International School of Prague

To Succeed in the 21st Century We Need To Learn, Unlearn and Re-learn

Below is my full interview with Czech Leaders Magazine appearing in the January – March 2017 issue.

Imagine the atmosphere of a school where there is a palpable sense of creative thinking, where one can see the arts, choirs, music and film production, and at the same time a clear focus on scientific experimentation. Imagine life as a student being able to experiment, design and then print out your blueprint on a 3D printer or a laser cutter as part of the school curriculum. Imagine that a student can take part in an international robotics competition hosted at his school by day and being on stage singing blues in a Cabaret performance involving students, staff, parents and friends of the school by night.

I was not touring a school in Finland or Singapore, the two countries currently recognized as having the world’s the best educational systems. These were, rather, my immediate impressions after visiting the International School of Prague, which overlooks the Prague Šárka valley nature reserve.

Interviewing Dr. Arnie Bieber, ISP Director, turned from a traditional question and answer format into a lively discussion.

As Arnie truly lives and breathes the ISP mission “Inspiring Learners for Life”, I could sense his passion for an inspiring, engaging and empowering education organically engrained into every activity, including proud presentation of the school to visitors, talking about current and potential partnerships as well as embedding school activities within the local community. The last element is very important for ISP, as both private and international schools are often judged as being too distant and dislocated from the local environment.

Arnie, today’s world is changing rapidly. In fact, uncertainty is perhaps the only certain element. How do you prepare students for the future to succeed in professions and disciplines that might not even exist today?

We truly regard ourselves as a future-focused school, and we aim to be preparing future citizens of the world. If you look at our mission, which you can see all around the school, you will notice three key elements: Inspire, Engage and Empower. Our core purpose is to “Inspire learners to lead healthy, fulfilling and purposeful lives” and we know that we are successful when our graduates live their lives in this manner.

The element of our mission linked to facing an uncertain future is addressed in the second part of the mission, “preparing students to adapt and contribute responsibly to our changing world”. However, the ability to change and to adapt is not enough without a moral compass. The world may have very many smart people but do they have integrity and act ethically? No learning institution should stress one while neglecting the other. The ISP experience revolves around “engaging our diverse community in authentic global education within a nurturing student-centred environment”. Diversity is very important. Our student body, comprised of 60 different nationalities, brings a multitude of different religions and cultures to our campus. To interact and learn with such diversity is very powerful because it allows for an appreciation of our differences. Future successful leaders need to understand and respect differences, such as those based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, belief or culture.

What would your argument be for the adults who went to traditional schools in the Czech Republic who cannot imagine a serious and enjoyable education at the same time?

The distinction between something being relevant and something being rigorous or challenging is a false one. We believe that the best path to learning which is not superficial and meaningful is often through relevance. We can all remember our high school algebra, trigonometry and advanced calculus, but did what we learn have relevance to our lives? How much do we even actually remember? It is not that these subjects are not important, but they should be taught so that students understand how it is personally relevant to them. Otherwise, you only play the game of school. The rules go like this – you memorize all you can, you pass a test and then you go on and often forget most of what you had to memorize. Such an approach does not support learning of relevant skills for the future.

So let us be more specific, what are the competencies that future citizens should have?

They are addressed in our mission as well. They include the ability to: Think Critically and Creatively, Work Cooperatively and Independently and Listen and Communicate Effectively. Notice the element of effective listening, not only speaking, as is often stressed. When it comes to our central values, notice the verb to act. At ISP, the expectation is that we act with compassion, integrity, respect and intercultural understanding in school and throughout our lives. To sum up all that we have discussed so far, we care deeply about the foundational literacies such as reading, writing, arithmetic etc. However if this is primarily what a student has attained, we have failed as a school in this day and age. Students need so much more to succeed, problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and well as collaborating well with others. Furthermore, as a school, staying current with how the world is changing is more important than ever. If you look at successful companies, they are changing all the time, they expect innovation but in the school environment, such an approach is not always considered important.

We discussed skills. However, the newest approach to adult learning is focused more on talents. So should we develop what we are not good at to become mediocre, or rather concentrate on what goes easy for us to become excellent?

