Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Commencement 2013

Another year has come and gone, and as I reflect upon all that has transpired this year, I am truly grateful that I have the opportunity to work with the talented and professional students and staff at J.N. Burnett Secondary school in Richmond, BC.  This is the end of my 21st year in education, the 8th at Burnett and the second in the role of Principal.

Last year, as I concluded my first as a Principal, I felt I had endured what would be my most challenging year.  A year filled with job-action, labour unrest, a feeling of uncertainty as I tried to learn on the job, and teachers being unable to help us with so many of the responsibilities that are required every year.  We made it through those circumstances, and I felt quite confident that since teachers would be back volunteering their time, and I felt like I knew what I was doing a little better, the job would become easier.  I was wrong.  It has not been an easier year.  But it has been a more enjoyable year, and I feel like I have grown as a professional, the staff and school has continued to improve how they go about their business, and while I am more exhausted than ever before, I feel very good about where we are and what we are doing.

Despite the busy-ness of our work, I was reminded of why the job of "educator" is the best in the world at our Graduation ceremony last week.  Seeing the pride in the faces of the Graduates and their families, as well as the satisfaction the staff feels for helping shape the class into the group of young adults they have become; Commencement is truly a remarkable evening.  I continue to be impressed by our students and staff and want to thank them for making our school such a great place to be.  What follows are the words I shared with our audience at the ceremony last Thursday.
Good evening distinguished members of the platform party, staff, family and friends. To J.N. Burnett Secondary’s graduating class of 2013, we say, “Congratulations.”  It is a privilege to be addressing such an outstanding group of young people.

As we reflect upon the past year, it often becomes difficult to ignore the tragic stories that plague our headlines. Distressing news of the Sandy Hook School shootings, the Boston Marathon bombings and teen suicides across our country draw our attention. But, we are not defined by these disturbing acts; what is sometimes overlooked in each of these troubling situations are the countless acts of bravery, selfless heroism, and compassionate care displayed by regular people drawn together to make the world a better place.

Now, as I glance around this auditorium and consider the narratives that have filled the hallways of Burnett, I am reminded of the valuable stories that we have chosen to define us. Despite our individual struggles, we have come together to raise awareness through our drama performances and clubs. We have served brunch and performed for the seniors in our community; we have raised funds for the unmarked graves of veterans; and, these are just a few examples. You, the graduating class, have been a large part of these acts and you have shown yourselves to be wondrously talented and courageously determined. 

It has been a privilege to work closely with so many of you over the past five years. We are extremely fortunate at Burnett to be part of such a caring staff and exceptional student body. I can honestly say that the staff and students of Burnett have worked together to face their many challenges with amazing consideration for each other and with the resolve to make a positive difference in this world.

Tonight, I would like to share the words of a man whose story also inspires. His name was Jim Valvano. He was the compelling, charismatic and championship coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack Men’s Basketball Team. Valvano was diagnosed with terminal cancer but just a month before he passed away, he gave a simple yet powerful speech. He said, “Do three things everyday: Laugh. Think. Have your emotions moved to the point of tears.”

To Laugh - Working with all of you for the past 5 years, I have been given so many reasons to laugh. I know you all guffawed when I sang Baby, It’s Cold Outside at Santa’s Breakfast. There’s lots of chuckling around the school when, for example, you prepare for in-class presentations and practice for PE Dances and for the Glee Club Performances on Valentine’s Day (thanks for the brownie points that got me!).

To Think - Educators and students around the world are challenged to think deeply everyday, and we at Burnett are no exception. We have exchanged intelligent questions to make each other reflect upon how we do our work and how we live our lives. To quote Adlai Stephenson, “As you prepare to leave this place, do not forget why you came.” You came to school to learn – continue to do so. I encourage you to practice curiosity; strive to know things and persist in asking questions.

To Cryto have your emotions moved to the point of tears. This happens to me far more frequently than I would care to admit. As a want-to-be tough guy, I try to hide it, but on so many occasions, I swell with pride watching or listening as you give presentations, complete astounding achievements, and offer selfless assistance to each other and members of our community – a Remembrance Day Ceremony, and a Flash Mob performance in Chemistry class are just two examples of several that give rise to a few tears of deep appreciation and gratitude.

Grads of 2013, we know that you have been equipping yourselves to face the many challenges and the endless possibilities available to you.  And, you will face your critics. Contemplate and consider what others think of you, but do not be discouraged by what they think of you. Because, as Dr. Seuss writes: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”.   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 and live with courage – do good in this world. And if you remember only one thing from tonight, remember the words of Coach Valvano:
If you laugh, you think and you cry; that’s a full day.  That’s a heck of a day!  You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

Thank you and Congratulations!

To each of our Graduates, "Congratulations, thanks for all you have done and best wishes for your future".  And for those returning to Burnett again in the fall, enjoy a fun-filled and relaxing summer!!!