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Graduation Speech 2016

To all of our special guests, faculty, administration, parents, friends, and family members – we thank you for your pride and presence as we celebrate this, our 22nd commencement exercises for the class of 2016.

To all of our representatives from the supporting embassies including both honored guests and, especially, those who serve as members of our School Board, I thank you for your ongoing dedication to this vibrant institution.

I offer my gratitude to Steve for his words today.  I’m thankful for your message, which like mine, is also borne from the critical role parents play as partners in our community of nurturers. Thank you!

Mr. Boender, thank you for representing your friends so eloquently.  You captured the moment brilliantly and served your classmates well.

We know as an international community that many here on stage have had other schooling experiences before joining us in Moscow. Also, some have stayed with us for a time, left for a bit, and then returned. It is part of being an international school that we embrace a unique constancy of change and transition.  As has been my tradition, I’d like to recognize 4 students on this stage that started with us in their Kinder years and have remained throughout their school years at AAS.

Our special penguins, nurtured from egg to emperor, as I call your names, please stand and remain standing for a moment so that we can recognize you as a group:

  1. Michael Melnikas – Kindergarten to Graduation
  2. Kirill Merkulov – Pre-Kindergarten to Graduation
  3. Natalia Timofeeva – Pre-Kindergarten to Graduation
  4. Ingrid Zeilstra – First Steps to Graduation

Please recognize these students as our Penguins of longest standing.

I find it hard to speak to you today as a Director.  Sitting on this stage are students I’ve come to know a bit better than other classes and there’s one particular person of special interest sitting amongst them.  But, we’ll come back to that later.

I speak to you today as a parent.  Someone who, like most of you in this audience, has made many mistakes, always trying to learn from them along the way. And I do believe we learn from our children in equal measure to what we try to teach them.

With that in mind, I have to inform you, graduates, that life is often a paradox. Many problems do not lend themselves to easy solutions.  Instead, they seem to come and go like the tide. We confront these problems and watch them recede from view seemingly conquered, only to find them splashing on our heels again as we turn to walk away.  There are things in life that simply defy solution and all we can do is understand that some problems offer a kind of polarity where the most we can accomplish is to constantly tip the balance in our favor.

So, two examples of these balances to consider as you head out on your next adventure.

Trust before Fear

When you first started growing up, your parents probably started to “childproof” your home.  From the moment you first started pulling yourself up from a crawl, fear set in – in your parents. There was likely a first fall and some crying that only reinforced the concern. You see, parents are instinctively protective.  I remember this in terms of the dozens of little plastic covers I shoved into electrical outlets, the padded corners I installed on all of the sharp furniture edges, the locks on drawers and doors that kept my little one away from knives and other dangerous objects.  There were cribs and bed rails, cushions and training wheels – all intended to keep you safe and protected.

Some parents look back on this and wonder if maybe we protected you too much.  Maybe we should have let you fall a few more times so that you learned to get up more capably.  Maybe we shouldn’t have overly sheltered you so that going off to college now would be less frightening – for both of us. Maybe.

But I say, let’s tip the balance on this one by having some faith and lead instead with trust. It is most important to trust yourself and your judgement, nurtured as it has been by those around you.  Your parents, your teachers, your counselors, your friends.  All have inspired in you a unique spirit that is ready to face anything that comes.  Trust that we have confidence in you.  Trust that we are here when you need us and we will always carry you in our hearts and minds while you reach out into the world to make a difference for all of us.

Another example: Tolerance over Prejudice

We have provided a cocoon of learning during your time here at AAS.  Within these walls we taught many things and certainly much more than just what can be gleaned from books or a screen.  You engaged with a talented faculty, a powerful team of educators that challenged your presumptions and forced you to reconsider.  They embraced what you brought to the classroom that you thought you knew, and found ways to regularly and rigorously captivate you in discourse and dialog that inspires a thirsty intellect.

You have been taught to be tolerant.  Tolerant of ideas not your own, tolerant of disagreement, tolerant of folly, seeing these as opportunities to teach and learn rather than to tease or ridicule.