I do not think the debate should be either talent or skills. Being an effective listener is not necessarily a talent. If you are not an effective listener, should you be one? And how can you become one? Perhaps you do not work well with other people. Well, you can work alone but you cannot be very successful unless you learn to work with others. But the answer to your question lies in personalized learning. Education should not be one size fits all. We are all unique human beings with unique talents. The best schools help students to follow both their talents and their passions. Sometimes your passions do not necessarily need to be your talents. The idea is for each learner to discover who they are and for to help them to discover that and develop further. That is why we talk about being purposeful, since you cannot be fulfilled in your life without being purposeful, and you cannot be purposeful unless you are self-aware of your abilities.

Following on the importance of science, there is currently a heated debate in the Czech Republic without giving priority to mathematics and technical subjects to the detriment of humanities, arts not being even mentioned a relevant part of the curriculum. What is your view?

Well, there has been a distinction made between ‘STEM’ and ‘STEAM’ subjects (‘STEAM’ stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) while ‘STEM’ is missing the arts. We are more inline with the ‘STEAM’ approach. As a school we of course offer the traditional sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology and environmental science as well as design thinking, and extensive technology such as programing, computer science and robotics. In fact we have just hosted an international robotics competition where students from around the world have competed in designing, creating, programming and running their own robots. These are the 21st century skills and I would argue that the arts play as an important role as the “hard sciences.” Whether or not you become an artist, the arts, visual arts, drama or music will afford you many skills and understandings that will serve you well in life. Acting, improvising, making music etc – these skills do not take away from the sciences, they enhance them. We want our students to be whole human beings, not partial human beings and so the education is based on an holistic approach.

How do the two major opposing trends – globalization and localization – translate into education?

There is a famous quote by Comenius, which is cherished and displayed at the entrance to ISP, which says: “We are all citizens of the world. To dislike 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. Let us have but one end in view, welfare of humanity.”

So we celebrate our diversity and take advantage of the fact that we are in the heart of Europe in the Czech Republic and in Prague, surrounded by a rich and vibrant culture. It is very important to be part of that culture. We study both the Velvet Revolution and the Holocaust, we take advantage of the beautiful surrounding countryside as an amazing resource for all subject areas. Children study and meet artists and experts in the city and much more. “The curator project” for the middle school is run in co-operation with the Lobkowicz family and students learn, discover and present their research of artefacts from the Lobkowicz Museum’s rich collections. As you can see, the local and global elements are intertwined. We are very much of the opinion that “local is global and global is local.” As for the Czech educational community, we are always looking for partnering opportunities with Czech educators and Czech schools. Given our strong technological background for example, we annually host a conference for Czech educators addressing the issue of how to best to utilise technology in teaching. Furthermore ISP students have many opportunities to interact with students from local schools as well as their peers from sister schools from around the world.

What are your final words for Czech and Slovak Leaders readers?

I would say that leaders should always value and yes, embrace diversity. The tapestry of cultures and backgrounds we have at ISP is undoubtedly a key strength of our school. I firmly believe that the case for diversity is also the case for business. Diversity allows for fresh and varied perspectives in any organization, and is certainly a crucial ingredient to preparing children for their futures in a diverse and globalized world.

By Linda Štucbartová


Did you know?

ISP in facts and figures: 860 students, 120 teachers and counsellors from over 20 countries, 60 nationalities. Founded in 1948.

The school is for all intents and purposes full, but due to the number of expat families arriving and leaving at various times throughout the year, families interested in ISP are encouraged to contact the school anytime during a school year.

Arnie Bieber was appointed Director of ISP in 2008. Arnie has trodden a diverse path leading to his life in Prague. His background combines a wealth of educational, as well as entrepreneurial experience. Although he much more prefers to talk about the school rather than himself, his story is nonetheless very interesting and inspiring.

Arnie Bieber was born in Brooklyn, New York. His mother is a holocaust survivor, originally from Romania who is still going strong at 92 years old back in New York City. Prior to attaining two MAs in teaching and educational leadership, Arnie successfully ran several businesses and even had a stint as a New York taxi driver to put himself through university. He later gained a Doctorate of Education from Columbia University and began his teaching career in public schools in his native New York. Prior to coming to Prague, he lived and worked in Munich, Caracas and Bucharest. His wife is British and he has two children, who were both born in Caracas, Venezuela. Besides pursuing his passion for education, Arnie continues to follow his life-long interest in making music by regularly playing guitar and singing in the ISP Community Choir.

