has a variety of celebrations to recognize students who are moving from one part of the school to another, as well as of course our grand graduation ceremony. The focus of my talk this year to grade 8 students was on the importance of “taking stock” and on the power of mindset, see below:

“This time of year is always bittersweet in that on the one hand we anticipate a well deserved summer vacation and look forward to the end of a busy and productive year, but at the same time we can also experience a sense of loss. This is of course natural

Earlier this week we had the “Moving Up” ceremony, recognizing grade 5 students as they “Move up” to MS. In May, we had the annual Graduation Ceremony for our Seniors, this is a momentous occasion when our our graduates not only move up but move out into the world and become independent young adults. Each one of these moments deserve recognition and reflection.

I recently had a conversation with someone who didn’t understand why our school made such a fuss with special ceremonies commemorating students moving from one section to another. And many schools don’t have such celebrations. But I think that as we go through life, there is a place to pause and to reflect and look back on what we have accomplished and look forward to what is ahead of us. And so we have today what’s called the grade 8 leavers ceremony. This is one of those moments in your lives.

Grade 8 Leavers Ceremony


So what are you leaving behind and what are you looking forward to? Each of you will have a different answer to that question. For many of you, I would venture to guess, it is the unique MS culture that you have experienced over the past few years and the special relationships that you have formed with your friends and with your special teachers and staff. For others it may be the physical environments of the MS that you have called home for three years. Whatever it is, this is a time to not only celebrate this change in your lives, but to reflect and prepare for what’s coming next. I don’t mean to sound ominous about what’s next, because it will be fun and exciting and challenging and you’re all ready for high school whether you know it or not. So as you anticipate your next steps, think about what you wish to get out of the next four years. 

As educators, one of the things we have come to realize more and more is how capable young people really are if they are given the opportunity to try and fail and learn from failure. In Silicon Valley they call it Failing Forward.  This is what I wish for each of you as you prepare for high school. Be willing to try and believe in yourself and be willing to fail. These aren’t simply nice words, but this sentiment is actually based on research.

Something you may have learned about is called mindset. It is a concept coined by Stanford University professor and researcher Carol Dweck. What she learned through her research is that there are two kinds of mindset each of us have. A growth and a fixed mindset. Here’s how Dweck defined these two traits:

‘In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.’

One startling thing that Dweck discovered was that those of us with a fixed mindset have the ability to change it to a growth mindset. It’s like when someone says, I’m not good at art or math. The truth is that we can accomplish much more than we think if we believe we have the ability to do it and the will to expend our efforts to accomplish something. As the great inventor Thomas Edison said:

‘None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Here’s how Dweck recommends we respond to our fixed mindsets:

‘THE FIXED-MINDSET says “Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent.”

THE GROWTH-MINDSET answers, “I’m not sure I can do it now, but I think I can learn to with time and effort.”

FIXED MINDSET: “What if you fail—you’ll be a failure”

GROWTH MINDSET: “Most successful people had failures along the way.”

FIXED MINDSET: “If you don’t try, you can protect yourself and keep your dignity.”

GROWTH MINDSET: “If I don’t try, I automatically fail. Where’s the dignity in that?”’

I like the way the great basketball player Michael Jordan put it:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed…. I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.

So my message to each of you is to remember to believe in yourself,  put in the effort to reach your goals, and be willing to fail, that’s a winning combination.”

 

Will you be an Anvil or a Hammer?

The end of the school year is always a time of mixed emotions, especially for high school graduates who look to their futures with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

At ISP, like many schools, graduation is a truly joyous occasion. Families and friend from throughout the world come to Prague to join in on the celebration. We are fortunate to hold our graduation ceremony at the grand and ornate Zofin Palace, built in the 1830’s and named after Princess Sophie (Žofie in Czech), mother of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. The hall in which we hold our graduation ceremony has a rich social and musical history. Antonín Dvořák held his first concert here in 1878. Berlioz, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Wagner appeared in concerts in the palace as well.  

As I do each year, I had an opportunity to address the graduates and assembled guests. The theme this year’s talk was the “educated citizen.”

As parents we often try to see the world through the eyes of our own children. As educators seeing the world through the eyes of our students is an important part of our job. I’ve wondered lately what sense our students and especially our graduates, who are about to step out into the world, make of all the news, the alerts, the tweets  and posts they constantly receive. Of course they discuss what’s happening in the world at school, in class, with teachers and with their friends and peers. But what do they make of the constant news they hear, often bad… of brutal wars, blatant corruption, senseless violence…in many cases involving kids your own age. 

I am aware that their reaction can be a tendency, with good reason, to try to tune it out, like so much annoying background noise, or simply because it can feel overwhelming. But I ask you please, don’t tune it out…because as educated citizens we all need to try to understand the world as it is and help to shape it as it should be. Furthermore, each of you, no matter where you come from or where you are going, have a responsibility to take what you have learned and will learn and use it to, as we say at ISP, to contribute responsibly to our changing world. Because truth is that no matter what you do, you will play a role, you will have an impact

John Stuart Mill, the English philosopher and economist put it this way: “A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”

In simple terms, if we are witness to harm being caused to an individual or group, we should act and get involved in any way we can.  And because you are educated young people, the gift of your education, bestows some responsibilities on how you interact with the world.

I would like to read an excerpt from a speech delivered by John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, speaking to the class of 1963 at Vanderbilt University. His words, spoken over 50 years ago, when the civil rights movement was raging and the Vietnam War was growing, are as relevant to us today as they were during those turbulent times. The truth is that turbulent times are not limited to our era, we are not unique, the difference is when I was growing up, I had to make an effort to find out about the news of the day by reading the daily paper or listing to the radio or watching to the news on TV. Just to set the record straight, TVs did exist when I was growing up!

