Wednesday, June 06, 2007

ISA Class of 2007 Commencement Address

I was honored to be asked by the Class of 2007 to speak at their graduation. Here is the text of that speech.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part.

Yes, I'm the English teacher – therefore it is almost required to quote a little Shakespeare. In As You Like It, Jacques compares the world to a stage and life to a play, and catalogues the seven stages of a man's life: infant, school-boy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon, and second childhood, "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything". Shakespeare means that the world is nothing but a theatrical stage where we humans are actors. From our birth we enter the stage and keep on acting true to our age, until old age when we act the last scene. It is one of Shakespeare's most frequently-quoted passages. And very appropriate for tonight, when we celebrate the end of one stage of life and the moving on to another for these Seniors.

In taking my cue from Shakespeare, lets examine a little of the first stage of life for these students. They were born in 1988 or 89. Let's put this in perspective, using the Beliot College Mindset List. Each August since 1998, as faculty prepare for the academic year, Beloit College in Wisconsin has released the Beloit College Mindset List. This is a creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Public Affairs Director Ron Nief, it looks at the cultural touchstones that have shaped the lives of today’s first-year students. which is is used by educators and clergy and by the military and business in their efforts to connect with the new generation. Beloit creates the list to share with its faculty in anticipation of the first-year seminars and orientation.

  • The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.
  • For most of their lives, major U.S. airlines have been bankrupt.
  • There has always been only one Germany.
  • They have never heard anyone actually "ring it up" on a cash register.
  • They are wireless, yet always connected.
  • Thanks to pervasive headphones in the back seat, parents have always been able to speak freely in the front.
  • Coffee has always taken longer to make than a milkshake.
  • Smoking has never been permitted on U.S. airlines.
  • "Google" has always been a verb.
  • Text messaging is their email.
  • Bar codes have always been on everything, from library cards and snail mail to retail items.
  • Carbon copies are oddities found in their grandparents' attics.
  • Reality shows have always been on television.
  • They have always been able to watch wars and revolutions live on television.
  • They have always had access to their own credit cards.
  • They have never put their money in a "Savings & Loan."
  • Bad behavior has always been getting captured on amateur videos.
  • Disneyland has always been in Europe and Asia.
  • Dolphin-free canned tuna has always been on sale.
    Disposable contact lenses have always been available.
  • The U.S. has always been studying global warming to confirm its existence.
  • They grew up with virtual pets to feed, water, and play games with, lest they die.

Isn't is amazing how things change!

Then these children entered school. Hopefully, the lessons they have learned will go beyond the languages, math, sciences, and history, because, even though I am a teacher, I can admit that there is a lot more important things to life then the academics. I'd like to remind you of some of these lessons, as so eloquently written by Robert Fulghum, in his book All I Really Needed to Learn, I Learned in Kindergarten. And, even though you will be in college, these lessons are still important.

"All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.
These are the things I learned:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
[Source: "ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN" by Robert Fulghum. See his web site at ]

The next age, according to Shakespeare – is the lover. Or, what we would call -the adolescent. A time full of changes and challenges – choices and often, mistakes. A young teenager named Mai, wrote a wonderful poem summing up the importance of this time of “growing up”. Which, many of you are still “enduring.” Hopefully, you will take your own knowledge and experience to share with others on your same path.

Growing Up by Mai
Paths we take

Choices we make

Paths we take alone

Choices we make on our own

We all grow up and learnWe all take different turns

Turns in our path of life

Turns that may lead to strife

Problems we go through

Problems exists in other lives too

Having problems are not wrong

Having problems do not stay forever long

Conflicts causes growth in many ways

Lessons we learn will always stay

Conflicts we gain as years go on

Lessons we learn, makes us more strong

According to Shakespeare – the next age is the soldier - Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation.

Sounds a little like a college student's life – full of the new, different and strange. A time to build your reputation, character, and knowledge.
I'd like to give you a few down to earth tips for surviving and thriving in the next few years. Many we've talked about before. And for those of you who aren't college students yet – these tips work well in high school too!

Seniors, you don't have to take notes, as I have provided a copy of this for you!
Ten Tips You Need to Survive College
1. Begin the first day of class. Know what's expected of you. Take notes from the first day even if it's routine stuff you think you already know.

