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June 21, 2007 am30 4:22 am

This year I was asked by the senior class to give the keynote address. Here is the prepared text (though I deviated from it quite a bit)

Class of 2007, as I look out at your faces, at your caps and gowns, I see before me doctors and lawyers, architects and engineers, teachers and businesspeople.


But that’s not enough.

(much more below the fold —>)


We know you are interested in doing more, in doing good. Collectively you’ve done a lot of good. Who here has: (wait for hands after each, but push the tempo)


Made sandwiches for the hungry? Joined walkathons to raise money for breast cancer, Alzheimers, March of Dimes, or other causes? Volunteered at a library, another school, or a hospital? Helped someone else with their homework? Gave someone your homework? Volunteered for an open house or event here at [school]? Organized a party for someone, just because it was a nice thing to do? A shower? [reference to a surprise baby shower two students organized for a faculty member a year and a half ago]


Class of 2007, you have already shown the inclination to do good, and the ability to do good, to act in the interest of others, and not just yourselves. This is impressive, but it is not enough.


Look at you now, with four years of hard schooling behind you. You are literate – you can read and write. You know history – you know a lot of history. Not just facts and dates – you know what happened, why it happened, motivations, choices. You have a deep understanding of past events, and you can reapply that understanding to new events as they arise. All of you speak some Spanish. You’ve all studied some serious science and math. With M[r/s Government Teacher] you learned how government works, how candidates are elected, positions taken, policies influenced and changes made. Some of you have even studied logic.


So you’re smart. You inclined to do good. You have powerful tools for analyzing the world around you. And you have some idea how to effect change.


Look, class of 2007, you are well-prepared. You are well-prepared to get that good job, that house, that nice car. But you are also well-prepared to take your smarts, you’re your inclination, and your tools, and use them to change things.


And there are things in this world that need to be changed. Too much for any one person to fix. But there will be times, and there will be places. And you are not alone.


Preparing this speech, I thought, I should make a gesture, an extra effort. I tried to volunteer to go down to New Orleans this summer, to help teachers and schools that have not recovered from Hurricane Katrina. And I couldn’t go. There were three times as many volunteers as were needed. You will find that you are not alone as you try to do right.

There are other issues that matter. Today our country is involved in an unjust war. Over 3000 of our young men and women have given their lives. And a half million Iraqis have been killed. And for what? So I write letters, and I protest. I speak out. It’s not much, but my sense of social justice demands it.

Your issues may be different from mine, but class of 2007, let yourselves be drawn to issues of importance. Find your sense of social justice. Look for your own ways to contribute, groups of people who need help, or policies and laws that need to be changed.

Please get your good jobs and pretty houses. Get nicer cars than mine, or nicer bicycles if you are environmentally conscious.


But do more. Expect to do good. Challenge yourselves to do good. We are already proud of you. Go make yourselves proud.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2007 am30 9:31 am 9:31 am

    that’s a nice speech, j.

  2. June 21, 2007 am30 9:39 am 9:39 am

    Yes, a great finish.

  3. June 21, 2007 am30 10:02 am 10:02 am

    …and from a math teacher! Beautiful.

    Alfie Kohn’s book The Brighter Side of Human Nature includes many sections about how to foster altruism in young people. As far as I remember, encouraging altruistic self-perception was a significant piece.

  4. June 21, 2007 pm30 6:26 pm 6:26 pm

    Fantastic! I was once the key note speaker at an Arista installation. It was one of the highlights of my teaching career.

    You must be very special to be chosen for this honer.

  5. June 22, 2007 am30 2:46 am 2:46 am

    Thanks to all for your kind comments.

    And H, of course from a math teacher. Who would be more logical?

    PoT, there are pluses and minuses of small vs large schools. In this case, first math teacher, almost everyone had me, programmer, almost everyone complained to me about schedules at some point over 4 years, general nice guy (sometimes mean, too), on many of the trips… its easier for this sort of stuff to happen. Plus, less than 30 teachers, and in fact the senior advisor runs the show, so he talks, and me and one other spoke…. the odds are much better in New Small High School than in Famous Old High School, by a lot.


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