An important influencer in the international educational scene, Arnie is the Chair-elect of the Board of Trustees of Educational Collaborative of International Schools (ECIS), a non-profit global membership organisation of 400 international schools, that provides professional learning, research and advocacy for its member schools. Arnie previously served as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Central and Eastern European Schools Association (CEESA) and the ECIS Board. He also writes articles and has a blog about twenty first century educational issues called school21c.org, and regularly shares his thoughts with his legion of over 1000 twitter followers.

A Surprising Tranquility – My Day at PreKindergarten

One of the best ways for adults to really understand how a student experiences life and learning in school is by spending a full day shadowing a student. A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about my experience of shadowing grade 4 student, Maria: A day in the life – Shadow a Student Challenge. This year many of our leaders at ISP are shadowing students, including Tony McLaughlin, ISP Communications Manager. He tells his story called “A Surprising Tranquility” below:

This week I took on the International Shadow a Student Challenge at ISP. It certainly proved an interesting and enlightening experience, and I think and certainly hope my ‘classmates’ enjoyed me being around too!

Some of my “classmates”

I have worked at ISP for almost a year now and it has in some respects been quite a steep learning curve, not least in terms of getting to grips with some of the educational terminology used around the school. I have, however, greatly enjoyed familiarising myself during my time at ISP with the day-to-day workings of the school and how teachers go about the business of educating students in such a diverse environment. Spending the day shadowing in PKK (PreKindergarten) came about rather organically through a conversation with Jimena Zalba, Elementary School Associate Principal, about the possibility of shadowing in the ES. This led to a subsequent chat with PKK teacher (and my fellow Scot!) Ms Kerry about the possibility of joining her class and she responded very positively.

My ‘official’ shadow buddy Amalia

While I was looking forward to the shadowing day, I must admit to having a very slight feeling of trepidation. I wondered for, example, if the children might react with shyness? Maybe they would behave differently due to my presence? I needn’t have worried, as the initial reactions of the students ranged from apparent apathy to amusement, with quite a few thoughts in between that I couldn’t quite detect.

During the initial 15-minute session of the PKK day I attempted to integrate myself with my classmates after Ms Kerry had introduced me as being a “big kid” for the day. The day, from my perspective at least, didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts. My initial attempt to enquire whether the large box they were playing in was a house or a den was met with an almost deadpan, “This isn’t a house – it’s just a box”. In a way though this put me at ease as it reminded me of something my own children might say.

The first part of the day – the short free choice section was when I was introduced to the girl I would shadow, Amalia. Amalia informed me right away how to say “hello” in Hebrew. It quickly became clear that shadowing a day in the life of a single student was in fact a whole class affair, as I was fortunate to have the opportunity to observe and speak to all children in the class over the course of the day.

Ms Kerry reads The Terrible Plop

For me it was an eye-opener to see the day unfold as it offered something of a paradox. The day seemed unstructured, although there was a clear structure in place which the children almost seemed subconsciously aware of. This was particularly the case at snack time, when different children had their snacks at different times without even a murmur. Looking back to my own childhood, this could have kicked off a near riot in the McLaughlin household, so it was very interesting to see the comfort that the children felt in their learning environment. Despite Ms Kerry having said that it was a “crazy busy” day, nothing seemed hurried or frantic.

Taking photographs around the school is part of my job as Communications Manager so I was familiar with the next part of the PKK Day, Music Presentation, as I’d been asked to photograph it on two occasions. It was very nice (as ever!) to see the irrepressible Ms. Jarka in full flow, happily exhorting the children to “sing their name” and lead the song about the naughty pussy cat who “has butter on his whiskers” which is not a phrase I hear too often on a regular Tuesday morning working in the Advancement Office. It was a pleasant change to personally take part properly in the singalong as part of the class and see such a great turnout of parents (and grandparents!) fully engaged in the school day of the students.

