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!

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