“You have responsibilities, to use your talents for the benefit of the society which helped develop those talents. You must decide, as Goethe put it, whether you will be an anvil or a hammer, whether you will give to the world in which you were reared and educated the broadest possible benefits of that education.

If the pursuit of learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all. For there will always be those who scoff at intellectuals, who cry out against research, who seek to limit our educational system.

But the educated citizen knows how much more there is to know. He knows that knowledge is power — more so today than ever before. He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people; that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all; Therefore the educated citizen has a special obligation to encourage the pursuit of learning, to promote exploration of the unknown, to preserve the freedom of inquiry, to support the advancement of research, and to assist at every level of government the improvement of education for all.

The educated citizen has an obligation to serve the public. He may be a precinct worker or a president. He may give his talents at the courthouse, the state house, the White House. He may be a civil servant or a senator, a candidate or a campaign worker, a winner or a loser. But he must be a participant and not a spectator.

I urge all of you today, especially those who are students, to act — to enter the lists of public service.

Any educated citizen who seeks to subvert the law, to suppress freedom, or to subject other human beings to acts that are less than human, degrades his inheritance, ignores his learning, and betrays his obligations.”

Now I am aware that Kennedy’s words were spoken within the historical context of his time, but they do carry a message for us to heed today. I urge our graduates to consider the educational opportunity you have been given and will be afforded in your future. 

I am confident that each of you have bright futures ahead of you. Each of you will take different paths in life. Ultimately each of you will make choices which will shape who you will become and how you will impact the world around you. As Anne Frank wrote

The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”

What will you do with your gifts and with what you have learned and how will you take your place in the world as an educated citizen?

I leave you with the words of the great Jane Goodall who honored us with her presence last year last year at ISP

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Jane Goodall at ISP December 2016

 

Youth is NOT wasted on the young

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Each year at this time, schools around the world celebrate their graduates achievements and wish them success as they venture out into the world. Last week’s blog highlighted the words of one of our graduate speakers and this week I leave you with my words to the graduates and their families, entitled “Youth is NOT Wasted on the Young.”

Speaking at ISP Graduation June 2016, Zofin Palace

Speaking at ISP Graduation May 2016, Zofin Palace

It is an honor for me to welcome you to the graduation ceremony for the class of 2016! We are all very proud of the young women and men sitting on this stage before us. They have worked hard to become ISP graduates and we are all proud of their achievements.

I have no doubt that the past few months have been a bit of a blur for our seniors. They’ve been in a sort of limbo, between finishing up their high school careers, and simultaneously getting ready for the next chapter in their lives. While a new life approaches each of you, and we hope we have prepared you well for your future, it’s fair to say that each of you will be venturing out into unknown territory.

Whether you are taking a gap year or immediately starting university, whether you’ll be living at home or in another country; even if you are not quite sure what you will be doing next year, you are heading into a new way of being. Whatever you will be doing or wherever you go next, your lives will fundamentally change because you are no longer children. You are young adult women and men who must take greater responsibility for yourselves, actually in a legal sense, you will take full responsibility for your actions. Isn’t it wonderful?… Isn’t it horrifying? Whatever you’re feeling about the future, giddy excitement or dread, it’s in your hands, more than it has ever been before. I think it’s fair to say that those of us who have been around a lot longer than you have, will enjoy living vicariously through your adventures and experiences. This is especially true of your parents, who will look on proudly and nervously as you venture out!

There’s an old saying, Youth is wasted on the young. It means that young people encounter all sorts of new situations and predicaments in life without the benefit of having learned life’s lessons. But that’s part of the fun and excitement isn’t it? Encountering new situations and attaining wisdom through your good judgement as well as your mis-steps?

What would it be like, I wonder, if somehow young people your age could begin life having already attained all the wisdom experience brings; with vivid memories of victories and defeats, successes and failures; with all the important lessons somehow already learned? Could the freshness and uniqueness of every new experience, every catchy song or captivating landscape, every compelling book or great love, possibly shake your soul the same way as it will do, when you encounter life’s twists and turns for the very first time? I think not. In order for you to absorb life and hopefully gain some wisdom along the way, you must take the time to live life, and that will take you a lifetime!

I actually looked into the origins of the phrase “Youth is wasted on the young”. In a slightly different form, it is attributed to the great Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and all around witty person George Bernard Shaw. Someone asked Shaw what, in his opinion, is the most wonderful thing in this world. “Youth,” he replied, “ Youth is the most wonderful thing in this world—and what a pity that it has to be wasted on children!”

We all get what he means, but I would argue that youth is a wonderful thing mainly because it involves the wonder and the delight of first times. Discovering a new culture or delighting in a great novel, or tasting a new cuisine for the very first time, can only be a surprise to the inexperienced or uninitiated. Making mistakes that you yourself have to own and learn from, are also defining moments which make us who we are.

In that sense, youth is not wasted on the young, any more than old age is wasted on the aged. In either case, life is wasted only if it is not lived with purpose. As Shaw himself said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” And that’s the whole point of the journey each of us makes in life, young or old. As you develop and grow, each of you, dear seniors, will be creating who you are. Your life is in your hands and not anyone else’s. What you do and what you become is of your making.

So on this special day, I ask our graduates, to take this unique and precious time in your lives to explore your world and yourselves. Learn from your mistakes and delight in all that you have not yet experienced. See your life from this time on as an opportunity to create who you are. How exciting!