Graduation Speech 2023

The following was a joint presentation between Rachel Caldwell and myself for the special joint graduation of PSI and ASW.

Jon:   To all of our special guests, faculty, staff, administration, parents, friends, and family members, whether here or online watching live – We offer you thanks for your pride and presence at this, the ASW 30th and PSI 25th commencement exercises for the class of 2023.   Our special gratitude to our board members who are present here or watching online today, led by ASW Board Chair Kay LaBanca and PSI Board Chair Peter Erben.  Thank you all for your courage and leadership through difficult times.  You represent and defend the needs of the community with honour and capability!  For both Rachel and I, it is a pleasure serving with you all!  
Jon:   We know as an international community that many of our graduates have had other schooling experiences before joining us here in Warsaw. Some even stay with us for a time, leave for a bit, and then return. It is part of being international schools that we embrace this regular flux of transition. Twenty-five nationalities sit on this stage today.  But, as has been our tradition, I’d like to recognize some students, nurtured at ASW from the beginning of their schooling experience all the way to this graduation. As I call these names, would you please rise and remain standing so that we can recognize all of you as a group:   4 Students have been identified as having been at ASW since either Pre-Kindergarten or  Kindergarten:   Since Kindergarten: Melda   Since Pre-Kindergarten – Age 4:  Zelda, Wiktoria, Philip   Please recognize our Warriors of longest standing!  
Jon:   We come to you today with a special joint message based on our unique year of supporting the Pechersk School International Kyiv.  We have welcomed graduates of both schools to the stage today, bringing a moment of culmination for our time together as two families under the same roof.  Today, we will be presenting a special shared message to mark this final transition.  Working together with my partner, the Director of PSI, Rachel Caldwell, we have crafted a special presentation that will weave together our closing thoughts for the graduates with a special message from some important voices.  At this time, would you please welcome Ms. Caldwell to join me at the podium!    
Rachel:   First, we would like to share with you an introductory message from a long-time friend of education, Margaret Wheatley.  Since 1966, Margaret Wheatley has worked globally in many different roles:  speaker, teacher, community worker, consultant, advisor, and formal leader. From these deep and varied experiences, she has developed the unshakable conviction that leaders must learn how to evoke people’s inherent generosity, creativity, kindness and need for community. As this world tears us apart, sane leadership on behalf of the human spirit is the only way forward.  Her poem, I Want to be a Ukrainian, written in 2005, is the inspiration behind our presentation today and we begin with Margaret’s presentation prepared especially for you, the graduates.  
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Jon: At this time, we would welcome some helpers to the stage.  Both ASW and PSI are similar in that we serve a population of students that spans from early childhood to graduation.  Yesterday, our parade at school demonstrated that connection across all ages that gives us a relationship between community, family, and home.  Today, we would like to welcome two 5th graders to the stage to represent those students and be part of our presentation to you the graduates, and with them our version of Margaret Wheatley’s poem with our own inserted commentary, which we have prepared with her permission.    Please join me in welcoming our elementary school assistants – from ASW, Henri Fritzsche, brother of graduate Julius, and, from PSI, Antonina Orlova, both about to become graduates of Grade 5.  
Tanya:   I Want to Be a Ukrainian by Margaret Wheatley   When I come of age When I get over being a teen-ager When I take my life seriously When I grow up   I want to be a Ukrainian.  
Rachel:   This poem struck Mr Zurfluh and it struck me as perfect for today’s context. Ukraine, a nation known for its courage and resilience and one that is in all of our hearts, serves as a metaphor for the transformative journey of personal growth and maturity that our PSI and ASW Graduates have embarked upon. This is a transition from youthfulness to adulthood, from dependence to independence, a time of profound self-discovery.
Henri:   When I come of age I want to stand happily in the cold for days beyond number, no longer numb to what I need.   I want to hear my voice Rise loud and clear above The icy fog, claiming myself.   When I get over being a teen-ager When I no longer complain or accuse When I stop blaming everybody else When I take responsibility   I will have become a Ukrainian.
