I thought I’d share with you some of my pondering while I struggled with my speech. First, like any previous year there were always several considerations I have when I write it:
- Keep it topical, keep it engaging and make sure it resonates with both students and the adults in the room.
- Strive to not only include appropriate content, but most importantly find the correct tone — keep it positive and hopeful.
- Keep it relatively short. I’m keenly aware that most people really don’t want a long speech from their Superintendent, as they’d probably prefer to hear from their peers, teachers and principal. I’m OK with that — Look, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know who my Superintendent was when I was in school.
However, THIS YEAR my biggest pondering revolved around the pandemic:
- Do I mention the pandemic that has changed their world, or do I purposefully ignore it?
- Do I instead focus on what I typically do … which are the skills they’ve learned, the character they’ve developed with a focus to the future?
- If I DO discuss the pandemic, will I inadvertently cast a dark shadow on their graduation? After all, their world was turned upside down — no graduation ceremony, no live audience to cheer them as they crossed the stage, no spring graduation traditions at school and in the community.
My first inclination was to do a traditional graduation speech — one that accentuates the positives and the important role that they, as graduates, will play in our ever-changing world.
That seemed like the right thing to do — the safe thing to do. But, it wasn’t sitting well with me.
I felt like I was doing a disservice to our graduates — that I wasn’t respecting them enough to discuss something that was obviously affecting them deeply. Yes, it was a graduation speech and it needed to be positive, but it also shouldn’t ignore the obvious reality of COVID-19.
So … I changed course.
I’ve never been afraid to tackle the hard questions, the difficult conversations or the uncomfortable situations. We don’t get better if we don’t challenge ourselves and those around us.
So, I decided to lead with the topic. Graduates were disappointed that there wasn’t a traditional graduation ceremony — one where they could cheer each other on, laugh at the funny speeches and smile so much that their faces hurt by the end of the ceremony. The pandemic changed all of that.
You may recall that I also believe in the power of reframing (Opportunity or Catastrophe) when we are confronted by a negative situation. Were there positives to the story? Something that is worth celebrating? Something unique to this grad class?
When I looked and listened there were some wonderful stories circulating through our community:
- Parents sitting with their children discussing a number of issues. Sometimes it was hours debating their outfits, hair, makeup … laughing together, sharing together, talking about things they rarely found time for before the pandemic.
- Graduates organizing special backyard barbecues with their friends to find creative ways of celebrating as a small group.
- School graduation committees organizing drive-by parades, grad walks over their school stages, or having a graduation certificate presentations.
- The Indigenous Education department hosting a small traditional ceremony in a dedicated outdoor learning space for the indigenous student grads.
- Schools creating lasting memories of music, pictures, words and wisdom in a virtual graduation video.
And there are other examples as well. My point is that there IS lots to appreciate during this time of uncertainty. Examples where our community has come together in ways not even considered a few weeks ago.
THIS is what needs to be acknowledged — to be celebrated. I was motivated again.
Now, I won’t tell you the ACTUAL theme of my speech or its specific content as I think that is best kept for the virtual graduation videos. But, what I can tell you is that I am incredibly proud of this year’s graduates. They have responded beautifully to our current reality. Their poise, maturity and grace during this time of uncertainty should be an inspiration to us all.
More than ever, we are in VERY good hands with our grads. Our future continues to be bright.