A Word to Graduates

I have been invited to speak at the Continuation Ceremony of a class of kindergarteners I taught nine years ago.  (Nine years ago!)  I have marked this date on my calendar for many weeks now, so honored to join them for this celebration of such a victory.  Plus, I couldn’t wait to see them again.  It always jars my brain when the children stand before me, forever changed.  The boys have muscles; the girls have curves.  It’s an alarming thing, really. 

But so very sadly, I am sick today.  Bronchitis has hit our home with a dark cloud of ferocity, and I can’t barely utter a whisper today.  So there’s no sense in handing me a microphone.  With great resignation, I will not be able to go tonight.  A friend will read my words to them on my behalf.

So, I’m sharing with you the words I planned to share with them. 

* * *

 

First of all, congratulations.

Congratulations on finishing the last nine years, from the first day of kindergarten to where you are now. Those of you who have excellent handwriting, I hope you’ll remember we started that skill in my classroom. Those of you who raise your hand before you blurt out answers in class, I hope you’ll remember that nobody knew the importance of that on the first day of kindergarten. We worked and worked on that until you became proficient at waiting to speak.Those of you who sing songs throughout your day, who sing good morning songs to yourselves and your families, I hope you’ll remember how we did that too, for every transition. Oh, we sang, sang, sang.

I am exceedingly proud of you, eighth graders. You are a beautiful bunch, and you will forever live in my hearts. Although in my memory, you’re much smaller.

So, congratulations on finishing the last nine years, but more specfically, congraulations on finishing the last three years. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grades are notoriously the worst years of school, and you can ask almost any adult: they will say they didn’t enjoy middle school or junior high.

Everything gets harder in those years. Everybody get a little meaner. They’re some tough years. And you did it. Congratulations, my friends. You have finished middle school.

Let’s think for a moment about the Green, Yellow, Red card system in a classroom. Everybody begins each day with a green card, and then your choices throughout the day will determine if you stay with green, if you get a warning yellow, or if you must suffer the consequences of red. I have a kindergartener of my own now, and we celebrate his green cards with grandeur. For a six year old, it’s the definition of a good day of wise choices.

The best thing about the Card System is this: you get to start over everyday. Everyday begins with green. No matter what happened yesterday,
how many times you cut in line
or shouted an answer
or giggled in the hallway
or made a mess of paper towels in the bathroom
or argued with your teacher
or got out of your chair to roam the room,
the next day is a new day.

And every new day starts out Green.

Guess what? Here’s the best news about graduating from eighth grade: you get a brand new card. Each one of you. New card. And it can be any color you want.

When you enter high school, you’re starting a new stage, and for some people, those are their favorite years of school. (They were mine!) It doesn’t matter what color your cards were in grade school and middle school – it doesn’t matter anymore. You get to start fresh. With your new card, you get to decide who you will be.

Will you get good grades?
Will you be on time?
Will you do your best?

Will you manage your planner and finish your homework and study for tests and be prepared?

You get to decide. It doesn’t matter who you were before now. It’s all new.

More importantly,
Will you be kind?
Will you encourage others?
Will you show compassion?
Will you share what you have?
Will you love well?
Will you make decisions that are respectful and honoring to you and your family?

You get to decide. It doesn’t matter who you were before now. It’s all new.

And keep this in mind, in case I don’t get to see you on the day you graduate from high school: you’ll get a new card that day too. There are are a few times in your life when you get to start over, define yourself, and choose who you really want to be.

This is one of those days.

As you enter high school, as you’re deciding who you will be and how you will be known at this new school, let me let you in on a secret. Lean in close. Closer. This is an important secret, and you might not hear it from many people. Ready?

Everybody around you is a little bit miserable. Everybody is worried about something. Everybody is afraid nobody likes them. Everybody is afraid they’re not good enough. And everybody’s trying hard to look like they’re not miserable.

When you look around your high school next year, when you see so many new faces and they all seem to have their friends figured out and they have found their places in the social structure of high school, remember: everybody is a little bit miserable. You’re not the only one.

The best way to help yourself feel better is to make someone else feel better. If you see someone sitting alone in the cafeteria, make it your responsibility to help them feel included. Join them at their table or invite them to yours. Look for ways to make other people feel better about who they are and how their day is going, and I promise, yours will get better too.

So let me challenge you with two words: Choose Kindness.

There are lots of words about anti-bullying right now. Posters, bracelets, commercials on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, all against bullying. I agree. Bullying is never acceptable and we need to rescue those who are being bullied.

But.

Instead of trying to bring an end to the trend of bullying, what if we try to begin a campaign of Kindness?

There are enough of you in this room to make a serious change in your high school next year. You won’t have even have to do it alone. Look around you. These people are the faces of your teammates. Choose Kindness.

I love every single one of you, and I’m so sorry I’m not there to say these words myself.

You are loved.
You are important.
You are kind.
You are brave.
You are one of a kind, one in a million.

And remember: nearly everything you need to know, you learned in kindergarten.

So be kind.

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5 thoughts on “A Word to Graduates

  1. What a fabulous, loving, and important speech you wrote Tricia…Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. I wish I had gotten this speech given to me when I was leaving 8th grade. I think my high school years would have been better.

    BTW, I think college was my favorite time. I didn’t party and I probably worked harder then than I had ever in my life up to that point, but everyone was nicer and it was quite enjoyable.

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