Change. Rapid, accelerating, hard-to-predict, who knows what is going to happen next -- change. For years, I have used the PRS commencement stage to talk about some form of change -- and various ways of being ready for it. So, when the speakers you just heard (weren’t they awesome, by the way?!?!) chose “change” as the theme of their talk, I chuckled a little bit. Back in February, I thought to myself, “Maybe this is the year I avoid ‘change’ as a theme all together.”
But, after reading their talks and living the past 12 weeks and now the last two weeks, I knew that this is not a year to avoid talking about change, this is the year to go right at it.
Class of 2020 -- as you just heard, it is true, you have changed so much in your time with us. However, from my perspective, there is one way you have not changed at all.
You entered high school ready - ready to embrace any challenge, to go after all surprises, and to adapt, grow, and evolve. In fact, you were eager for it. And you graduate today with that same spirit of adventure -- and I hope a mandate to use your education to create positive change in the world.
Standing here today, I can confidently say that you are more ready than ever to do just that. The truth is, you are ready for anything.
Why do I know that?
Because for four years, Pacific Ridge School has made that our goal. And you have embraced it.
We asked you to adapt, to grow, and to evolve.
We have tried to put divergent views and backgrounds around the Harkness Tables at which you sat.
We did NOT ask you to memorize and repeat back to us, but gave you problems and asked you to solve them.
We encouraged you to find multiple ways to solve the same problem -- we wanted you to think differently, to look for all kinds of solutions.
We insisted that you speak in front of the entire school in 9th grade and asked you to reboot the senior signature program in 12th grade. Both of which you did -- beautifully.
We asked you to adapt to the environments in other countries and engage in the wilderness in our home state.
We did all these things to prepare you for a changing world, and all along the way, you have shown us just how ready for that world you are. Remember...
You entered high school during the 2016 presidential election and, ever since, you have respectfully discussed and stated your opinions about divisive political issues.
You have engaged and articulated your concern as climate change has become an increasingly urgent issue across the globe.
You have led the way in making us a more inclusive community through your equity work and involvement with our affinity and alliance groups and you are asking us to do more.
You survived the 18-24 months when vaping took over American high school culture.
You have become masters of the ever-evolving art of communication through Instagram, SnapChat, occasionally TicToc, and now… ZOOM!
And now, you are graduating during a pandemic – Drive-In Style.
You have experienced great change, and you have thrived in it. Despite it all, you came into your senior year determined to make it a great one. And, great it was. You showed up for one another this year in record fashion. You brought passion, joy, rigor, and laughter to every corner of our little school, both while we were together and while we have been apart.
We are, and will be, a better school because of you. Thank you.
Now, it is time for you to make the communities you are about to enter better too.
Now, I’d need to talk a little bit about the present – the national and worldwide challenges we are currently facing and what they may mean for you and your futures.
Class of 2020, you are entering adulthood in the midst of what it would be safe to describe as, massive change -- massive upheaval.
Joi Ito, longtime Director of MIT’s Media lab and author of the book Whiplash – How to Survive our Fast Future suggests ways to thrive in a world of rapid change. He argues that “communities flourish with strong values that provide a shared mission,” that high functioning “leadership and design interventions” are “participant-based and humble,” and “an antidisciplinary approach” allows “communities to transcend existing paradigms.”
That all sounds very complicated, but guess what? This is how you have been thriving in change for the past four years. When I thought about it, I realized you have created a recipe for thriving in change – one that plays off the principles Ito espouses. I hope you see some of yourselves in it -- as I do. Here is how you have been doing it…
First, find a group of people who will buoy and challenge you. You want some in that group of people to be folks who think differently than you do. Yes, some fundamental common sensibilities are important, but if you are going to thrive in change you want differing viewpoints -- you don’t want people who repeat back what you say. You don’t want to be tackling new problems with old conversations. You need new conversations with people who face the issues from different perspectives.
Second, take the people with whom you live, study, work, and adopt a designer’s mentality. Be proactive and courageous -- take risks together, try things out together, research. Be willing to fail.
Third, use your people, those who think like you and those who don’t, to question and confirm your thinking and your actions. Make this a regular activity.
Fourth, laugh -- a lot. The absurdity that comes with facing new challenges comes with lots of opportunity to laugh and to acknowledge that we are not alone. Take each moment of absurdity and embrace it, enjoy it. Like today. We are at a drive-in commencement in a parking lot, after all!
Finally, trust yourself, trust your research, trust your preparation, trust your friends, your family, and your colleagues -- trust that you will end up stronger on the other side of whatever this change happens to be.
If you surround yourself with forward-thinking, positive people who think a little differently from one another AND show up for each other -- you will thrive in change.
Albert Einstein once said, “in the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.”
And Thomas Edison pointed out, “Most people miss Opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
So, while you are indeed in the midst of massive change, I suggest that you are also on the cusp of incredible opportunity - opportunity to make unique lives for yourselves and opportunity to leverage change for good.
Class of 2020, don’t miss the opportunity before you just because it is not what you imagined -- just because it looks hard. Take your signature confidence, your willingness to dig in, and, yes, even your ability to laugh -- and do what needs to be done.
With these last weeks of tragic news from across the country, one final point might be the most essential for all of us, not just you.
Living a purposeful life means many things, but I know it includes having the courage and commitment to make positive change -- one small act at time.
In order to thrive in change, we must learn to embrace complexity, be excited about difference, and look forward to the opportunities challenge brings. We must learn to understand what troubles and excites our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues. We must learn how to reach out, how to be vulnerable, how to understand. We must tell our stories, and we must listen to those of others. One of the most important ways we can make a difference is to do so one person at a time.
So, graduates. Challenge is before you, and opportunity as well. Change is here for you to manage, and here for you to create.
Your future is up to you, Class of 2020. How will you respond? I, for one, can’t wait to find out.
Now, as has become our tradition at Pacific Ridge School, we give our faculty and staff the opportunity to share their thoughts and congratulations with you. So, I will step away for moment and share their thoughts with you now.
Class of 2020, as you depart, I leave you with just two requests. They are my usual ones – with our relationship to change as a focus, for this class, for this time.
First, seize the unique opportunities that come with each stage of your lives. Seek out opportunities to follow your interests – new and old. Look for ways to extend your current interests, while always keeping your eyes open for new passions as well. Don’t just wait for change to happen, seek it out from time to time.
Constantly ask yourself this important question… “Who and what is unique about this time and place in my life?”
Whatever the answers are, grab them and take advantage of them. They may be long-lasting or they may be fleeting. But, if you remember to grow, to change, and to evolve, every decade will challenge and delight you.
But here is the trick... which leads me to my second request of you.
Every once in a while, ask yourself, this question.
“Who, or what, has stayed with me, throughout all of my life?”
The answers to that question may be many or they may be few – but the answers mean something. If someone or something has stayed with you through all of the change in your life – then it matters. It matters that someone who knew you when you were five still has importance to you when you are eighteen. It matters that some activities you loved in your youth still bring you peace or energy in adulthood.
Figure out the answers to that question, and then wrap your arms around those people, those things, as much as you possibly can.
Embracing the new and the old in your life will give you comfort and excitement. Embracing difference will enrich your life, your world.
I hope for many of you, that Pacific Ridge School will be a place that remains part of your life – as you will always be part of ours.
But, now, it is time for you to leave high school - to leave the nest. We may not be ready for you to leave - I know I am not - but you are.
Class of 2020 – we will miss you. We will miss your laughter, your thoughtfulness, your love of one another, and, yes, your noise.
But ladies and gentlemen it is time. You are ready.