For those who remember a recent weekly newsletter (you read them all, right?) – I wrote about a special moment I experienced in Africa this year.  With a few of the students on this stage and a cadre of others, we found ourselves on a gas station patio in Botswana, shivering in damp cold with more than a hundred local children, while rain fell torrentially around us.  In that moment, the most important thing I remember is feeling like we were all the same.  A closeness we felt as we laughed at our folly, embracing the moment in song, and celebrating despite our hunger and exhaustion.

When the clouds broke and we lined up to eat the lunch that had been delivered, served from the back of a pickup truck, I held the hand of every child as we led them from the long line to the serving area.  I held every hand and they all became one in my mind and heart.  Today, when I shake the hands on this stage, I will join them with that memory and with the memory of every graduating class that has come before them.  I will join them together as one, knowing that the hands I have held are going to make this planet a place where all have opportunity and respect.  Where differences are not just tolerated, but embraced.  Where prejudice is replaced by friendship, charity, and lovingkindness.

So, I suggest,

  • Trust before Fear
  • Tolerance over Prejudice

Learn from your lives so far and tip the balance where you can.  Look back to plan forward.  Heed the wisdom captured from your childhood and embrace all that is to come.

You’re ready.  You have reached the time when others will take over guiding you until you are ready to guide others yourself.  Whether at university or work, your world just got a whole lot bigger.  The cushions are put away, the electrical outlets back in operation, the training wheels long ago sold or given away.  It’s time to take that big step and find your path.  Only one more thing for me to do…

Jaisen – my son – this last part is for you, the special someone, and I know that all the parents in this audience will feel the same in their hearts for each of your classmates on this stage as I feel for you through these words.

When I say I love you, as I often do, it is not because it’s a habit, or part of a routine. It is because in this moment, and in all others leading to this day, the following is true:

  • you inspire me
  • you complete me, and
  • you give my life meaning

While I will feel lost without you, I’m proud of your launching, warmed by the anticipation of all that I know you are yet to become.

I love you so much!!

Go forth all of you, Class of 2016 — embrace your parents and then the world!!

Thank you!

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Graduation Speech 2014

To all of our special guests, faculty, administrators, parents, friends, and family members – we welcome your pride and presence as we celebrate this, our 20th commencement exercises.

I offer my deepest gratitude to Ambassador Myler for his words today. The Anglo-American School of Moscow values our sense of community and your participation here validates our collective and collaborative commitment to the students seated before us. Thank you!

To all of our dignitaries from our supporting embassies, I thank you for your presence and continued support of this important institution. Without you, this school would not exist, and we hold most dear our commitment to excellence in order to serve your interests and those of our diverse and vibrant community.

Kate, you brought an important message to this class of travelers. Your words inspire us as the journey begins anew and I thank you for guiding us to a successful launch.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank Daniel for his words to all of our high school students yesterday at the annual Awards Assembly. You gave us wonderful insight into your class through the humor surrounding cherished memories, poignant and engaging for all of us in attendance.

In a few words and a couple of quotes, I plan to tie some thoughts together to bring us quickly to that moment where you will stand before us and take those few final steps to the instance of greatest importance here today. The hand-off will be completed with both brevity and significance, punctuating this portion of a life that has so far been committed to living, learning, and becoming.

And you have learned much. More than a decade of education has included a critical foundation of skills upon which you will soon build your profession. Not only did you learn what you needed to know, but you also learned how to learn. I would suggest that you will find that learning is seldom complete.

Our teachers know that their greatest joy emerges when students become independent learners capable of capturing new insight without intervention. They take great pride in getting you to this level of accomplishment and the faculty, counselors, and administration seated before you here today are some of the best I have ever known at achieving this. You see in their faces the tremendous pride that they feel, having brought you to this moment, and they will shed tears of joy today because of their affection for the students that they now know so well.

I should note that the Anglo-American School can not accept total credit for all of the students that sit upon this stage. We know as an international community we must confess that many have had other schooling experiences before joining us here in Moscow. Further, we should admit that some have stayed with us for a time, left for a bit, and then returned after other experiences in different settings. It is our strength that we embrace this diversity and a unique constancy of change and transition. But, we have a few exceptions here today that I simply must recognize:

Lifflander Max K 21-Aug-01
Mekibel David K 21-Aug-01
Rogatnikov Ana-Lina K 21-Aug-01
Sazonova-Prokouran* Maria PK 22-Aug-00

*Pre-K – Grade 12 continuously and is only the second student in our history to go from start to finish.

