graduation

Where is my home?

gradZofin Palace

As is the tradition in countless schools and universities around the world, ISP recently convened its graduation ceremony for the class of 2016. We are fortunate indeed to have the opportunity to honor and celebrate with our graduates and their families in one of the most beautiful cities in the world Prague, in one its splendid landmark buildings, Zofin Palace.

Each year students, teachers and administrators have an opportunity to share our thoughts about the graduates and their futures. While there were many eloquent speeches to choose from, below I reprint Isabella Wilkinson’s address, which I will call, “Where is my home?”

Bella, speaks to the anticipation of our graduate’s bright futures and to the questions many are asking. Enjoy!

Kde domuv muj? Where is my home? – Isabella Wilkinson

Isabella Wilkinson speaking for her fellow graduates

Isabella Wilkinson speaking for her fellow graduates

Question everything. Remain curious. Strive to understand what you know, and what you don’t, and why. Perhaps these are the greatest and most profound lessons ISP has taught us over the past few years, as its students: to keep our eyes wide open to the changing world around us; to always have the curiosity to ask questions and to retain the energy to pursue their answers no matter what.

Today, the Class of 2016 stands on the edge of the rest of their lives, ready to go off into the world to find answers to the unanswered, to question the unquestionable. Seated before you today are the world’s future leaders, engineers, writers, doctors, artists, politicians, all of whom will strive to have unprecedented and unimaginable impact on the world around them. Each of us is prepared to go off into the world with open and questioning minds, prepared to ask our own questions and prepared to seek our own answers.

However, amidst the uniqueness of our graduating class as individuals, there is a single unanswered question that I believe truly defines us as a group and brings us all together: a question that should be recognized today as we are poised to step bravely into the future. To be honest, it’s one of the hardest questions we’ve faced yet…and this is said after taking this year’s IB exams! Whether it appears on a university application form, in an interview or even just in casual conversation, this is a question many of us will never be able to answer in just one word:

“So, where is home?” Or: “So, where are you from?”

ISP has given us the confidence to question everything. That’s how we know our identity can’t be defined just by the nationality and birthplace on our passports, or by the places our family lives, or by the languages we speak. Knowing who we are can be so much more complicated than that. Or, it was, until very recently.

As said earlier, the class seated before you today is standing before the rest of their lives. It’s inevitable: within the next few months, the Class of 2016 will have dispersed themselves all over the globe, to study, to work, to pursue new adventures, to meet new people, to grow and to learn, to ask questions and seek answers. Change is on the horizon. But before you take a leap of faith, you look down to see where your feet are. And on the edge of this great unknown, we can’t help but look down to see where we’re standing. It’s really true that you only know and appreciate what you have and what you’re a part of when it’s time to let it go, and move on.

So, today, as we graduate, we can ask the previously unanswerable question once again, a final time for now. “So. Where is home?” Now, when asked “where’s home?” we can think of days spent. We remember the morning breaks spent laughing about the weekend’s events in the cafeteria with our best friends, the lunchtimes spent cramming for tests together on the floor of the senior lounge, the evenings spent endlessly exploring the beautiful city we’re so lucky to be a part of with people we’re so lucky to have in our lives.

Now, when asked “where’s home?” we can think of people. We remember the ISP family; the teachers that have helped us become the people we are today with patience and encouragement, who have believed in us and inspired us beyond words; the families that have given us the love, support and motivation we’ve needed to achieve our goals; the friends that have made us cry with laughter along the way, with whom we’ve made unforgettable memories with. We remember the post-graduates who sat where we are seated today and the way they’ve become part of an enduring and special network that neither time nor distance will end.

Now, when asked “where’s home?” we can think of feelings. We remember the nervous excitement as we walked up the back stairs to the freshmen hallway for the first time; the exhilaration of moving up a grade; the growing unease about our final exams; and now, the nervous excitement as we move upwards once again.

Now, when asked “where’s home?” we can think of moments. We remember the moments of discovery, of realisation, of learning and of growth; we remember the moment we realised a long-awaited answer to a long-term question. We remember the moments that have made us who we are as people.

