Thursday, June 2, 2011

Speech to the Graduating Class of Stanley British Primary School


(to listen to a recording of this speech, click here)

May 27, 2011

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, a particularly great morning to the graduating class of 2011 and good morning to an enormous sea of former students and parents who are here today.

Before I start I was thinking last night how eloquently David Marais thanked all of us as 8th grade parents for helping so much with all the graduation festivities and I thought I would take the opportunity, from all of us as 8th grade parents, a round of applause, to thank David Marais and all he’s done for our 8th grade class.

Thank you for giving me this podium on this important day. A couple of years ago, when David asked me to give this speech today, there were mixed emotions in my household. I felt some joy and pride that for the first time we were going to hear from a graduation speaker who represented a section of the school other than the middle school, and who was also the parent of a graduating student. My daughter Emma, on the other hand, was mortified that I might take this opportunity to embarrass her publicly. As if I’ve ever done that before! You need not worry, Em. You have my word. And even though David knew that this would be the last day as Stanley students for Emma and her 8th grade friends, what none of us could have possibly known then was that this was the day that I would also be saying goodbye to this school.

So here we all are, at a day that perhaps many of us thought would never come. For some of you graduating, it’s only been a couple of years or so, since you started middle school at Stanley. For others, who began their Stanley careers in 345, it’s been maybe 4 or 5 years that you’ve been at the school. We learned at the Rose Ceremony on Wednesday, that for twenty of these graduating students, you’ve had nine full and happy years on our campus. And for some of us graduating from Stanley today, it’s been twenty-one years.

We’ve all seen many changes in our time here at Stanley. In the last month, we’ve broken ground on a new entrance to the school. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen Matt and Kathy’s and Katie Boston’s classes move into their own building. We’ve got a new elevator in the middle school and a bell system so that Alexandra will get you to your next class on time. We’ve started Family Groups and we’ve finally got cool new uniforms for the sports teams.

For many of us, in the last five or six years, we’ve said goodbye to a founding head of school and welcomed a new one. He’s taller and plays the banjo better than the old one. And when I say ‘old’, even though you seem to have carelessly left Carolyn behind at the Little White House in Brockenhurst, I mean ‘old’ with only affection and gratitude. We’ve got to know wonderful new teachers and we’ve said goodbye to others. Today, we say goodbye to a few more.

Back in 2002, when this class began their illustrious careers in kindergarten, important events were shaping our world. The Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City. The US invaded Afghanistan. The body of Hall of Fame baseball player Ted Williams was frozen cryogenically in two separate pieces and a little TV show called American Idol debuted, leading Kelly Clarkson to break a record held for 38 years by the Beatles when her smash hit A Moment Like This leapt 51 places to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Here at Stanley in 2002, Sara Stern graduated from the intern program and was hired to teach 345, the school broke ground on the construction of the gym, Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated and ESPN fame was coaching our basketball teams, and at the Holiday Program, Ted’s class performed The Grinch Who Stole Christmas - again.

Before that, in a time we used to call the nineties, some of you started at Paddington Station as two year olds here on an abandoned air force base at Lowry in what are now our K12 classrooms – when they were much smaller and not connected by a hallway. To get to the classroom at the end, you had to go through all the preceding classrooms, probably tripping over great piles of asbestos as you went.

I distinctly remember meeting several of you, kids, parents and even grandparents, at that first ice cream social for our two year old class. That was the time I distinguished myself in my naivete as a parent who clearly only had girls. The two year olds had taken a trip to the local fire station and everyone was excited to dress up and act like firefighters. I took it upon myself to provide a little realism to the make-believe, cutting up an old garden hose into four foot long strips, knowing that Addie and Jade and Lily and others would love putting out pretend fires with the mini-hoses. I hadn’t taken into account two year old boys, kids like Niall and Cole and Jack Longenecker, who proceeded to snatch the hoses and beat the living daylights out of each other. The teacher had to remove the weapons forthwith.