2. Establish a routine time to study for each class. For every hour you spend in class, you will probably need to study two hours outside class. Studying for each subject should be at the same time, same place, if possible. Study includes more than just doing your homework. You will need to go over your notes from by class, labeling, editing, and making sure you understand them. Study your syllabus daily to see where you are going and where you have been. Be sure to do reading assignments. (Don't put them off just because there's not a written assignment.) Read ahead whenever possible. Prepare for each class as if there will be a pop quiz.

3. Establish a place to study. Your place should have a desk, comfortable chair, good lighting, all the supplies you need, etc., and of course, should be as free of distractions as possible. It should not be a place where you routinely do other things. It should be only your study place.

4. Do as much of your studying in the daytime as you can. What takes you an hour to do during the day may take you an hour and a half at night.

5. Schedule breaks. Take a ten minute break after every hour of study. If possible, avoid long blocks of time for studying. Spread out several short study sessions during the day.

6. Make use of study resources on campus. Find out about and use labs, tutors, videos, computer programs, and alternate texts. Sign up for an orientation session in the campus library and computer facilities. Get to know your professors and advisors. Ask questions. "I didn't know," or "I didn't understand" is never an excuse.

7. Find at least one or two students in each class to study with. Studies show that students who study with someone routinely make better grades. You will probably find yourself more motivated if you know someone else cares about what you are doing in the class. Teaching a concept or new idea to someone else is a sure way for you to understand it. Studying in a group or with a partner can sometimes become too social. It is important to stay focused.

8. Study the hardest subject first. Work on your hardest subjects at a time when you are fresh. Putting them off until you're tired compounds the problem.

9. Be good to yourself. Studying on four hours of sleep and an empty stomach or junk-food diet is a waste of time. Avoid food and drink containing caffeine just before or just after studying.

The next age is that of justice – or what we would consider settling into adulthood.

Right now, you all are really focused on college. The goal has been to get into a good college, and now you are thinking about doing well, so you can get the job you want. But, one of the earmarks of being part of Generation Y is the rapid change going on around you, and you have the opportunity to take advantage of this – your working life will be much different from your parents. According to Ian Jukes, a futurist, teacher and writer, there some massive changes happening in the working world.

“How many of you had a parent that worked for the same company for more than 20 years? How many of you remember a time when people were expected to have a single career in their lifetime? Things certainly have changed. A US Department of Labor report in 2004 indicated that 1 out of 2 workers today has been working for the company that they are currently employed by for less than one year and that two in three have been working for the same company for less than five years. Former Secretary of Education Richard Riley was quoted in a recent speech as saying that the top ten in demands jobs for the year 2010 do not exist today – that as a result, we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems that they’ve never been introduced to. Most people assume that the estimate of 4 to 7 careers in a lifetime still applies today – this is wrong – the US Department of Labor now estimates that today’s learners can expect to have 10 to 14 career – not 10 to 14 jobs, but careers.

The new workplace requires lifelong learning. Just a few years ago, a university degree was a seeming guarantee of a job for life. Today a 4-year degree is just the beginning of a lifelong process. Today people can’t just earn a living, they must learn a living. So even though most of educational dollars and efforts seem to be focused on K-12 and undergraduate students, in reality, they are only a minority of the educational clientele. In the past ten years working adults have become the fastest growing group clients, measuring more than 50% of those seeking further training beyond high school.”

Yes – this means that you will NEVER be finished with your education!
Although Shakespeare goes on to discuss mature adults and the “second childhood” of old age, I think I will leave that to another time, as our time is short and your attention is wandering. But I would like to return to the first lines:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances...

Some of you have been at ISA for most of your school careers, others just joined us this year. But now it is time for your exits. It has been a joy and pleasure working with you and an honor to be chosen as your commencement speaker. I'd like to close with some words from the great philosopher and writer Dr. Seuss and one of the most common poems used in graduations as it has such heartfelt emotions:
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.
You'll look up and down streets. Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say, "I don't choose to go there."
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any
you'll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you'll head straight out of town.
It's opener there
in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen,
don't worry. Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.
You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.
You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Congratulations and good luck!

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