Graduation 2015

To all of our special guests, faculty, administrators, parents, friends, and family members – we thank you for your pride and presence as we celebrate this, our 21st commencement exercises.

I offer my deepest gratitude to Dr. Sarty for his words today. Above all, we value contributions like this and your participation here affirms the collaborative commitment of all our founding stakeholders. Of special note, our speaker at yesterday’s assembly was Leigh’s son, Robert.  Both father and son can be proud of each other in how they have both engaged us with their wit and wisdom.

To all of our representatives from the supporting embassies including both honored guests and those representatives and independent members serving on the school board, I thank you for your ongoing support of this vibrant institution.  The memories captured in the minds on the stage beside me are, to a large extent, born out of the many contributions made by you and your predecessors who had the vision and determination to bring this institution into existence and nurture it for the children we all serve.  We can never thank you enough for what you have inspired.

Masha, thank you for your words. You’ve captured the moment brilliantly and given us a wonderful opportunity to reflect and find inspiration.  Seeds well planted in the minds of your friends and classmates.

With just a few comments, I plan to bring you quickly to the moment when we will hand you an important document that will forever punctuate your time with us.  You’ll shake a hand, pause as we practiced for the important photo opportunity, and pass through to your next journey in life.

Before you become graduates, let’s note for the record that this is an amazing class! It’s impossible to recount all of the many accomplishments achieved during your years with us.  But, suffice it to say, you have done so much to enrich the school, the community and the world beyond, it is hard to predict what you may now accomplish as adults if the trend line of your commitment as globally aware citizens continues, as I expect it will.

This class has been creative and talented in so many ways.  The diversity, depth of skill, and demonstrated ability speaks for itself through their many projects and endeavors.  I was so impressed by your energy and enthusiasm that I felt like I owed you a crawl through the stairwell gauntlet on senior prank day.  The cacophony of noise, color, and encouragement was a spectacle to behold.  But, it was also such a true and genuine expression of the vitality you have brought to your learning journey — and shared it openly as an example for others.

Your teachers know you as truly engaged learners, empowered by your passion, caring of each other, and motivated to accomplish goals that reached far beyond our walls.  Faculty, counselors, and administrators seated before you are beaming with pride.  As this is our profession, a moment like this carries deep satisfaction and meaning for us.  We do not consider it the filling of a vessel, but more like the launching of a ship.  Because of their nurturing spirit, you are now prepared for your maiden voyage and the challenges that lurk beyond the horizon.

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 our strength that we embrace this diversity and a unique constancy of change and transition.  But, we always have a few exceptions that I simply must recognize because we also embrace persistence:

Xuan Son Do 20-Aug-02 K – Grade 12
Salina Gorodetsky 20-Aug-02 K – Grade 12
Lincoln Pigman 20-Aug-02 K – Grade 12
Daniel Shenkman 20-Aug-02 K – Grade 12
Ilya Yushvaev 2-Sep-02 K – Grade 12
We also have one more and I’m not sure she realizes it, but she has been with us for Pre-K – Grade 12 continuously and is only the third student in our history to go from start to finish.
Maria Shikhova 21-Aug-01 Pre-K – Grade 12

So, today, you leave your alma mater and become alumni from this school. These are just words, but I think you realized the profound nature of this moment yesterday when you were dismissed from Assembly for the final time.  You realized this as a moment of change.  One that maybe holds for some a bit of fear and uncertainty.

Someone shared with me recently that the term “alma mater” can be translated from latin as “nourishing mother.”  Similarly, alumni derives from the latin verb alere meaning “to nourish”.

So, if you will allow, I would like to offer three bits of “motherly” advice from AAS.  Parents, you build on this theme later.

First, as you go off to college, we will worry about you.  It’s a given, and with the many complicated and dangerous things happening in the world, it’s going to be particularly hard to wave goodbye as you walk away.  So, word to the wise – phone home!!  In this technological world, there is little excuse for not checking in once and awhile and I know that the parents in the audience will thrive on that occasional phone or skype call that reassures them that their child is still alive and well.

Related to this concept of worry, please take the advice of one mother, who when giving final advice to her son before departure, simply said: “Nothing good happens after midnight.” My thanks to Bart Gorman at the U.S. Embassy for steering me to this quote.

Carry this one in the back of your mind and while I value that you may still find yourself out and about after midnight on occasion, maybe this phrase will remind you to be just a bit more cautious and — maybe, just maybe, as the hands of the clock converge on twelve each night, you’ll be reminded that there are friends and loved ones around the world that care about you and wish for you safety and prosperity.

And finally, there is one thing that you should all firmly promise me as you head off to college.  It’s only one word to remember, so it is the easiest of the three.  Whatever the challenges you face, no matter the demands before you, no matter the temptations in the contrary, promise me you will SLEEP.

I know you may think this to be frivolous, but it is one of those things that we just know to be true through many decades of valid and important research.   In short, everything that you will accomplish is empowered by sleep.  It is during sleep that short-term memory is converted into long term knowledge.  Our body resets during sleep and it is clear that loss of sleep has dire physical and mental consequences and is almost impossible to recover.  Second only to our often poor nutritional habits, our sleep has been attacked from so many directions – television, media, technology.  There are so many distractions to regular sleep that someone your age is now sleeping one hour less, on average, per night when compared to similar aged young adults just 10 years ago.  This has profound implications for creativity and innovation as your brain most prepares for these activities during sleep.  And, just so we are clear, this is not an endorsement for sleeping during class anymore.

And sleep is important for another reason because it is through sleep that dreams are borne.  And I do value that there are many dreamers on this stage.  Dream big, class of 2015.  We need you, your energy, and your inspiration to face the challenges of the future.  May you all be inspired by your dreams to seek peace and prosperity for yourselves and the generations that will follow.

So, three things:  Phone home, nothing good after midnight, and sleep.  Simple advice from your alma mater, your nourishing mother, because, quite simply, we want you to do great things and it is always the simple things that count the most.  As much as you have inspired us during your time with us, we know you are destined for so much more.  Your next steps, like all of your schooling so far, is just a pathway to another destination. And that destination is life.

You have faced many challenges to get here today.  You will face many more.  As you noted on one of the chart papers during our exit interviews, you believe that “AAS opens doors, hearts, and minds.” It reminds me that the things we strive for the most, we also most cherish.

Speaking for all of us before you, we love you dearly and wish you only the best!!

One thought on “Graduation 2015

  1. Jon, once again you have delivered a wonderful, heartfelt speech with down to earth messages that are spot on! Your pride in your students is evident and speaks volumes about the effective and professional leadership you continue to provide for students and staff. I have to say I am so proud to claim you as one of “my students” who has gone and done exactly what you are asking these students to do. I hope you can take pride in all that you have accomplished!

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