Last night's Westlake graduation was a beautiful celebration for students, parents and staff, as we ended one chapter and began another. While planning my graduation speech, I like to focus on a specific theme or point of advice for our graduates. This year I told graduates a message that I believe resonates with everyone.
As we end the 2017-18 school year, please take time to reflect, relax and maybe even take a pledge. Please see my remarks below.
Earlier this week, Dr. Jones was kind enough to let me review a draft of her speech. Listening to your remarks about being open to the unexpected, I am reminded of a quote by the Dalai Lama:
"Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values."
In other words, despite where the roads of life may lead you, always pledge to remain true to who you are.
So, in the next few moments, let me share some thoughts on how you can make and honor such a pledge to yourself.
Each weekend, I have a Saturday morning ritual - a jog along Lady Bird Lake. Last weekend, while jogging, I was half contemplating what words I would be sharing tonight. As I ran, I listened to a podcast, in which one of the speakers mentioned her 2017 commencement address to graduates of the University of Minnesota Medical School. I listened intently .... (Listen to podcast here)
During that ceremony, she was impressed with the pledge students of the class of 2017 had written when they started medical school. At the end of the four years, the class, as a collective project, has an opportunity to rewrite that initial pledge. But the Class of 2017, decided to keep intact the pledge they wrote four years earlier. Here is a section of that collective pledge:
"In the presence of our families, colleagues, and communities, we take this oath in recognition of the honor and privilege of becoming a physician. We will engage in honest self-reflection, striving for excellence but acknowledging our limitations, and caring for ourselves as we care for others. We will cure sometimes, treat often, and comfort always."
I really like the idea of this type of individual, or collective pledge. In our schools, we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and The Texas Pledge daily. And as meaningful as those are, they were written by others.
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, recently celebrated his daughter's birth with another kind of pledge, to give away 99-percent of his wealth. Which is why his baby daughter's first words were... "Is there room to negotiate that percent?"
I'm talking about a different kind of pledge, one that is more compelling, causing us to examine what we believe, the standards to which we hold ourselves, and what we might hope to accomplish in life.
It would have been interesting if the Westlake High School Class of 2018 wrote a pledge, at the beginning of high school, or even in kindergarten. What would it have said? .... And then 4 (or 12) years later, given a chance to rewrite it, would you, and how would it have been revised?
While we cannot go back in time, we do have the opportunity to expend some effort this summer, as an individual, to write a pledge to yourself, and possibly to your community or family, however each is defined.
If I could offer some suggestions for an individual pledge, it would parallel some of the thoughts from medical students of the University of Minnesota.
First, engage in honest self-reflection. Interestingly, after we state the pledge, it is immediately followed by a moment of silence. We could use more silence in this world and definitely more honest self-reflection. Each year, for the last 20, I have tried to find one weekend a year for a silent retreat – no technology, no internet, no cell phone. I don't even take Mr. Ramsey's calls that weekend! There is great value in quieting the mind and reflecting honestly on where you are at the moment and where you hope to be in the future. And guess what? The world is still turning when I emerge from my retreat. Take that time for yourself as you are able.
Part of that reflection, might well include another element of the medical students' pledge and my second recommendation: Strive for excellence but acknowledge your limitations. The students sitting in this room are blessed with great talents, skills and possibilities. Many of your family and friends will rightly, and proudly, note the gifts you possess. But a wise person needs to also understand one's limitations.
Without knowing those, we will not see where to focus our efforts as we strive for excellence or what we might need to work on in our own personal development.
A third element, that I would borrow from the medical students is to care for ourselves as we care for others. A version of the Golden Rule. When we care for others as we care for ourselves, we learn to empathize and identify with others. We become true, responsible citizens. The white cords you are wearing tonight are a reflection of what you have already accomplished for others. Keep that going. You don't have to be Zuckerberg to make an impact.
Finally, I'd add one point that I would like you to "be open to" that was not in the excerpt I read, but one that has served me well: Cultivate your curiosity. We live in an amazing world that is changing rapidly. Curiosity leads us to discoveries small and large. Often, some will say "find (or pursue) your passion" .... That challenge can bring with it a lot of pressure.
Advising one "to be curious" is a gentler approach, and while it may or may not lead you to discover your passion – it has a much greater chance to get you there as any other advice .... and you will not be bored along the way.
So, Class of 2018 .... This summer, before the next stage of your life takes control, find some quiet time, a peaceful place and reflect. Write a pledge to yourself. Seal it in an envelope and open it periodically throughout your life .... Reflect, rewrite and revise. I strongly believe this activity will not only be interesting .... but will also help develop your curiosity and hopefully will serve as a compass for correcting your course when confronted by challenges or showing gratitude when surprised by kindness.
Your parents, your friends, and all those in Eanes ISD have prepared you for the next step in your journey. You will enjoy success and you will encounter failure but by pledging to self-reflection, and being honest about your talents and limitations, I am confident you will remain curious and caring as you embark on this next leg of your lifelong journey.
Thank you and congratulations.
To all, have a great summer and we will see you in August!
Dr. Tom Leonard