This is a capable and talented class. They have demonstrated great accomplishment and testament to their achievement is successful placement in a wide range of colleges and universities around the world. These honors were realized through diligent effort and an added ability to capture their passions in words and actions while seeking their next path in life. They impressed recruiters from around the world with their preparation, beliefs, and potential.

I value this class for the unique way in which they demonstrate a commitment to living life to the fullest. On the stage before you are writers, poets, actors, musicians, and vocalists. They practice and perform in every corner of the school and I value the talent and passion that fills our halls.

I also sense that there are strong relationships seated before you that will bind this class now and in the future like no other. I believe that these friendships will stand the test of time. I suggest to you that this is critically important to your future, that you find opportunities to build strong and loving relationships. Hold on to the bonds of friendship as they connect us to common purpose and help us see the path to tolerance and peace.

This class has also shown compassion for others in unique measure. The number of projects associated with reaching beyond the boundary of the school gate has increased significantly. Too many to list here, the spectrum includes saving animals, feeding the hungry, helping communities to recover from disaster, building schools and homes, delivering books, embracing and supporting cancer patients, and the list goes on. During their time here, these students have learned about the importance of a life filled with the enrichment of service to others. They have been generous with their time and resources and there are many smiles of gratitude around the globe as a direct result of their efforts.

So, now, the couple of quotes that I promised at the outset:

I think you all know that my background includes cherished time as a Kindergarten teacher. With that in mind and reminiscent of a Robert Fulghum styled approach, I offer the following of my own as summary, and things that you already know:

In Life…
Learn more than you teach,
Love more than you hate,
Give more than you receive, and
Always seek to become more than you are.

But, how to achieve this in life is best captured through words shared by the new student body president elected on Thursday, Alex Botashev. After two days of work with a large group of adults helping us consider the next steps of our strategic plan, Alex shared this quote from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche:

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.

It is my fervent hope that you find a vibrant and rewarding pathway through life and that you tap into your internal chaos, passionately seeking to share your brilliance with us all. I’m absolutely confident that you have the skills and talents for this task.

My congratulations to you all!

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Graduation Speech 2013

To all of our special guests, faculty, administrators, parents, friends, and family members — you honor us with your pride and presence as we celebrate this important moment for the individuals seated before you on this stage.

I offer my deepest gratitude to Ambassador Cooper for his words in honor of our graduates. The Anglo-American School of Moscow continues to thrive on our sense of community and your participation validates our commitment to the students we collaboratively nurture and educate. Thank you!

Sai, you brought a message that is an important one for all of us.  You gave us insight into the heart of your class — a sample of what they can and will become.  Thank you for the memories that your words will inspire.

With only a few minutes left until you begin your journey across this stage and into life, let’s capture some final thoughts.  Inspired by a cartoon character named Johnny Bunko, the creation of celebrated author and researcher, Dan Pink, let me share his 6 essential lessons for life.  They are simple and concise. 

#1 – There is no plan!

This is a cautionary tale about overly planning your life. Statistics tell us there are many changes ahead for you.  In your lifetime, five career changes are imminent.  Careers that you are seeking now may soon become obsolete and replaced by jobs we cannot now name nor imagine.  You are emerging into a generation challenged by a constant state of change.  Change will be your normal and you should embrace it now.

But, most of you already know this.  You come here from countries from around the globe. You have learned through profound experiences how to dodge and weave in a complicated and dynamic world.

Accepting that there is no one plan means that you make decisions for fundamental rather than instrumental reasons.  When the time comes to flex and move with the tides and waves of life, seek your core values — the ones we taught you, the ones your parents instilled in you, the ones that give balance and meaning to life.

#2 – Think strengths, not weaknesses

Ask yourself — what do you do consistently well?  What is it that you would choose to do over other things?  What is it that gives you energy?

