The impetus for this post came from the summer graduation we just held at my school. Graduation (as many of us believe) is usually all about the pomp and circumstance and that special night where a rite of passage is celebrated among our peers. In fact, I have been heard countless times explaining to the students that graduation is not about them, but their parents getting to see this event. I have come to realize however, that we have graduations all the time as individuals. Which leads me to the following reflection:
It is the large personal victories that are often celebrated in the company of the few or even ourselves that forge us into the successful people we wish to become. As an educator, am I supporting those I teach or lead enough so that they may experience more rather than fewer of these moments?
Something happened to me today at our summer graduation. Thirteen additional students (including one from a rival school) who had already graduated came in their caps and gowns to be with and show support for the student graduating. I was touched so much by this display of friendship and respect that I altered the original speech I was going to give on the spot. It made me realize the importance of intimate personal celebrations of those traits I truly believe make a person successful. It also made me wonder, as I looked at this individual, how much of a difference I could have made if I had made a stronger connection. The speech I had prepared was as follows:
I want to start this off by saying that yes, this venue is smaller and more relaxed than what occurred in June, however the importance of what this student has done is just as great.
It is important to realize that while there are no great crowds cheering or a stage to walk up on, the most important individuals are here and as a result, the more intimate, personalized nature of this and what it took to get here makes it that much more meaningful.
Educators often talk about getting second chances, making mistakes, and continuing to learn. I often think about summer graduation as a time to recognize those students who did something special…they failed to make it on time, but didn’t quit. So, they got a second chance and took advantage of it. They made some academic mistakes, but eventually got where they needed to be.
The most difficult part is something that is yet to come; continuing to learn. You see, we only get better by making mistakes if we learn from them.
Take a look into the audience and notice who is here. They are your support system. They have stood behind you the whole way. Make sure you take advantage of that fact by moving forward with this diploma.
Life will not always give second chances so take what you have learned here…that you can do whatever you set your mind to…and be successful now; not tomorrow, not someday, but start now. Take advantage of every opportunity because they don’t always come around. You have worked too hard to get to this point, so make good use of your effort.
Congratulations and I look forward to hearing stories of how far you have gone after leaving here and making something great of the effort you put forth to get this far.
What I said was similar, but more personalized. How could it not be as I stood there looking at this student who was in my advisory group during their freshmen year. This student who is very smart, but ran into difficulties. This student is a prime example of how easy it is for people to lose their way…and how quickly it happens.
I looked at this student; sitting there celebrating an important success in a smaller, personal venue and wondered about the lesson taught. It appeared to have been learned, but more importantly was it understood so that it could be leveraged for future success?
I looked at this student sitting there and thought about the various initiatives/programs we have been creating to head off this type of experience.
I looked at this student and thought…am I doing enough to educate all students in a way that helps them ignite their inner drive…one small celebration after another. The difference between success and failure is the distance between our questions and actions.
We always push students to ask how they can be better. How often do we ask ourselves? It looks as if summer graduation taught more than one lesson to more than one person this year and for that I am grateful.