Tonight was our school’s 8th grade graduation. I’ve known these particular kiddos for just this one year, but with a 75 minute daily ELAR block and most of them taking my Spanish 1 class as well, I’ve gotten to know these 10 students as well as I’ve known any. I didn’t speak at tonight’s graduation, but if I had, I know just what I’d’ve said.
To my 8th graders:
Tonight’s graduation is just one of many you’ll sit through in your academic career. All of you will go on to high school graduation, and then upward and onward to other graduations, formal and informal. College graduations, certificate program graduations; graduations and commencements and milestones like driver’s ed and marriage and parenthood and student loan debt await you all. But tonight, we are here.
Tonight we are here to celebrate your commencement, your forward motion, into the next chapter of your life: high school. Any time you get ready to move on, move forward, I encourage you to take stock of what you are bringing with you. You have your suitcases packed. But what’s inside? Your K-8 education has equipped you with the basics. You can all read and write and “math”. But this year, we’ve done much more than equip you with the basics.
I feel honored to teach in a state that values critical thinking. Our English Language Arts and Reading standards here in Texas push our students to do more than “know”. Our kids are encouraged to evaluate, synthesize, question, discern and most importantly: decide. If I’ve done my job right, I’ve created moments for you this year to take what you know, what you’ve been taught, what you’ve been given, bring it to the table and examine it closely.
The purpose of this examination is not so that you will cast aside these building blocks of who you are, rather it is so that you will build a deeper understanding of who you are and what you believe.
All of us here come to this place knowing what we are told. Your families have instilled in you values since your first breath here on Earth. Many of you are religious, and most of you are already vocal about your political leanings. However, this leap from the safety of K-8 education into the world of high school is not only an exciting time; it is the beginning of your adolescence. Your “teenage-hood’ is many things: it is fun and excitement and emotion and hormone and independence all rolled up into the most awkward freshman yearbook photo you can imagine… but it is more than that. These coming years are also the beginning of the season in your life when everyone questions who you are. Others will be asking, and you’ll be a step ahead if you know more than the “what”. You need to know the “why”.
As we’ve examined readings from all sides, and you’ve been asked to write and explain and defend and counter-argue every point this year, I’ve been trying to bring you to this one understanding: today, here and now: you need to know where you stand and why you’re there.
You guys are lucky, though you may not always feel that way in the coming years. Although I know your middle school team, Mr. Day, Mr. Oliver, Mrs. Cranfill, and me, has given you a solid start on evaluating the information you come across in your daily life, we all know that this is a process. What we’ve started, in partnership with your families, will continue. In fact, this process never really ends. You are lucky because each of you sits here today getting to explore these ideas in the safety of family. I said that you may not always “feel” lucky, and that is because sometimes we disagree with our parents. I promise you though, every one of the people in this room tonight is on your team. Even when you disagree, I encourage you to remember that.
Tonight I’m looking out at one of the most interesting, entertaining, talented, intelligent, resilient, genuine groups of students I have ever had the privilege of teaching. I’m honored that our school, your parents, and yes, even you, have allowed me the privilege of teaching you this year. Thank you for that. Thank you for belly laughs and inside jokes and reminders that sometimes you know more than me. Thank you for rising to every challenge we’ve set before you. Thank you for your enthusiasm for learning. Thank you for the deep friendships you have amongst yourselves. As an adult, it is truly a blessing to watch young people love each other so deeply and so thoroughly and so freely. Lastly, and most importantly, thank each of you for being uniquely YOU. There is only one “you”, and the world desperately needs what you have to offer. I say that to each of you, and I mean every word.
As you prepare to leave this place in 7 short school days, know that the future is everything that you imagine it to be. Now, go take the world by storm.