The next part of the day was probably the part that took me most by surprise, not in that students were focused as such, I had expected that. What surprised me was that there was a quiet, almost tranquil atmosphere in the room. I had, maybe from my own experiences at home with my own kids, expected a room full of four year olds to be slightly more boisterous. Instead, there was a surprising tranquility – this was evident in the attitude of the students and was encouraged by the classical music softly playing in the background.

Children again were not pointed in any direction during this session but instead followed their natural curiosity to the activities which interested them under the supervision of Ms. Kerry and Miss Elsy. These included continuing on the woodwork projects the students had been recently working on with visiting artist Jan Nováček and working with new and improved red modelling clay. This certainly brought my ‘original’ shadow partner, Amalia’s creativity to the fore. She confidently employed me as a holder of her woodwork creation until the glue set while she went about her business.

Lunch

After lunch the pace really dropped with rest time. To my surprise most of the students actually did rest! For the more energetic children I read a few books which was a warming experience for me as I actually revisited for the first time in a while the Julia Donaldson books that my own children and I took great pleasure in reading previously.

Another storytime followed – there was evidently a lot of time spent in Pre Kindergarten on cultivating a love of reading, and of storytelling and listening. The book of choice this time was The Terrible Plop by Ursula Dubosarsky. After the story it was time for the final outdoor play of the day and it was time for me to get back to my day job. I felt a glow of pride when Ms. Elsy told me at the end of the day that while I was by no means the first person to observe the class, I was nonetheless the first to be around for the entire day.

The Gruffalo with MJ and George

Ultimately, I found spending the day at pre-kindergarten very fulfilling, it was inspiring to see the dedication, patience, kindness and professionalism of teaching staff at close quarters. I learned a lot from the energy of the students and was interested at first hand to see what really switches them on in what is a nurturing, creative environment. It was important for me, who spends quite a lot of time on words and explaining our mission to see it being lived by staff and our younger students. Its an experience I’d like to repeat in other parts of the school in the near future.

Activities with Ms Elsy

A day in the life – Shadow a Student Challenge

As part of the international Shadow a Student Challenge, last year I blogged about my experience of shadowing a grade 9 student, Grace, throughout her day at the International School of Prague. In a very positive sense, I got much more than I bargained for.

This time it was Maria in grade 4 whom I had the pleasure of shadowing throughout her day of learning at ISP. I can truly say that while I was exhausted at the end of our day, I was also energized by what I observed and learned with Maria and all of her grade 4 classmates.

Maria – Grade 4

From the moment I entered Mr. Ryan Malone’s classroom, I was struck by how students were engaged and had considerable choice in how they were learning. At the same time it was clear that the structure and purpose of what students were learning was clear and well structured. What follows is a short version of my day of shadowing Maria primarily told through pictures and video:

The morning began with students rotating through the classroom reading through poems they may wish to learn and present. There was a palpable sense of focus as the students absorbed different styles of poetry.

Picking a poem

After that it was off to music class with Mr. Allen. The class was filled with a variety of engaging musical activities from vocal warm ups, to singing Solfègeto composing our own rhythms, to performing on Orff instruments. Mr. Allen’s music class was active, fun and focused.

Visiting Mr. Allens music class

After returning to class we were off to PE with Mr. Choudhury. First we warmed up with some dodge ball. Here I must mention that the students were intent on hitting me with a ball but then politely handed me another ball so I could join in again, only to be “attacked” once again. It was fun! Then we got into an introduction to badminton by watching some footage of professional players. After some conversation about our observations, it was time to try it out for ourselves.

Once back in Mr. Malone’s class, students led by fellow student David, took turns nominating people, parents or friends, who had something positive and special. For example:

Sam said. “I nominate my dad for playing the Math game with me yesterday.” and then David asked the class to give “3 snaps for Sam’s dad.” What a great way for these young students to think about and recognize how others help or support them.

Next the class smoothly segued into math learning, beginning with some sequential math problems.

Then the class tackled a conceptual problem, The Box Factory.

After working individually, students took turns describing how they would represent a crate of oranges with numbers.