This class is filled with talent beyond measure.  Sitting on this stage are artists, mathematicians, scientists, authors, researchers, publishers, musicians, vocalists, actors, athletes, and leaders. Look into their eyes and see the strengths that will build one upon another in the months and years ahead.

#3 – It’s not about you

The most successful people in the world improve their own lives by improving the lives of others.  Your many service projects were reviewed yesterday at our assembly and the wide array of accomplishments is a testament to your understanding of the importance of giving something back to the community and to the world. The fondest wish of our mission statement is that you contribute in equal measure to what you receive.

#4 – Persistence trumps talent

This may seem inconsistent with thinking about your strengths, but it is simply an additive message about the importance of augmenting talent with perseverance. 

This class understands commitment.  What sits before you is the entire class that started at our opening ceremony in August.  Not one person has gone missing since the day we carried the flags of many nations into the gym at our opening.  Those that began this year finished this year — and graduated. That’s commitment!

But, let’s stay on that theme for a moment.  Phillip Sadov is our longest attending student on this stage.  He started at AAS in Pre-Kindergarten and stayed with us until today, only the second to have done so in the school’s entire history.  More than a dozen others have been here since elementary school and a few more were here for a bit, left for a time, and then returned to finish high school with us.

This class knows persistence.  You understand persistence through rigorous classes. You understand persistence through your studies and demonstrated success.  You understand persistence through your patience with and regard for each other.

Another group also understands persistence.  Your teachers, counselors, and administrators have stood beside you through every incarnation of student engagement. Graduates on this stage have reflected with me on how the adults at AAS committed themselves in unlimited ways to their learning and development.  They shared stories about countless hours of additional time outside of class. They reflected fondly on the sense that their teachers really know them.  They remember the willingness to offer additional chances and the important woven conversations about learning and life. It is clear to me that this class loves and respects the faculty and staff of their school.

#5 – Make excellent mistakes

You have already learned that the key to success is not getting bogged down in the failures.  When you recognize that mistakes are learning opportunities, you balance failures against the benefits of what you learn.

Therefore, as you graduate today, I give you permission to fail. Go out and fail!  And, from your failures, let opportunity emerge.  In the words of Beverly Sills, an American Opera singer:

“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”


#6 – Leave an imprint

Johnny suggests that you only have a finite time in this world.  In the time that you have, you should seek to do something that matters.  You should seek to make a difference.

It is the sense of doing important work that keeps us connected to our core – something that helps us find deeper meaning in life.  At our roots, we want to do something distinctive – something with higher purpose.  It is my fervent hope that you find a vibrant and rewarding pathway through life.  I’m absolutely confident that you have the skills and talents for the task.  You have impressed us all.  Now go make your mark on the world!

You are and always will be, the class of 2013!  My congratulations to all of you!

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At our recent parent coffee, we discussed the important findings in the 2009 book by Bronson and Merryman entitled “NurtureShock.”  Our focus was on the first chapter where we discussed the new research on praise and what, at least in North America, has been a trend to utilize indiscriminate praise to bolster self-esteem since the beginning of the 1970’s.  Flawed research at that time supported the notion that we should support self-esteem at all costs to ensure achievement later in life.  In essence, there was a belief that children at a formative age should be spared the self-concept damage of criticism.  Recent research has shown us that this is an unfortunate conclusion that was based on inaccurate and even misleading research of the time.  We know today with more recent longitudinal research and brain studies that not all praise is equal and that praise which lacks the quality of feedback is potentially undermining persistence and determination later in life.  In fact, the strategies employed by parent between 1980 and 2010 maybe the root cause of an increasingly disenfranchised adolescent population.  Culturally, this damage may be limited to North America, but our discussion at the coffee today found some evidence that it may also be an issue for other cultures as well.

The slides from our discussion are included below for your reference and reflection:

Additionally, we touched briefly on the second chapter of NurtureShock and discussed the increasingly important literature supporting the need for sleep amongst teens and, legitimately, students of all ages.  The research here, again, is both sound and well presented.  Historical studies have shown that children, on average, are now sleeping about one hour less per night with highly detrimental consequences.  The recommendation is that parents become more proactive in reclaiming this lost time and, thereby, improve significantly their child’s quality of life.  The book and website are worth your earnest consideration:

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