Graduation Speech 2021

To all our special guests, faculty, staff, administration, parents, friends, and family members, whether here or online watching live – we thank you for your pride and presence as we celebrate this, our 28th commencement exercises in honor of the class of 2021. 

Our special gratitude to our Board of Trustee members here tonight, particularly those with graduates crossing this stage.  Your tireless efforts this year should be appreciated and applauded for all that you have done to support the work of the school during the most difficult of times.  Please would you all join me in thanking them for their service!

Thank you to Dr. Aliu.  Our partnership with the US Embassy is again enhanced and affirmed by his words and we honor the partnership that is again nurtured and supported through common purpose.

Ian and Julia, thank you for representing your classmates so well.  I’ve gotten to know both of you in our journey together over the last 5 years.  I can honestly say it has been an honor to work with you on various projects.  You ended up working with the Director a bit more than most and it is a testament to your leadership and your commitment to your school that you were both willing and able.  Both of you, along with Annika Julien, hold the honor of being members of a critical student team to work together with teachers, parents, administrators, and board members in articulating and defining our Core Values, now central to almost everything we do. You have never wavered in your demonstration of their application in school and in life.  The impact is profound now 4-years after their creation.  You will be missed, but your legacy will be long lived and often cherished.

David, I knew you were going to be a hard act to follow.  Thank you for your wise counsel and advice to our graduates, your students.  The bond of teacher and pupil that we all seek is evident through your thoughtful insights.  Thank you for all that you inspire!

To the faculty, staff, and administration of the American School of Warsaw. I don’t know what more I can say about the journey we have traveled together this year beyond the many messages already offered.  I’ve expressed at various times my admiration of your spirit and courage, your poise and honor.  You stand amongst the best in the world as educators, proven in adversity, a testament to the salvation of schooling in the face of the most daunting circumstances.  You, too, will cross this stage tonight in each graduate, honored and validated by their accomplishments — now and into the future.

We know as an international community that many of our graduates have had other schooling experiences before joining us here in Warsaw. Some stay with us for a time, leave for a bit, and then return. It is part of being an international school that we embrace change and transition, and we value all of you no matter your tenure. But, as has been tradition, I’d like to recognize some of our Warriors, nurtured at ASW from the beginning of their schooling experience all the way to graduation. As I call these names, would you please step to the front edge of the tent area and remain standing there so that we can recognize all of you as a group:

13 Students have been identified as having been here since either Pre-Kindergarten or Kindergarten:

Kindergarten – 5 year old:
Jaegeun
Zofia
Christina
Ian

Pre-Kindergarten – Age 4:

Zofia
Damian
Alexandra
Gyeong Eun
Zofia
Natalia
Johannes
Veronika

Pre-Kindergarten – Age 3:

Kalina Mioduski

Please recognize these students and their families as this year’s Warriors of longest standing.

I begin my final remarks with a promise to be brief.  Most of what needed to be said has been aptly presented by others on this stage.  I have only one farewell and one Nursery Rhyme.

The farewell message is for an administrator in our midst. There are times in life where opportunity knocks, and you are able to take a journey to the next level of accomplishment.  Our High School Vice-Principal, Laura Berntson is the shining star in our midst that is now ready to move on to that new opportunity.  Her time here has been stellar by all measures, and I just want to take this public opportunity to say my own farewell and offer our deepest appreciation for her leadership.  What Laura has accomplished cannot easily be measured but suffice it to say it was profound in its impact.  You will be missed, along with all the members of your family including the one sitting amongst the graduates today. Your status as Warriors is secure for all perpetuity and we wish you well.

Now let me be whimsical for a moment…

Let us consider a favorite Nursery Rhyme of mine.  For some reason, my children always giggled to it when they were very young and many of my Kindergarteners from my early years in the classroom seemed to love it, using it to draw pictures and often write their own stories.  Here it is…

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Humpty has often been used as a literary allusion to refer to a person or thing in an insecure position, something that would be difficult to reconstruct once broken. Recently, I found myself thinking that we may all be feeling a bit like falling eggs these days, either teetering on the edge and not sure if we can keep ourselves from going over or on the way to the ground, unsure what will happen when we land.

I believe the lesson is not so much in the breaking, but more about what comes after the fall or the loss of balance.  It’s about how fragile we all are.  It’s about how complex it is to put things back together.  It is about feeling that there are times when despair, rather than optimism, seems to win the day. Have any of you felt like that in the past year or so or is it only me?

And, yet we do find ways to put the pieces back together.  It’s not always perfect and I’m sure we often miss a spot or two.  There are scars at times, and we learn to live with them, even embrace them as lessons learned.  We find our way back onto the wall and life goes on.

So, the only thing I don’t like about the Humpty Dumpty rhyme is the potential that some might see it as only a sad tale with a horribly unresolved ending – something akin to boughs breaking and falling babies.  It’s incomplete, with only an image of shell bits scattered upon the ground and a broken spirit.  We know that, somehow instinctively or because it is a core value, that we are expected to fix this, to bounce back.  So, please let me offer an alternate ending, maybe one you can teach your kids someday.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

So, when the King’s Men, their horses in tow
Gave up on poor Humpty and started to go
‘Twas the family of Dumpty who stayed through the night
And with patience and love put every piece right.

The lessons of life and recovery, even in the worst of times, are found in family.  Graduation is a family day — a day to put things back together, to find peace, to reach out to each other in solace and forgiveness – joy and celebration.  They, the ones in all the cars before you, are ready with love in their hearts and a hug in their arms. Take advantage of the opportunity today to put pieces back together. 

Because

Pride rules the day,
Pride of parents and brothers and sisters and friends
Pride of your school
Pride that heals injuries
Pride that sharpens memories
Pride that inspires and embraces
Pride that launches lives and encourages greatness.

You are Warriors, now and always.  The class of 2021 will always be remembered as the class that picked up the pieces, climbed the wall, and continued their journey.  We love you and wish for you all that life can offer!!

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