Jun 13

2014 Commencement Address


I love to watch the faces of faculty during ceremonies like today’s.  We each feel such a deep investment in our students; it’s what makes us good teachers.  At Roeper, we talk about being educators who teach the whole child.  It is this total investment in the academic, social and ethical development of our students that makes us so successful and so emotionally connected to celebrations like today.

To my colleagues – Thank you for your boundless energy, your deep dedication to building strong relationships with students, and your meaningful development of our incredible academic program.  Most of all thank you for providing a nurturing environment where, as George Roeper told us, “students find teachers who respect them as individuals, where they are bound to makes mistakes and learn from them, where they search for the unknown and the unseen.”  (GAR, Brief Statement, 1969)

Family members, you are your child’s first teachers.  You are there for the first steps, the first words, and the first day of school.  A milestone like today is only possible because of the care and nurture you provide.  Thank you for sharing your children with us, and for the opportunity to be a part of your child’s journey.  This day is a celebration for your whole family!

When I talk with prospective parents about our School, I often find myself having interesting conversations that might sound familiar to some of you, they will say:  “I love Roeper, it has such a challenging academic program, it’s a place where students find acceptance for who they are, students are valued for their passions, they have a voice in decision making, ….but…come on …is this the real world?  I mean… I want my child to be ready for the real world!”

I remind them of something George Roeper said:  “Many people who come to our school like and even admire the freedom at our school, the lack of regimentation, the minimum of stiff formality.  This kind of freedom makes much greater demands on discipline. Freedom requires responsibility for decision-making.  Where there is freedom, there is responsibility.  To act with responsibility in a free environment is much more challenging and demanding than in an environment where the thinking is done for you and where the responsibility for action does not rest with you.”  GAR, grad speech, 1964

The group of adults often looks at me with a puzzled stare, and so I press these families to tell me what they mean by the real world, I remind them that the real world of which they speak is filled with bullying, prejudice, and a disrespect for academic pursuits, it’s a place where children are cut from programs before they know what their passions are, it’s a place where students are measured by their ability to memorize – briefly – information, and are assessed with bubble tests, it’s a place where only half of our children are able to attend preschool, 74% graduate high school, and 68% of those who do graduate attend college.

At this point I remind families that the Roeper School was created around a vision influenced by some very real world circumstances.

Conceived in the struggle to achieve human rights for all, to stand up to oppression, hatred, and voicelessness, the vision that George and Annemarie Roeper conceived that became our School’s philosophy is rooted in the real world challenges they faced as refugees from World War II and the Holocaust.

The Roeper School, you see is a response to the real world’s attempt at taking away our humanity.

Graduates – This is a place where you have developed your individual voice, where teachers and peers listen to what you have to say, value your ideas, theories and hypothesis, and interact with you as an equal.  Whether you are arguing about your theory of film, providing your insight for a teacher hiring committee, or serving as a member of our board of trustees; you have come to see in practice, that justice rather than power is a perspective worth striving to achieve.

This is a place where you are valued as an independent individual and not as part of some collective group.  From the classes and programs you chose, to how you were assessed, your teachers, coaches, and mentors have seen you for who you are, embraced your passions for music, theater, sports, art, debate, performance, robotics, and so much more; we have engaged with you in your struggle to form your own unique identity.

You have been able to participate in the shaping of your own destiny.  You have been part of the operations and governance of this School since you were a 3 year old in Stage I, and we would have it no other way.  How else do you become a good decision maker as an adult – In the real world – if you don’t have the chance to be heard, and to practice making real decisions that have real consequences?

This is a place where the concept of equal human rights for all, while an ideal in concept, is something we overtly work toward achieving.  Born of an era where human rights were taken because of what you believed, who you loved, where you were born or how you looked, this core tenet of our school reminds us of our commitment to social justice, and the work we have to do.

You, my friends, are that future generation George and Annemarie described whom we are working to prepare for the unknown!

As President Obama reminded graduates earlier this year, “There is nothing naïve about your impulse to change the world.  Because all it takes is one act of service — one blow against injustice — to send forth what Robert Kennedy called that tiny ripple of hope.  That’s what changes the world.  That one act.

The real world is a place of constant change, it is a place that needs strong voices, it needs people who understand the interdependent nature of our world, it needs you to be active, and to share your vision of what is possible.

You see, the beauty of the Roeper philosophy is that it is not merely a philosophy that guides our school; it’s not something you leave behind with a diploma in your hand, as Annemarie would tell you, it is a philosophy for your life.

You leave here having been exposed to these aspirational tenets to varying degrees and now you enter the real world as young people ready to create new ripples on the water.

You graduate today having developed a set of skills – not just the academic skills that most entering college freshman take with them to their first classes, but rather a set of life skills, an understanding of who you are, and the role you play in the larger world.  As citizens of the world I ask you to put those skills to their fullest use, as George Roeper reminded our first graduating high school class in 1969:

“You may have immense success, you may fail.  Regardless, you will have an outlook towards life that is open-minded, progressive, more understanding and accepting of differences among human beings.

You’ll be intolerant of ruthless, inhuman cruelty and I hope intolerant of violence of any kind. You will feel passionate about justice and rights of the individual and fight injustices, racism, and narrow-minded bigotry. You will not be ignorant and indifferent about these matters. These are vital issues to you and you know quite well where you stand.

If our school has contributed to this outlook towards life, we will be satisfied and feel the school served an important purpose.  Of course, it is taken for granted that we also hope for the full development in use of your talents and capabilities. However I think this is less predictable than your likely attitudes towards life.”

“You have learned to relate honestly and naturally to one another, how to express yourself openly and directly, yet with sensitivity and consideration for other persons involved, how to respect the individuality of friend and teacher, how to incorporate in your life new ideas.

Maybe these years have given you a sense of community with the school, a sense of having gotten values dear to you, a sense of having had meaningful relationships with friends.  If that is so, I cannot see how we can ever forget each other.”

Congratulations Class of 2014!


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