This is one of them. Over the past few months, as we have been prepared to let go of ISP, a lot of things have been labeled as their ‘last’: the last IB class, the last IB exam, the last cafeteria lunch with friends, the last goodbye to the senior lounge, and the last time walking through the halls of ISP as a student.

Well, as for last words, there isn’t much left to say but this: In the words of the Czech national anthem – words that have no doubt grown close to our hearts in the past few years:

Kde domuv muj? Translation: where is my home?

Now, all there is left to say is thank you. Thank you, ISP, for helping us answer that question. Thank you, ISP, for being a home.

 

 

The Fourth “I”

ISP Graduation, Palac Zofin, Prague

ISP Graduation, Palac Zofin, Prague

Each year, at graduation time we ask ourselves, “How well have we prepared our students for the future?” Given the unprecedented rate of change in the world, this is a question with no easy answer. My graduation address to the class of 2015, at the stunning Palac Zofin in Prague, was an attempt to perhaps point them in the right direction:

Every parent wants their child to be happy and successful, or as we say at ISP to “lead healthy, fulfilling and purposeful lives.” Each year when graduation time comes around, we consider how well we’ve been able to prepare our children and our students for the future. These days we may also wonder, “What does it take to live a successful life in the twenty-first century?”

10 years ago, two books which became international bestsellers, attempted to articulate how the world had changed, as well as identify the skills necessary to navigate today’s new world. In The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, Thomas Friedman argued that the twenty-first century is more than an evolved twentieth century, but is a world transformed.

 medieval depiction of the Ecumene (1482, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver)

A medieval depiction of the Ecumene (1482, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver)

Friedman begins his book with a sense of discovery:

Columbus reported to his king and queen that the world was round, and he went down in history as the man who first made this discovery. I returned home and shared my discovery only with my wife, and only in a whisper. “Honey,” I confided, “I think the world is flat.”

Friedman goes on to explain:

“It is now possible for more people than ever to collaborate and compete in real time with more other people on more different kinds of work from more different corners of the planet and on a more equal footing, than at any previous time in the history of the world.”

In other words, how we interact and how we work has turned each of us into global neighbors and has irrevocably altered how we communicate and how we relate to one another.

Roughly at the same time that The World is Flat was published, Dan Pink, in his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, set out to articulate the new 21st Century skills that are required to function in the flat world.

Here’s how Pink put it:

“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind—computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

The Human Body and Health 1908

The Human Body and Health 1908

Pink challenged us to question whether the traditional paths to success are still viable. He challenged us to question whether today’s graduates can really map out and predetermine their future paths.

What does this mean to you, our graduates? You have a better grasp of the world you are entering than any generation before you. You are tech savvy and well-connected to the digital world and to each other. You are interconnected in ways we could only dream of just a short decade ago, when the World is Flat was written. But the world requires more than technologists and well-connected digital citizens, and it also requires more than the 3Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic, that were considered crucial when my generation went to school.

France 1901

School of the Future, France 1901

To be clear, I still believe that the traditional literacies are important. But I would argue, that in today’s world where change is the new normal, what you might call the 3I’s, Imagination, Innovation and Initiative, is imperative.

  1. Imagination, to foresee and dream about what might be and to think creatively
  2. Innovation, to prototype and take risks with new ideas
  3. Initiative,taking an entrepreneurial approach to one’s endeavors.

Now more than ever, the new literacies such as the 3I’s can open new pathways to not only how we work but even how we live our lives. Over 50 years ago futurist Alvin Toffler foresaw the new literacies when he said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

 Gary Waters/Getty

Gary Waters/Getty

But dear graduates, there is a critical 4th “I” which I believes carries even greater weight, and that is Integrity, or as the dictionary defines it, “the adherence to moral and ethical principles.” Of course maintaining a moral compass is not a new concept, in fact it is as old as humanity. But while change is everywhere, a consistent set of values and principles, will not only keep you afloat, but like a ship’s rudder will help guide you and truly serve you well in good times and in bad.

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Graduates, in the rush and excitement to get on with your lives and succeed, don’t lose sight of your values. Know what they are and hold them dear like a precious jewel, especially when you are challenged with the inevitable moral dilemmas that you will face in the future. This I believe is the main ingredient of a healthy, fulfilling and purposeful life.

A Once in a Lifetime Day

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!

