Speaking to you today, as you prepare to take everything you have learned here and embark on paths of continued scholarship and good citizenship, is both a tremendous honor and the realization of a recurring stress dream I’ve had since I became a teacher. Because what you may not realize about those of us who stand up in front of the class everyday as the experts is that we dread those moments when you ask the questions we can’t answer. It’s true, Class of 2013: as hard as we work to design challenging lessons and deepen our content area knowledge, your teachers do not know absolutely everything. Sure, we do an excellent job pretending we do. Maybe you’ve noticed some of our diversionary tactics when you’ve caught us out. We respond to your questions with our own questions, like: “What do you think the answer is?” or “That’s a very good question; where might you find the answer?” What we really mean is “I don’t know.” Sometimes it’s just tough to admit that. Today, I’d like to be able to tell you the foolproof way to turn the tremendous potential you all have and all the lessons you’ve learned at Weston High School into lives of guaranteed happiness and success. I’d like to give you step-by-step instructions for avoiding disappointment and failure and regret. But the truth is, I don’t know for sure. The best I can do is to tell you what I think and what I think is that you’ve got to know when to break some of the rules you learned here. I think you’ve got to know when to be greedy. When to be inconsiderate. When to be troublemakers.
It is rare to walk the halls of Weston High School and not see you all engaged in some extraordinary effort to contribute to your school and your community. Relays, bake sales, food drives, toy drives, international community building trips, fundraisers. This generosity is a virtue that will continue to serve you very well indeed. But while generosity is important, I think you also need to learn when to be really greedy. When to take everything you deserve and then some. And no, I’m not talking about money or clothes or other material things, although all of that is very nice. I’m talking about any number of priceless experiences that you might casually forfeit because in the moment they seem ordinary or in inexhaustible supply. You may, without even realizing it, surrender, overlook, and ignore the very things in life that will enrich you most. In the short term you may avoid a family dinner. Helping put away the groceries. Game night. A little further down the road you might not enroll in that class with the great professor because it meets at 8 am. You may decide not to even peruse the suggested reading list on the syllabus or join that interesting club because none of your friends are getting involved. Years from now, believe it or not, you may let your vacation days expire because flights are too expensive. You may find yourself declining that old friend’s phone call again and again not because of any grudge, but just because you don’t have the energy to do all the catching up you’d need to do since the last time you spoke. You’ll sidestep all these little experiences because it seems as if they’ll weigh you down, tire you out. But I say fill your pockets. Leave nothing on the plate. Gather them all up in your arms and pile them high because as much joy as you will find when you move on from here, there will be times when it seems as if you have nothing. There will be times when you look around and feel compelled to take stock of everything in this world that is indisputably yours. And you’ll remember those family dinners. You’ll enthusiastically recommend to a friend that book you read at the professor’s suggestion years ago. You’ll pick up the phone and call an old friend after months and it will be as if no time has passed. These are the memories will make you feel rich, so go out and take what’s coming to you.
We taught you how to be great collaborators, expert communicators, when to compromise, consider someone else’s perspective, empathize. And you’ll be glad we did because these skills are essential to almost all endeavors. But I think the key to success and happiness is knowing not only when to play nice with others but also when to blissfully dismiss everyone else’s ideas. It’s being able to let an entire day pass without speaking a word and not even realize it. Because sometimes it will seem as if every decision you make is focus-group tested, as if your achievements are only worth celebrating if they get a certain number of “likes” or “retweets” or whatever the term will be years from now. You’ll watch your friends get promoted and married and tackle their first Tough Mudders and have kids and visit all corners of the globe. And you’ll be happy for them, but you’ll want to do them one better. You’ll want to keep up. You’ll want to be happy like they’re happy. But real happiness isn’t captured in photographs or deepened by other people acknowledging it. Happiness is one of the loneliest emotions because only you know how it should feel and what it should look like. The design of your happiness cannot be a collaboration. So once in a while, log off, unplug, power down and figure out what it looks like to you. Only then can you assemble the team you need to build it.
We taught you to be problem-solvers, to crack codes and create innovative solutions. But sometimes, in order to do that, you’ve got to be a problem-maker. Be troublesome, noisy, restless, break the rules, speak out of turn. Often a solution is only found when you demand it. Today you are closer than ever to being accountable for the state of the world you live in, rather than just subject to it. Are you going to sit back and trust others to make the right decisions? Are you going to mumble and accommodate and look away when your rights begin to erode or your neighbor is persecuted unjustly? Or are you going to employ all of your many talents and rebel? Every freedom you enjoy was forged by uprising. The safety and security on which you depend was constructed in the wake of disaster. There will be days when the world is completely different in the evening than it was in the morning, when everything you thought you knew can no longer be trusted. That’s when the rules are rewritten, often behind closed doors. You can either wait until they are handed down or you can be an author. Build an army. Storm the gates. Be a problem that demands to be solved. The innovations that are born of your disobedience in the face of injustice will be your greatest legacy.
The advice I’ve given you today is really just an educated guess. I know that whether or not it proves valuable to you in the end, you are poised to accomplish great things. The warmth, intelligence, humor, and tenacity you brought with you every day to this building will steer you toward real triumphs. You’ll form your own opinions about what it takes to find success and happiness. And someday — sooner than you think — when a group of bright, young people look to you for answers, admit to them that you don’t know for sure. Then tell them what you think.
On behalf of the faculty, I thank you for all you’ve contributed to Weston Public Schools, and I wish you all the very best.