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Commencement Address

By David Henshall, Upper School math teacher
Good morning and welcome faculty, staff, administration, friends, family, distant relatives and minor acquaintances alike to the graduation ceremonies of the Class of 2016. Thank you all for coming, though if you are hoping for a comedy show you will be severely disappointed to know that the Joke of the Day performance will be taking place after the ceremony concludes.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I would like to poll the audience. As a Statistics teacher, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity while everyone is intently listening, for once, to ask some survey questions.

So here we go; first question, please raise your hand if you have ever set a goal for yourself. Class of 2016, take a good look around. Looks like just about everyone, including your teachers, has set goals at some point. Thank you and now for the second question: please raise your hand if you have ever failed to achieve a goal. Take another good look around soon-to-be graduates. Thank you again, and one final question: please raise your hand if you have learned something from failing to achieve a goal that you have set. Thank you.

I think that our informal survey has spoken for itself. People set goals, occasionally fail to achieve them, and learn something from the experience to help them not make the same mistake again. There you have the first takeaway from this speech, make mistakes and learn from them. Ultimately, you will learn more from your mistakes than your successes.

Not only that, but living in the moment helps as well. On the sophomore class trip to the Channel Islands, we went on a hike the first evening we were there and got to watch as the sun slowly crept towards the horizon as waves gently lapped against the base of the cliff. We watched as peregrine falcons soared majestically through the dying, orange light of the sun, and everyone that was on that trip can recall feeling a sense of wonder in the moment in time. Bill Watterson, the author and illustrator of the comic Calvin and Hobbes, once wrote in a panel, “We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take the time to enjoy where we are.” Be present in the moment more often, rather than concerning yourself with the mistakes of the past or the potential pitfalls of the future. The present is such a fleeting idea that most people do not even realize how incredible life can be when they are in the moment, so take a minute to appreciate your surroundings. For those keeping track, this is the second takeaway.

We are here at this moment in time, celebrating your successes of the past, present, and ones to come in the future. Enjoy the sunshine, the sights, sounds, and smells, the presence of those sitting next to you like blue and white sardines in a can. Remember those feelings and the genuine love that is emanating from everyone this morning.

Individually, each one of you is awesome. You all have distinctive skills and qualities that make you unique; you are CIF champions, school record holders, hilarious actors, stupendous singers, brilliant club leaders, selfless philanthropists, willing volunteers, and have garnered more accolades that I can even begin to fully list. Collectively though, you are so much more. You openly embrace each and every person that you come into contact with. The faculty and I have felt and seen it; it is the way that you open your arms to welcome new students and new members to this community. It is in the way you interact with guests when they come to visit. It is the way that many of you say thank you at the end of a challenging class or assessment. You have cultivated this environment and the community along with it and refined what it means to be a senior class.

You are more than a class, you have become a family.

The perfect example of this inclusivity and sense of family was only a week ago, at the Pop Rock concert. For those of you who did not have the pleasure of witnessing the seniors’ medley of Disney songs as a way of saying thank you and goodbye to Carrie Dietsch, you missed one of the most heartwarming and emotional moments that I have witnessed in a long time. The outpouring of love, warmth, and respect was magical, and this is just one specific example of many that show how much affection this senior class has for teachers and members of this community.

Everyone in the school is better for you having been here, and words cannot begin to describe how thankful the community is for everything you have done for it. You have raised the standard for what it means to be a senior class to a level that I view as nearly unobtainable. The proverbial shoes will be extremely difficult for future classes to fill.

As you begin on your journey through the rest of your life, remember what it felt like to be a part of this community and how you were able to remain your own person while being a part of something bigger. Recall the sports teams you played on, the community services projects you dove headfirst into, the clubs you ran with all of your being, and the crazy things you have done with all of your friends and the rest of this class. Remember how wonderful that felt and the connections you made. Find a group that you feel a part of, which also allows you to remain true to who you are; but at the same time, and this is takeaway number three, build your own community. Recreate the family feel that collectively you have established, as was shown with your rapt attention and overwhelming support you demonstrated to each other during senior speeches in the Blackbox. Dare to be great and the community and family that you have shaped will support you no matter the outcome.

Class of 2016, you have made me and many others on campus feel as though I am a part of a larger family, and I could not be more grateful. I started here at the same time as you entered ninth grade, and I had the privilege and honor of watching you grow from wide-eyed freshmen, some of whom were unfortunate enough to have me for Algebra I, IB, or Geometry, into the poised and mature seniors that currently sit on this stage. I have watched and supported you as a teacher, advisor, coach, mentor, and more often than not, loud cheerleader. My mastery of the English language is woefully inadequate when it comes to trying to describe your essence as a class. For the last four years, you have grown into the beating heart of the entire school and are the epitome of everything that this institution stands for, and the campus will never be the same once you leave it as graduates.

As you move on from this experience and begin a new adventure, set goals and learn from your achievements or failures. Live in the moment and enjoy the little things as they happen; revel in the present and have fun. Build your own community and family wherever you go and surround yourself with great people.

Make it happen.
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