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!

  1. #1 by Judie Bilderback Taylor on May 26, 2016 - 3:22 pm

    Powerful and Positive message from the mind and from the heart! Another year of making a difference in the lives of those you lead, love and serve!

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