Jon:   Today is the day you come of age.  The aspiration of your school days will now begin to fade into the tapestry of your life and, as you become more sensitive to your future, you will aspire to something that is only beginning to take shape.  You are at the stage of your life where you should fully embrace, as Bruce Springsteen recently suggested, your Hellos and Tomorrows.  This is how you move from being a teenager to taking control – when you realize that the most important aspect of life is reaching out and gregariously taking hold of life and all it has to offer.  When you are in control of your hellos, you find power through your collaboration with others.  The urgency is to raise your voice to its highest volume before Hello and Tomorrow becomes Yesterday and Goodbye.   Your capable teachers and administrators have inspired within you a spirit of force and fortitude that must now be embraced and engaged.  Coupled with the challenges we have faced together, they inspired you, demanded that you consider things you knew nothing about, and when you thought you knew it all, they pressed you to think again.  Because of their talent and spirited commitment to your well-being, you are educated and prepared. Seize the day and take inspiration from how you were forged and also from our shared experiences of helping others who face far greater adversity.
  Tanya:   When I take my life seriously When I look directly at what’s going on When I know that the future doesn’t change itself That I must act   I will be a Ukrainian.      
Rachel: Now we delve into the life-changing possibilities created by assuming responsibility and taking meaningful action—a conscious awakening to the gravity of our choices, and the impact that these have on our own lives and the world around us. It is time to step into a new phase of personal growth, one that demands a sincere engagement with life’s realities and with meaningful change. This is a phase that requires commitment, proactivity and determination; a time for action.      
Henri:     When I grow up and am known as a Ukrainian I will move easily onto the streets Confident, insistent, happy to preserve the qualities Of my own heart and spirit.   In my maturity I will be glad to teach you The cost of acquiescence The price of silence The peril of retreat    
Jon:   There is one message that must ring clear at graduation.  Your entire education, whether here or in the other schools you may have attended, has been focused on one thing that underlies all of the academics and skill development, that rises above the individual goals and completed projects – we ask you now in the clearest terms possible and also as a challenge: What will you contribute?  Schools hope in their hearts that we inspire legions of change-makers, focused on improving the world for all of us.  Will you be that change?  Will you help to make things better for your fellow human beings?  Will you look back on your yesterdays and be able to say, I made a difference?  You won’t and shouldn’t do it alone. You have a strong start with the friendships you have crafted here, on this stage and beyond. I hope for all of you the fondest yearning of our mission and purpose – May you change the world for the better!
Tanya:   I will teach you all that I have learned The strength of fearlessness The peace of conviction The strange source of hope   And I will die well, having been a Ukrainian.  
Rachel:   This is a powerful declaration reflecting the selfless nature of education and the importance of passing on wisdom to future generations. It symbolises the responsibility and privilege our graduates now carry as they move forward into the world. Identifying with being Ukrainian, signifies a life well-lived—a life characterised by the embodiment of strength, conviction, and hope. So, as we celebrate today’s special milestone, let us honour the commitment of our graduates to personal growth and to the development of all of these profound qualities. Let us recognise their capacity to impact the world positively, to lead with courage, and to find solace in their convictions. May their lives be a testament to the limitless power of education and the unity that transcends cultural boundaries.   Together, may we all be Ukrainian, now and forevermore.  We all thank you! Dyakuyu!  
Jon: May I take this opportunity to thank my co-collaborator, Rachel Caldwell for her partnership and counsel as we navigated the waters of war and adversity, challenge and opportunity.  Rachel, it has been a pleasure to serve with you and preserve, together, this deserving school that will be forever be in our hearts.  The spirit of Ukraine and PSI now lives in all of us.   Many thanks for the wonderful talents of Henri and Tanya, you were both courageous and capable today, bringing something truly special and memorable to our graduates.    And, of course, our thanks to Magaret Wheately, who will undoubtedly watch this presentation from afar, for her words of wisdom, born in a different time, but purposeful and relevant to this, our moment of reflection and celebration.   We’ll excuse Tanya and Henri back to their families at this time and would you please welcome the following to the stage to join me and Rachel:   Mr. Michael Sheehan, ASW Upper School Principal Dr. Jessica Krueger, PSI High School Principal Ms. Katharine LaBanca, ASW Board Chair, and Ms. Nora Soliman, PSI Board representative