Those of you who are graduating your second or third child from Stanley today, and you’ve been here a decade or more, will remember the days when we had a split campus and all the challenges that that represented. Staggered start and finish times to the school day. For many staff members, much driving between the two sites. Two phone numbers, two receptionists, two places where we could lose your information, your tuition checks, and quite possibly even your children. I’m kidding, we never lost your tuition checks.

Before that, we were dealing with getting onto our Lowry campus through barbed wire fences, over parts of runways, and through plenty of mud. Tim remembers those days, sixteen years ago, when we spent a few years developing a middle school curriculum and taking out all kinds of debris that the US Air Force left behind – red velvet bar stools that we removed from the room we still call the pub, cast iron desks that weighed more than a small car, and plenty of bedroom furniture from the duplex houses that are now these classrooms.

For those of us who taught in the old building up the street at 1301 Quebec, we got excited when we built an addition which housed, three new classrooms, an extended day room and a giant multi-purpose room. That thing was massive. Compared to the gym today, that room was like, as big, as a small part of it, maybe the size of the music room if you pull Jill and all the instruments out of there. We played basketball in there. I directed my first ever play Black Ships Before Troy. Heck, we had the whole Holiday Program in that room. We were crammed in, we were hot, but we were happy. Hm, I guess some things don’t change.

Before that addition, we were four little classrooms and a basement. I taught down there, in the basement, for 2 years and mastered completely the art of pipe-dodging. The pipes down there in that basement are five feet eleven inches off the ground and I’m six feet one By the end of those two years, all my head wounds healed and I was able to teach math and give spelling tests, wandering around my classroom looking like someone out of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.

Back then, in 1990, when I began teaching at Stanley, fresh out of college, fresh off the plane from England, when my accent sounded more like Prince William’s and I still knew how to spell properly, leaving the “u” in words like “colour” and “flavour”, we were a tiny school. We had about 85 students, K-3, and a staff of less than 20. Everyone knew everyone else. We were just thinking about offering health insurance to full-time staff members, we offered French and a writing class we called language lab, and a third of everyone’s day was spent on choice time. Some of our current teaching staff were students back in those days. Some of them hadn’t even started kindergarten then.

And of those twenty staff members or so who were at the school when I began, half of them are still here today. I think that’s remarkable. And I’d like us to acknowledge them: Carolyn Hambidge, Chris Lewis, Betsy Lewis, Leneta Jones, Ida Daniel, Joanna Hambidge, Barbara Guynn, Mary Aandahl, and Debbie Montgomery; and several other current colleagues had already been involved in the school in significant ways: Kim Hartsen, Lynne Forstot, Mary Ammons, Jane Hile, Martha Markson, and Lloyd Slevc.

We have to acknowledge them and give them our deepest gratitude and here’s why. You see, when teachers and staff members leave, they get a canvas bag with the Stanley BPS logo, the Stanley bag. You know how many people I’ve watched over the years get that darned bag? Twenty years I’ve watched friends and colleagues score with that bag, and I never got one. Not until this year. This is mine! And here are these folks giving their blood sweat and tears to this school for a quarter of a century or more, and no bag. They deserve our thanks and our appreciation.

Because when you have people who have been around an organization for two or even three decades, you get something that you can’t buy anywhere. You get institutional memory. And that’s important. You get deep-rooted knowledge of the values and principles on which a school is founded.

It’s why these 8th graders who’ve been at the school all these years make such terrific tour guides to prospective families. You remember choice time. You remember taking apart motorbikes with Chris and building giant, potentially dangerous, playground structures out of junk. You remember singing your way around Star K Ranch with Mary Jo, (and please allow me to take a moment here to thank Mary Jo who has been a wonderful, creative, amazing teacher for my own children for six years – thank you, Mary Jo) or learning about yourselves by building life-size body dolls with Lynne. You remember fully integrated days, when in 345 we didn’t clean-up from one period to the next because we were just so absorbed in everything we were studying. Days when math and science, reading and writing, social studies and the arts, all collided and the result was giant, occasionally messy, projects, that sometimes went on for weeks because that’s what we were into and we wanted to know more. You remember getting dressed up for Colonial Day and having to pay taxes to King George in order to use a pencil or go to lunch and you remember leaping on the RTD bus with no idea where we were going and ending up across town on some grand writing adventure or scientific exploration.

