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24 minutes reading time (4739 words)

AHS commencement: McKnight, O’Rourke, Weiss, Kirchner, Graceffa, Janger, MacNeal

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What did some of the speakers at Arlington High School graduation on June 2 have to say? Read the available speeches here:

Some wisdom after 25 years

AHS graduation 2018, with addresses logo

Paul McKnight, Collomb House dean and teacher of English:

Thank you, graduates of the Class of 2018, for allowing me the chance to speak to you on this most special day. It means a great deal to be able to congratulate you all, to say how proud of you I am, and to offer some words at this, the conclusion of your time at Arlington High School.

I do, first, want to acknowledge Ms. Joanna Begin and the tremendous work she has done to organize this ceremony. It’s a daunting task and she does it with thoughtfulness and with love.

'Watching you grow'

I really couldn’t get started writing this speech until I made a list of all the students in this class who I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over the past four years: those of you I taught in English class, those of you I’ve worked with in Student Council, those of you I’ve met incidentally along the way.

It turned out to be a long list; and I realized that--more than any other year--I had the distinct experience of having many you as freshmen AND juniors--of knowing many of you from the first to this, the last, day of high school, and watching you grow into the young men and women you’ve become.

As I made the list, I thought of the many hardships you have endured on this journey, the challenges you have overcome--some of them profound enough to put this day in doubt. It’s not been an easy ride. Today was never guaranteed. Your arrival is all the more meaningful for it. You have good reason to be proud of yourselves.

This graduation is especially meaningful for me as it marks the near-conclusion of 25 years as a classroom teacher. The change comes with mixed emotions. I certainly hope that I’m not, in the ridiculously-insightful words of Pink Floyd, exchanging “a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage.”

I do hope that a new role allows me to keep growing and to continue to serve the students of AHS in a community that I’ve come to consider a home. But I exit the classroom never quite becoming the teacher I wanted to be, never quite living up to the awesome responsibility of that work.

When I was new in this profession, I stumbled upon a book that was full of practical advice for beginning language arts teachers. Today, it’s not the content but the title that I’m thinking about. It was called Making the Journey: Being and Becoming a Teacher of English. The author’s point with that title was this: It was going to take many years to master the craft--many years to become an English teacher. Meanwhile, you’ve got a class full of students on Monday morning, so you better be some kind of English teacher today.

Being and becoming

The paradox of both being and becoming resonates with me and describes the constant attempt to be a better teacher--if not a better person--each day. If I’m honest with myself--and with you--my motives aren’t all ones I’m proud of. I’m quick to envy colleagues with more talent or integrity; I’m driven by a nagging insecurity that haunts me like a shadowy twin. Envy and insecurity just as often result in paralysis than in growth. Fortunately, I’ve been surrounded by colleagues (and friends) who have taught me, by their example, by their actions and their words, how to harness those emotions to better instruct and care for our students.

But in this pursuit of becoming someone else, I have often neglected the importance of just being.

Living requires us all to both be and become, and that fact can create a lot of conflict in our lives.

We recognize the importance of simply being when we speak of “seizing the day,” “living in the moment,” when we remind ourselves to “stop and smell the roses” or that “the present is, after all, a gift.” If it were so easy to just be, though, we wouldn’t need quite so many reminders. For we are culture that is driven to become, forever propelling us forward, to, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “tomorrow . . . run faster, stretch out our arms farther.”

How often have we asked you to set goals? To plan for the future? Your parents might talk of five- and 10-year plans. Meanwhile, from preschool through to nursing homes, we’re practicing mindfulness and meditation.

'Living a good life now'

Most of you have spent a good deal of your time in high school preparing for college--and, of course, you had to--but I think we’ve forgotten that education is, in part, for living a good life now. Some of you have many more years of formal education ahead as you become ready for a career ; there’s a whole lot of living -- a whole lot of being--to be done in the meantime.

We emphasize being when we say be content with what you have, accept--or even love--yourself for you are--and accept others in the same way. And yet you’ve been told you can do better, that you’re not working to potential, that you should never stop improving, that there’s always room for growth.

It’s enough to make us crazy.

Am I OK the way I am or not? What is a person to do with such contradictory messages?

Do both and balance, I believe.

Be yourself today--be someone else, someone better, tomorrow.

Do the best you can with what you have today, do better tomorrow, and recognize perfection is almost always--as it should be-- beyond our grasp.

Talk about community

This applies not only to individuals but to groups as well. In your time at Arlington High School, there has been a lot of talk about community--what kind of community we are, what kind of community we aren’t, what kind of community we are trying to become. You have had to wrestle with difficult questions of identity, of diversity, of inclusion, of belonging.

Things have happened. (And not just the things you may think I’m thinking about.) People have done harm; people have been harmed; people have attempted to heal that harm. Conflicts have, at times, divided the class; some have worked to bridge those divisions.

Community is both a goal and the process by which we achieve that goal. A community is in a constant state of becoming, and even then, community is not and will never be harmony. I’m not condoning the most grievous injuries to the community, but we can use our failures to become a stronger community tomorrow.

If this class has had more than its share of struggles as a community, it is perhaps just as true that no class has fought harder for the kind of community we want to become.

We can recreate ourselves, our relationships, our communities, large and small, each day if we so choose. And if we do not all yet feel a responsibility to do so, at the very least, I hope we can recognize what our role is. I cannot say whether tomorrow will be brighter than today, but--as I look out over all of you-- I know that each and everyone of you has the capacity to make it so.

Thank you and, again, congratulations! 



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