|Congratulations Class of 2020!|
Parents, Guardians & Staff,
The 2019-20 school year is officially over and what a year it was! My gratitude is overflowing for the patience, grace and resiliency we have seen all year, but particularly the last eight weeks. We are incredibly proud of our students and staff, and especially our seniors, who powered through the school closure and will now move on to an exciting next chapter.
Last night we debuted the Virtual Westlake Commencement Ceremony, which included my speech to the Class of 2020. I hope you had the opportunity to watch the video, not only because a lot of people put hours and hours into creating it, but also because it is inspiring, uplifting... beautiful. Below is the transcript of my speech but if you would like to watch the video, click the image below.
Good evening. There is a common saying that we “live in interesting times” …what an interesting time this truly is. I have been addressing high school graduates at commencement ceremonies for more than 20 years...And obviously, this one to the Westlake High School Class of 2020 is different.
Not only are we not in the same physical location, we have not been “together” for weeks and are unsure when life will again resemble...life.
With 2020 hindsight, our district’s focus this year on "Kindness" as an umbrella word to build resiliency, seems to have been prophetic.
During this time of N95 masks, social distancing, remote or Zoom learning and flattening the curve...Our resiliency has truly been tested. Before COVID-19 changed our lives, as a school district, we were sharing messages on how to improve one’s resiliency. The research is clear on how one enhances their resiliency.
One needs to develop our abilities to focus our attention, express gratitude, be empathetic, practice inclusivity, respectfully communicate effectively and to be reflective. I wish I had time to share a few thoughts on each of the six attributes, but tonight, I think it most appropriate to focus on one... gratitude.
Please allow me to do so by sharing one parable, one item from the news and then, one special message from a person I have always admired.
First the parable. At the end of March, while jogging early one morning, I listened to a podcast featuring Dr. Brené Brown, author, speaker and professor from the University of Houston, interviewing another author, David Kessler, whose life’s work is on the study of grief and loss.
In the interview, Mr. Kessler shares the parable of the “Long Spoons.”
A man is brought into this long dining room area and he smells this scrumptious food and this amazing meal being provided. All the guests have these long spoons that are a few feet long, and you can't reach the food and bring it to your mouth. He looks and instead of everyone being happy they're gaunt and they’re starving. He is told this is hell.
Then he's taken into another dining hall. Where it's just as festive. Everyone's eating and joyous and happy, and they have the same long spoons, but they are all feeding each other and he is told that is heaven.
The point of the parable...both hell and heaven are the same circumstances, the only difference is the way people treat each other. We are all in this together, each of us holding long spoons.”
Now the story from the news...I have heard that around the country during this pandemic, each evening at 8pm, people move outside on a lawn, a balcony, a porch, a sidewalk...and they all start cheering, clapping, banging pots and pans, for all the “helpers” during this difficult time.
They are collectively expressing gratitude for the first responders. Primarily for those in the medical community...nurses, doctors, EMT’s...But hopefully also for all the others using their “long spoons” to help others including the police, grocers, meat packers, farmers and yes, all those who work to support kids...particularly teachers. By expressing their gratitude, they are increasing their own resiliency.
Tonight is a night where we can each grow our resiliency...By expressing gratitude to others…practicing gratitude towards those who symbolically hold “long spoons” for us throughout our lives.
That leads me to a special person, who I have always admired. This man and I share the same love for the same quote. That quote being from the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry classic book, “The Little Prince.”
The quote reads, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
And now an excerpt from, you might have guessed...Mr. Rogers in a commencement address that he gave at Marist College (to see video, click on the image above and go to the 6:20 mark).
“And beside my chair, is a French sentence from Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince. It reads, ‘L’essential est invisible pour les yeux.’ What is essential is invisible to the eye. Well, what is essential about you? And who are those who have helped you become the person you are? Anyone who has ever graduated from a college, anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person, and often many, who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.
I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside yourself. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute.
Whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be, that during your silent times, you remember how important they are to you.”
So, Class of 2020, tonight is your night, but please remember, it is not your night alone...and it is your responsibility to thank those that made this celebration possible.
Seniors, personally, I thank you for all you have given us and I wish you health, happiness and success...and only ask that you share your gratitude with those whom you love.
And please don’t forget...to wash your hands.
Have a great summer and we hope to see you soon.
Dr. Tom Leonard
Superintendent of Schools