Later the class continued its study of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To introduce this part of the unit Mr. Malone had announced to the students that they were going to watch a video about “Fuzzy Bunny’s Magical Trip to the Human Rights Forrest,” but they were in for a surprise. As the class gathered around the screen, they were startled to see an ominous “hack” of the internet by an interplanetary alien, STHGIR (“rights” spelled backward) who posed a challenge to the students. After the startling appearance of STHGIR, Mr. Malone explained that there wasn’t a real alien but that his challenge was for students to see if they could come to agreement on what they believed were the five most important human rights.

Students first reviewed and rated the rights individually and then worked in pairs and then groups to see if they could reach consensus on five rights. This was an excellent way to get the students to better understand all the rights in the declaration through considered debate and discussion.

STHGIR’s ATTACK

 

Working to reach consensus

Even though it was a bit cold outside, it was now time to go outside in search of “metaphors.” Once outside we were asked to find an object which students could describe from a variety of perspectives and to write descriptions of each in the appropriate “room,” such as the Sound Room or the Feelings Room. This was a wonderful way to allow students to discover the concept of metaphor without simply telling them what it was.

Looking for Metaphors

I am a rock?

Learning about metaphors

Once back in class, students excitedly presented their own creations as part of the Class Economy unit. Here they had a chance to “sell” and “buy” items they created to one another. The activity required creativity, thinking about marketing and entrepreneurship, and through the process the students learned about commerce.

So that was our day in a nutshell. What is hard to convey is how much fun it was to learn in this dynamic and focused environment, where the learning of each student was nurtured and supported and where the students could safely take risks and learn from their trials and errors.

Agenda for our day with Mr. Malone

Oh, I forgot to mention, recess and lunch. They were fun too!

Thanks to Mr. Malone, Maria and grade 4 for an amazing day! I learned a lot!

With Mr. Malone and Grade 4

Thanks Maria!

Maria and me

The most important message. Dr. Jane Goodall at the International School of Prague

Jane Goodall at ISP

Jane Goodall at ISP

“We have harmed your future. If you believe that, you’re absolutely right. And you may have heard it said, ‘We haven’t inherited our planet from our parents, we’ve borrowed it from our children.’ If you’ve heard that, it’s not true. We haven’t borrowed your future, we’ve stolen it. And we’re still stealing it.

Do not believe that it’s too late. I believe there’s a window of time. I believe if we all get together and do our part that we can slow down climate change, that we can begin to restore the environment.” — Jane Goodall speaking to students at the International School of Prague

Four years ago I posted a blog about my first personal encounter with Dr. Jane Goodall during a teacher’s conference in Warsaw, Poland, In The Presence of Greatness.

It was moving to see Dr. Goodall lovingly interact with students from the American School of Warsaw, treating each child with genuine patience, kindness and care. Dr. Goodall expressed her belief, that the environmental damage our generation and previous generations have caused, could still be undone, and that we adults have an obligation to return to the next generation their rightful heritage, a pristine planet. Dr. Jane Goodall’s uplifting message, that each individual can make a difference and that our hopes for the future lie with the children of the world, reminds us of how every teacher can make a profound difference.

Dr Jane Goodall at CEESA Conference in Warsaw Photo by Matt Kollasch

Dr Goodall at CEESA Conference in Warsaw. Photo by Matt Kollasch

Since 1986, Dr. Goodall has travelled nearly 300 days a year on a perpetual world speaking tour, visiting over 30 countries just last year alone. She is a United Nations Messenger of Peace and Dame of the British Empire with innumerable awards and honors to her credit. Dr. Goodall’s work and her unique vision has been an inspiration to thousands of young people around the world. This past December, we had the honor to host Dr. Goodall at our school, the International School of Prague.

At ISP, Dr. Goodall, brought her message of environmental responsibility, the need to care for the animals of the world, as well as for each other, to all ISP community members. She of course spent most of her time with our young people, who represent the future of our planet, urging them to get involved with important causes and with her signature program Roots and Shoots. This year Roots & Shoots is celebrating its 25th anniversary, with more than 150,000 members in over 130 countries, all working on local and global service projects.

