Graduation Speech 2012
I am so honored to be standing HERE before you all today and by HERE, I mean literally, right HERE! It is an Open School tradition to hold our graduation ceremony HERE at the top of Genesee Mountain. Unfortunately, weather has not permitted us to celebrate this occasion HERE for the past three years; it is good to be back! If you didn’t know better, you might think, what a lovely place to have graduation, you might not understand that we are HERE, in this place, for a much deeper and more important reason.
As with many of our practices at the Open School, there is a deeper meaning behind how and why we do the things we do. For example, it is a fact that everyone at Open School, students, and staff alike, refer to one another on a first name basis. Again, you might think that’s quaint. However, there is a deeper meaning. We are on a first name basis because we believe that we are all teachers and that we are all learners. Indeed, many Advisors referred to you (the students) as their teachers during final support meetings. We believe that learning is a reciprocal process based mutual respect and relationships. For us learning is NOT hierarchical. We do NOT believe that teachers are the sole authority or the expert, HERE to dispense knowledge to students who are the novice or the blank slate. We believe that we are learners together, as a community, HERE to support one another in the process of drawing out from within our personal best selves. Education, by its Latin root definition, is the process of drawing out from within.
Which brings me back to this place, for this ceremony. Behind me there are many prominent peaks, most notably Mount Evans at 14, 265 feet. We are HERE, as a community, at this place, to celebrate the latest, but certainly one of many accomplishments for this group of young people. For many HERE, your high school journey started three years ago, right THERE in the Mount Evans Wilderness Area. Every graduate of the Open School is united as a community through the common experience, we all know as the Wilderness Trip. In fact, the first thing I did after being hired as Principal of the Open School was to go to the Mount Evans Wilderness Area and do a Wilderness Trip with my teammate John McCluskey; we will miss you John.
The Wilderness Trip, not unlike referring to one another by first name, has a deeper and intentional meaning. It is a deliberate dis-orientation, designed to let students know that the education they will experience at the Open School will be profoundly different. You will develop relationships with your Advisors, teachers, and peers that extend well beyond the ordinary. You will depend on these relationships to help guide you through the process. You will understand and appreciate some of the most significant learning experiences in life do not happen in school; the Wilderness Trip introduces you to the most magnificent classroom, our world. You will learn, perhaps 2000 feet up and three miles in to this adventure, with a 30-pound pack digging into your shoulders, that this journey will not be easy. In fact, you might have even thought “I cannot do this, what was my Advisor thinking bringing me out here? I really don’t care for backpacking”. You might have even thought, perhaps, “this Open School thing was not such a good idea”. Four days later, you, like all the Open Schoolers before you, emerge at the trailhead. You flop your pack down and feeling about 30 pounds lighter; you bask in the glory of your accomplishment. Having completed the Wilderness Trip your thoughts have evolved. Now you think, “Wow! Look at what I did. I CAN do this.” Then you survey your weary, dirty, stinky comrades and you think, “look at what WE accomplished”. You might even think “hmm… maybe summer sausage on a tortilla with a little hot sauce is the best thing I’ve ever had to eat.”
And so, it is no accident that we are HERE, at this place, gazing over the majestic splendor that is the Mount Evans Wilderness Area. Because that is where it all began. Now as a graduate of the Open School you can say to yourself once again, “Look what I accomplished.” And you will know, as you look around at the end of this wild experience that is the Open School, that it was through the relationships formed, in this supportive community, that you truly were able to draw out from within you your personal best.
To close, one last that the metaphor (like that Ryan, one more metaphor for you) I hope that you can connect to the emotions you experienced on your Wilderness Trip, specifically the feeling you had when you arrived at the end of the trail and perhaps now in this moment, in this place, you can know that more often than not, what appears to be the end of the trail, is really the beginning. Thanks for allowing me the honor of sharing this experience with you. And with much congratulation, I introduce to you, the class of 2012!