Responding to numerous requests from students and families, Upper School Science Teacher Liam Pickett provided The Doane Stuart School with the complete text to the Faculty Reflection he gave at the June 8 Graduation Ceremony in the Chapel, a reflection and speech which drew a standing ovation from the crowd in attendance.
To me graduation speeches are about some kind of wisdom that the speaker wants to pass on to the graduates, so when I was first asked to speak my initial thought was “have I been around long enough to have accumulated any kind of wisdom to pass on to them?” After all only 8 years ago I was walking across a stage getting my own high school diploma. But at the same time I did want to have the opportunity to say something and to congratulate these students and to say thank you to them for what they’ve done for me.
I have learned so much from all of you, not just in how to be a teacher, but your ability to laugh, smile, and persevere in the midst of the stresses of school and life is inspiring to everyone including me. I have memories of each of you that I will treasure forever as my first students (my kids as I call you all): Brian’s weird analogies that he’d use to help his classmates understand difficult Chemistry concepts, but most of the time just resulted in me spending 5 minutes to un-confuse everyone, Claudia’s Halloween Lab incident, claiming to have made it all the way to the top of the mountain in South Africa with Jaicee and Morgan, almost getting attacked by a lion with Emile, Period 6 Chemistry, Will Connelly’s Chemistry experience, seeing Phoebe sing that showstopper solo in Cabaret 2018, Jackie and Olivia and their “girls’ group” during chem lab and Christian with his Advanced Chemistry class. I could go on, but Mr. Russell told me to make this “short, but not too short.”
So…if these graduates have done so much for me, what can I possibly offer them in terms of wisdom and advice.
I thought about something my choir director in college used to say. Each year Sarah would talk to the graduating seniors and tell them that she never taught us anything that we didn’t always know. She said that the world had thrown so much mud and filth and dirt upon us that we didn’t know who we were or what we were capable of doing. She said that all she did was brush that mud and filth off of us so that we could become the shining, brilliant individuals that we were.
I didn’t fully appreciate what Sarah meant until I became a teacher and saw what I and all the other teachers here actually do. Who solves a difficult Calculus or chemical reaction-stoichiometry problems? You do. Who works for weeks or months gathering research from a multitude of sources and synthesizes it into a coherent History term paper? You do. Who sings a spectacular musical number at All School Morning Meeting or onstage? You do. You were able to do all those things yourself. The world made you think that you couldn’t, that you weren’t strong enough, that you weren’t a “math” person, or that you couldn’t write well. It made you think that you weren’t able to tackle each of those huge tasks at first. But eventually you did each one of those things. All your teachers and parents and coaches had to do was show that you could do it. They brushed all that mud and filth off and showed you that you were that shining brilliant individual who was capable of accomplishing any task that was put before you. Today we celebrate all of you as the shining, brilliant, and CONFIDENT young men and women that you are. You have accomplished it all. You are all capable of doing anything that you want to do. You just need to remember that you can. You’re going to go off to college. The world is going to throw more mud, filth and dirt on you as you head to these new places, take new courses, build and develop new relationships, new lifestyles. Remember that below all that mud there is always this shining, brilliant, and confident person that is sitting here in this Chapel today.
We live in a world where people’s positive accomplishments are all around us. All the time you see social media posts about how great someone’s life is going. About this big award they won, the school project they worked hard on and aced, the new relationship that they’re in, the successful birthday party they had with all their friends. Or what I see a lot on Facebook nowadays, “Can’t believe I’m going to be marrying my best friend #engaged #together forever.”
Not many people make posts about that test they failed, their breakup, getting stood up by friends and sitting alone in their room watching Netflix, and my college roommate has never posted about how he just got denied from medical school for the 25th time. These failures and seeing other people’s accomplishments are bits of the mud that the world throws at us. It gets us down, it makes us feel like we aren’t as good as others (though personally I’m slightly more impressed with the guy who got denied from med school 25 times than I am with “#together forever”).
I was a pretty good student in high school. Not top of my class, but I’d say a solid A minus kind of student. I was in the Orchestra, into Art. In college I joined theater, did pretty well in all my classes. All that time everything went fairly well for me. Yes I got overwhelmed and stressed with schoolwork, life, and drama but who doesn’t. I never really had any real failures to speak of. At the end of my senior year. I had a failure that made me think that was never going to be able to be a teacher. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since longer than I can remember. I graduated- but I felt like I hadn’t completed what I needed to. and was never going to be able to do what I wanted to do. I moved back home away from my college friends. My sort of college girlfriend/best friend dumped me for some guy she met while studying abroad in Spain and wanted nothing to do with me. And, remember, I thought I was never going to become a teacher. I spent the next few months lying on the foot of my bed going back and forth between tears and not knowing what I was doing with my life.
That was not a good year for me. I experienced failures and I crumbled. I didn’t know how to embrace them at the time and didn’t know how to move forward. Through the delights of social media I saw all my friends getting their dream jobs and moving to New York City and going to med school, grad school. And I was home lying on the foot of my bed.
I do not wish that on anyone, especially any of you, but I feel like when (not if, when) you experience you own failures you may crumble like I did. I want none of you do that though. I want you to jump up and get right back into the game. Embrace failure. Realize that no one experiences only positive joys all the time. People have experiences that aren’t Snapchat worthy and it’s perfectly okay. What’s not okay is letting those failures make you crumble and letting the world cover you so badly with mud and filth that you can’t recognize the shining, brilliant person that you are anymore.
After a few months, I got up. Finished my student teaching work, got my teaching certification, participated in my college choir for one last time because I needed to hear Sarah’s encouragement again. Eventually I found my way here to Doane Stuart and met all of you.
Remember that YOU are the one who solved all those Calculus problem. YOU are the one who drew all those Lewis diagrams of molecules. YOU are the one who compiled all that research into that coherent term paper. YOU survived all that social drama. YOU are the one who sang that solo or scored those goals or led that sports team. YOU did all that. And YOU will do even more. Your teachers helped you brush off the mud, but YOU had all that it took to do all those things and more – it was just hidden underneath the mud.
So I guess my wisdom or advice for the class of 2019 is to embrace failure, realize that it is natural part of success. And to use all that confidence that you’ve built here with your friends and teachers in order to realize that you don’t need to let that failure knock you down. Look for people to help you brush off the mud. You will find those people wherever you go. College professors and staff are just as caring, passionate people as your Doane Stuart teachers are. Let them help you if you need help.
"Working hard is important. But there is something that matters even more: "
And if all else fails remember that I will always believe in all of you. And with that Congratulations to the Doane Stuart Class of 2019!!!
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Liam Pickett provided The Doane Stuart School with the complete text …