Here’s how Dr. Goodall described the Root and Shoots philosophy to our students:

“Young people themselves will decide what they want to do to make the world a better place. Each group will choose three projects, one to help people, one to help animals, and one to help the environment we all share.”

Dr. Goodall at ISP

Dr. Goodall at ISP

Below is the video of her full address to ISP students as well as answering questions from the students:

Ultimately Dr. Goodall’s message is a message of hope. Her message is that if we are not apathetic and are willing to take action, we can make a positive difference in the world.

“When hundreds and thousands and then billions are making ethical choices it does start to make a big difference. The most important message, is every single one of us makes a difference every single day.”

arnie-goodall-2

We look forward to supporting “Dr. Jane’s” mission which aligns with ISP’s mission, “to contribute responsibly to our changing world”, by developing a vibrant Roots and Shoots movement at ISP.

How do you learn to cook?

curiosity_bigg

I recently attended the ECIS (Educational Collaborative for International Schools) Educators Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the theme, Cultivating Curiosity.

ecis_confwebsite10-6-16

The theme of cultivating curiosity reminded me of one of ISP‘s (International School of Prague) strategic goals,

Curiosity drives what and how we learn.” 

It is through curiosity and personal relevance (another ISP strategy!), that all students, young and old, will be deeply engaged in the learning process. For students to take their own personal paths to learning in school, teachers must create rich environments and multiple learning paths to encourage and nurture curiosity.

The first keynote speaker at the ECIS conference, Dr. William Rankin, highlighted the paradigm shift schools need to make: From teaching and learning as a linear activity, to contextualizing learning within an ecosystem.

Bill Rankin

“Dr William Rankin is a speaker and independent consultant focusing on the impact of emerging educational technologies.”

In his talk, Rankin pointed out that the more educators and schools try to reduce information into easily “manageable” and discrete chunks, the more we actually reduce engagement, because this “goes against the way our brains were formed to work.” Rankin argues that learning requires an ecosystem, which similar to the world of nature, is Diverse, Relational, Balanced, Torsional, Dynamic and Substantial. Such a learning ecosystem is where relevance serves as a catalyst to stimulate curiosity and engagement.

Learning Ecosystems - Rankin

Learning Ecosystems – Rankin

To illustrate how the lack of relevance can be a mind-numbing experience, Rankin demonstrates how not to teach cooking. Each week the class is informed that they will learn about a different cooking tool: Week one is spoons; week two is knives; week three is pots and pans etc. By the end of the semester students don’t have the time to actually cook. Rankin asks his audience, “How many of you have been in that course?” Sadly, many hands are raised.

So “How do you learn to cook?” Rankin asks, “By cooking! You learn all that information, not first but while you are doing it.”

In the school of the future?

“Always cook from day 1!”

 

You can’t teach people everything they need to know.

convinced

As the school year begins, it is fitting and timely to call attention to an educational visionary and provocative thinker who recently passed away. For over a half century Seymour Papert led the call for schools to empower students to have greater control over their learning.

Seymour Aubrey Papert (February 29, 1928 – July 31, 2016) was a South African-born American mathematician, computer scientist, and educator, who spent most of his career teaching and researching at MIT.[1] He was one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, and of the constructionist movement in education. He was co-inventor, with Wally Feurzeig, of the Logo programming language. (Wikipedia)

In the early 70s, long before laptops or even desktop computers,  Papert saw the enormous potential and power of young people freely exploring and learning from and with this powerful new technology.

Beyond his advocacy for the integration of technology in schools, Papert vehemently believed that in any context, learning must firmly be in the hands of the learner.

The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a  student of the pleasure and benefit of discovery.

Papert was a visionary who had and continues to have a profound influence on the progressive direction schools have taken. The more we understand the workings of the brain and how learners learn best, the more Papert’s ideas about learning by doing and student empowerment take hold.

In the tradition of the great educational minds like John Dewey, Seymour Papert challenged educators to rethink the traditional school model, to “break away from the old patterns, where children were born as learners, they learned from their own energy until they went to school,  and when they went to school, the first thing they had to learn was to stop learning and begin being taught.”

You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it.

seymour-papert

 

Youth is NOT wasted on the young

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 12.56.22

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!