PALÁC ŽOFÍN

PALÁC ŽOFÍN

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 Sandburg

To 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

ISP Graduating Class 2014

ISP Graduating Class 2014

The Dreamers

Class of 2013

ISP Class of 2013

During the recent International School of Prague graduation ceremony at Zofin Palace, I had the privilege to address the assembled graduates, families, faculty and guests. My words focused on our graduates’ dreams for the future:

The last few months have not doubt been a whirlwind experience for you. With university applications, preparing for and taking exams, and all the many things that happen during the senior year, it’s been a very hectic time.

After 14 years at ISP or at other schools, the landscape of your lives is now about to change. Many of you will immediately go on to university, often far away from family and friends. Some of you will take on different valuable life experiences.

What an exciting and scary time this is for you and your families! Whatever path you are about to embark on, you are entering a new stage in your lives. As one student put it, you are diving into the river of life!

Each of our graduates has their hopes and dreams for the future…Many things have been said about dreams

Philosophical: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. Henry Thoreau

Mystical: Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. Kahil Gibran

Poetic: Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly. Langston Hughes

Darwinian: Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them. John Updike

So dreams are natural to human beings, but they are also fleeting things, are they not? I find it curious that when referring to our future aspirations we talk about our dreams. But dreaming is what we do when we’re asleep. Dreams are usually vague and impressionistic, not concrete.

Why would we evoke dreams to describe our hoped-for future? The answer of course, is that our vision for the future has not yet been realized. And you will only know if your dreams have been realized by looking back on your life. This is not a bad thing, because our dreams shift and transform over time as we ourselves do.

Let us also remember that your dreams are profoundly intertwined with the hopes and dreams of your friends and families and especially your parents. They too have hopes and dreams about your future.

And they will certainly have advice for you…which I urge you to seriously take into account. After all your parents have had their life experiences and have learned a thing or two along the way. And while the times have changed from when your parents were children, good advice and wisdom is precious and timeless.

Speaking of timeless wisdom, I’d like to read to you a poem written over a century ago, by Eugene Field, called The Dreams. It speaks of two different but intertwined dreams shared silently between a parent and a child

Two dreams came down to earth one night
From the realm of mist and dew;
One was a dream of the old, old days,
And one was a dream of the new.

One was a dream of a shady lane
That led to the pickerel pond
Where the willows and rushes bowed themselves
To the brown old hills beyond.

And the people that peopled the old-time dream
Were pleasant and fair to see,
And the dreamer he walked with them again
As often of old walked he.

Oh, cool was the wind in the shady lane
That tangled his curly hair!
Oh, sweet was the music the robins made
To the springtime everywhere!

?Was it the dew the dream had brought
From yonder midnight skies?
Or was it tears from the dear, dead years
That lay in the dreamer’s eyes?

The other dream ran fast and free,
As the moon benignly shed
Her golden grace on the smiling face
In the little trundle-bed.

For ‘t was a dream of times to come–
Of the glorious noon of day–
Of the summer that follows the careless spring
When the child is done with play.

And ‘t was a dream of the busy world
Where valorous deeds are done;
Of battles fought in the cause of right,
And of victories nobly won.

It breathed no breath of the dear old home
And the quiet joys of youth;
It gave no glimpse of the good old friends
Or the old-time faith and truth.

But ‘t was a dream of youthful hopes,
And fast and free it ran,
And it told to a little sleeping child
Of a boy become a man!

These were the dreams that came one night
To earth from yonder sky;
These were the dreams two dreamers dreamed–
My little boy and I.

And in our hearts my boy and I
Were glad that it was so;
He loved to dream of days to come,
And I of long ago.

So from our dreams my boy and I
Unwillingly awoke,
But neither of his precious dream
Unto the other spoke.

Yet of the love we bore those dreams
Gave each his tender sign;
For there was triumph in his eyes–
And there were tears in mine!

As a parent, I can relate to the bittersweet message of this poem. Parents and children are at the same time so close yet apart, each with their own dreams that hopefully can in some ways intertwine. So graduates perhaps on behalf of your parents I can say to you, go and live your dreams and remember those who love you. Because with their love, experience and wisdom, they can help you reach your dreams

Congratulations and thank you!