Friday, June 29, 2012

Commencement Address

This past Thursday, J.N. Burnett Secondary School had its Commencement ceremony to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of the Graduation class of 2012.  It was indeed a spectacular evening, highlighted by the stunning accomplishments of this incredible group of young adults, the moving musical tribute performed by graduate Anna Toth, and the Valedictorian address by Justin Wang.

I, too, had the opportunity to address this special group of individuals, and am pleased to share it below.

Good evening distinguished members of the platform party, staff, family and friends. To J.N. Burnett Secondary’s graduating class of 2012 we say “Congratulations.”  It is an honour to be addressing such an outstanding group of young people.
To begin, I must acknowledge that it has been a difficult year for education in British Columbia.  However, what has become evident during these trying times is how fortunate we are at Burnett to be working with such a caring staff and exceptional student body. I can honestly say that the staff and students of Burnett have faced the many challenges with amazing consideration for each other and with the resolve to persevere. You, the graduating class, have shown yourselves to be wondrously talented and courageously determined.  You have risen above the obstacles before you and prepared yourselves admirably. 
It has truly been a privilege to work with you and to watch you grow these last 5 years.  And yes, many of you are snickering, thinking that I have had a bird’s eye view of you. It’s true...I do (some of you think I can see everything).  But, from my perch, the qualities you have demonstrated are the ones that I, and others, have seen and commended.
You have ideas for how your life will unfold, and those plans may change hundreds of times over your remaining years.  Yet, as I look around this auditorium, I cannot help but notice the pride shining from the faces of those people in your lives who are so invested in your present and future decisions.  This certainly includes your teachers and me, but even more so, your parents and family. 
As a father myself, I now view life events through the lens of parenthood. So you will understand that when I recently read an article entitled “10 Things You Won’t Hear at Your Commencement Ceremony” I was especially drawn to Number seven on this list that I actually do want you to hear.  The author, Charles Wheelan, writes: “Your parents and other adults in your life who care about you don’t want what’s best for you. They want what is good for you, which isn’t always the same thing. There is a natural instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore to urge safe choices.”
Allow me to share a story from my own life to illustrate.  Many of you have perhaps noticed the scars on my neck and wondered how I got them. Well, when I was nine-years-old, my dad took my sister and I out for a bike ride. That November day, I lost control of my bike and fell out into the road; I was struck by a car.  It was very traumatic and I was seriously injured and hospitalized for a long time. 
Naturally, since then, my parents have always been very uneasy when I get on a bike. Just two weeks ago, when I participated in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a bike ride from Vancouver to Seattle, it would be an understatement to say that my parents would have much preferred that I not go.  Understandably, they wanted what was good for me -- staying safe. It was difficult for my folks to contemplate what was best for me, which was getting back on my bike, training and being healthy, and meaningfully remembering a friend who had lost his battle with cancer. 
Mr. Wheelan continued, ‘Theodore Roosevelt—American soldier, explorer, president—once remarked, "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed." Great quote, but I am willing to bet that Teddy's mother wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer’ because this is what parents and the adults who care about you desire—your protection, safety and security.  Sometimes we need to be pushed or to push ourselves; we need to risk failure. Then we learn; and we become stronger and wiser. 
So what is the purpose of me telling you about my experiences and the article by Mr. Wheelan?  It is not to indict the adults in your lives (your parents and teachers) for wanting what is good for you instead of what is best for you.  Nor am I recommending that you be reckless.  I am encouraging you to find yourselves and your passions, push yourselves toward greatness and not to be afraid or quit if and when you encounter failures.  Remember, life is not about who makes the fewest mistakes.  It is about how you respond to those challenges.
As I close, it is fitting to note the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage….  To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 
Grads of 2012, we know that you have been equipping yourselves to face the many challenges and the endless possibilities available to you.  We want to wish you the very best. Thank you for your significant contributions to the school and the community and we congratulate you for reaching this important milestone in your lives.  Know that we are all extremely proud of you.
Now go out there, live with courage and make a positive difference in the world, because, to quote many of you over the last several months… “YOLO”.  I will let you explain that term to your parents. 

Thank you and Congratulations!

PS-thank you to the editor of the above notes (you know who you are!).  Also a big thank you to the people who worked so hard behind the scenes to pull off the event, and to the grad class who made the efforts so worthwhile!  Enjoy a relaxing and fun-filled summer and best wishes for your future!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Another Epic Journey

Last weekend, as a welcomed respite from the hectic schedules many of us have been keeping as another school year comes to a close, several friends, colleagues and I took part in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer in support of the BC Cancer Foundation.