And now, here we all are at the end of the road. What have we learned? So much. So much we didn’t know before. For me, in all my roles here at Stanley, as intern, teacher, mentor, theater director, scheduler, parent, division head, director of programs and of operations, and, as I was once referred to, “that gal who runs the Coffeehouse”, what have I not learned? It’s been twenty-one years. That’s the length of a childhood and more. We’ve all done a lot of growing up in that time. Especially me. I started out in a traditional English family, sent away to traditional English boarding schools. About as different from Stanley as you can imagine.

This school, and the people here, have taught us all well. It has taught us how to watch and listen to children. It has taught us what a joyful place school can be. It has shown us that the process is more important than the product. It has taught us the importance of play. It has helped us understand what it means to be a lifelong learner. It has surrounded us with color and creativity, laughter and friendships.

And I’ve got to know one other thing here.

You remember the Jack Palance character in the movie City Slickers? The grizzled wise old cowboy, Curly, who asks Billy Crystal: “Do you know what the secret of life is?” and he holds up his finger and says “This”. Billy Crystal says “Your finger?” and Curly says “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean sh…”. And Billy Crystal asks him, “But what is that one thing?” and Curly just smiles and says “That’s what you have to figure out.”

Twenty one years at Stanley, and I think I’ve finally got that one thing figured out. It’s something Carolyn told me when I first got here as a cherubic-faced twenty three year old. She recites it often, her favorite quotation from the inscription in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece, the Oracle at Delphi. I didn’t fully understand it back then, but I do now. It’s this. “Know thyself”. That’s the one thing. “Know thyself” Twenty one years at this school and I’ve got to know that one thing here.

I know myself. This school does an amazing, sensational, inspirational job of helping people know who they are. It’s worked for me and it’s worked for my students over the years and it’s worked for my own children. And I think it’s worked for you, graduates of the class of 2011. The schools I attended when I was a kid did a lousy job of helping me figure out who I was. They taught me what to think, where to stand, how to fit into the crowd. I’m thrilled that you have been given this opportunity to know yourself and take your own place in your world.

We are all scattering to different schools– you to high schools in Denver, Aurora, Highlands Ranch, Englewood, Erie, Santa Barbara, me to an elementary and pre-school in Boulder.

As we head away from Stanley, I challenge all of us to keep with us everything we’ve learned at this school. We hope that we’ve not only educated you as kids, we have helped to develop you into amazing people. I hope you’ve learned what you need to help yourselves succeed. I challenge you, when you leave this place, to be kind and stand up for yourselves and others. I challenge you to self-advocate and be great team-builders. I challenge you to be outstanding contributors to your community. I challenge you to see the beauty in our world and to use your talents and skills to add to it. Whatever your passion, whether it’s music or computers, sports or photography, theatre or painting or advanced calculus, or anything else, I challenge you to pursue it with energy and spirit and enthusiasm. Go out there and be the best that you can be. And do it with love.

So, it’s the last day. You’ve got your diplomas. And I’ve got my bag. One colleague, Joan, wrote something on it from Dr Seuss, himself a wise grizzled old cowboy in his own way. It says:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Thank you, graduating class of 2011 for all of your gifts you’ve shared with us at Stanley. Thank you for allowing me to be part of the journey. Be well, do good, and keep in touch.

Thank you very much.

(photo credit: Jim Thomas)

5 comments:

Jane Ginsberg said...

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hugging you.

Kathy N. said...

Thanks so much for sharing that, Steve. In many ways, I wish I had been there to hear it first hand. Bravo!
And I STILL think "THE PLAY” is the perfect license tag for your mini. (o:

LeAnne said...

Well said Steve. I know you will be missed at Stanley but change is good and The Friends School is getting a great new head.

Thanks for posting this, especially the link to the audio. I have a hard time reading with an English accent.

Jack Brogan said...

Great speech, Steve! Very touching. I got teary eyed during graduation when you gave it.

Jordan Rudman said...

This reminded me how much Stanley and you gave to me. Thank you so much.