This year (the fifth edition of the event) was a record-setter in more ways than one.  3,011 riders plus countless volunteers raised over 11.2 million dollars and set out to cover the 242 kilometers between Cloverdale's Fraser Downs Park and Redmond's Marymoor Park.  Team Bodin, the team founded in memory of our good friend Lorne Bodin, was comprised of 14 members (riders and volunteer crew), and raised $26,562

Many of us rode last year, and were so inspired by the experience, decided to do it again.  After the cold and wet of 2011, most of us were certain that the weather could only be better this time around.  We were wrong.  While slightly warmer, Saturday had significantly more rain this year, and while it did not impact the ride (because once you are wet, you are wet!!), the campsite in Mount Vernon was a challenge.  We arrived after pedalling through adverse conditions, only to see the weather worsen in the tent-city that had been set up for us.  The baseball field we were inhabiting eventually turned into a mud-pit.  With thousands of people huddled under shelter and lining up to get food and use the bathrooms, it was impossible to stay dry or get clean.  But none of the inconveniences brought on by the weather could dampen the enthusiasm of the group as we all sat together, shared stories and listened to inspiring speakers.

Sunday was much more dry, and the pleasant riding conditions made day two very enjoyable.  After journeying through the beautiful farm and parklands of Western Washington, we rolled into our destination of Redmond around 2:00 PM, cheered in by enthusiastic supporters and family.  Emotions ran high as we all thought of who we were honouring and what we were trying to do.  

It truly was an epic journey, one that has created memories for me that will last a lifetime.  Thanks to every one of the team members for sharing the experience with me, and to all of the donors and contributors whose generosity allowed it to happen, and whose donations are making a difference.  Let's keep up the good fight!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

PAC Legacy Scholarship Presentations

The past two and a half months have been hectic and as a result I have not been able to give much attention to this blog.  As a new Principal, I have been working, for the first time, through complicated and sensitive issues surrounding staffing (downsizing and layoffs, plus posting and hiring), timetable issues, Commencement planning and speeches plus all of the regular end-of-year stressors (which this year have been further complicated by the continued labour unrest between the BCTF and the Provincial Government).  To say the learning curve has been steep would be a massive understatement.  At times I have felt overwhelmed and have questioned my abilities and decisions.  I suppose, however, that the second-guessing and constant analyzing and thinking is a positive part of the reflective process that goes with learning new things and challenging oneself.

Despite the long hours and restless nights, I have continued to enjoy what I do and the people with whom I work and learn.  One such event that reaffirmed my love of this job was held this past Wednesday evening.  Our Parent Advisory Council (PAC) held its annual PAC Legacy Scholarship Presentations for any Grade 12 students who wished to share with parents their Graduation Transitions documents.  The evening was attended by eleven parents (volunteers from PAC and anyone else who was interested), and 20 students.  The library was set up so that parents could rotate around tables and have brief question and answer sessions with students who were presenting  reflections upon their years in school.  The six most interesting and engaging presentations (as decided upon by the parent group) were chosen as recipients of a $500 PAC Legacy Scholarship.  Though I was not evaluating the presentations, I did have the opportunity to observe and have informal conversations with many of the students and parents.

I was thoroughly impressed.  There were students who were preparing to go to school next year in faraway places like the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and University of Hong Kong.  There were aspiring Doctors and Scientists plus several Artists, Fashion Designers and future Youth Counsellors.  Among the most inspiring were the stories of students who have overcome feelings of isolation when they arrived in Canada understanding very little English.  There was also a student who demonstrated and talked about his love of the VEX Robotics extra-curricular program that he was a founder and leader of.  There were students who talked about the changes they had gone through on their journey towards adulthood, including one who had fallen in with a group of friends early in his school life that led to some poor decision-making.  His family intervened and set him up with Richmond's Integrated Youth Services Society, a charity founded by Esther Ho which looks to  support new immigrant children by introducing them to causes like the Personal Growth Youth Pilgrammage to Yunnan, China.  The student has now been overseas and is actively involved in fundraising to help bring a high-school education to students in rural China.  Talk about a life-changing experience!  Others talked about how much they had grown from their experiences in Leadership classes and when they were given opportunities to be role models for younger students in events like our Grade 8 Retreat.  

In each of the conversations I had with students, I asked them after their presentation was over what was one memory of school that they would recall 15-20 years from now.  In each case, the answer was "the people".  I also asked what they were most proud of from their time in school.  In most cases the response was "I surprised myself by how much I overcame and improved".  I was pleased to hear that the students will remember the relationships formed in these years and was reminded of the article written by Charles Wheelan that is getting a great amount of attention in the Twitter world now.  The article is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Graduation speeches.  Titled "Ten Things Your Commencement Speaker Won't Tell You", item number seven rings true for me and I thought of it frequently when speaking with our Graduates.  It refers to how the "Adults in your life don't want what is BEST for you, they want what is GOOD for you".  Too often, our children and students are protected from failure and risk by the adults in their lives.  We do this with the best of intentions, but if we push them a little, and allow them to fail and learn from their mistakes, they will surprise themselves and us with what they can accomplish.  The presentations from Wednesday night confirmed that if we allow them, our students can and will go above and beyond, even if their first attempt may not have ended with a positive result. 

What a fantastic evening it was!  Thank you to the parents who invited me to attend, and especially to the students who once again inspired and reinvigorated me with their stories, aspirations and reflections upon their time with us.  As an entire group, you will be fondly remembered.  Best of luck in your future endeavours.  These last few weeks will be a blur for you.  Study hard but slow down and enjoy the moment.  The memories and relationships you will take from here will last a lifetime.