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Commencement 2024

Commencement 2024
Dr. Bob Ogle

The following is the 2024 Commencement keynote address delivered by Head of School Dr. Bob Ogle

Families, parents, and guests, on behalf of the faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees of Pacific Ridge School, welcome to Commencement, 2024 – the 14th in our school’s short history.

Class of 2024, congratulations.  You have just completed a truly unusual and remarkable run through high school - one marked by adjustments and changes that we all experienced for the first time.  As a result, you paved a unique road through these years – with dedication to those closest to you and an impressive appreciation for those who did not think or act like you.  It’s been amazing to watch, actually.  I want to thank you, “young people” for forging that path – for all of us. 

However, you are now about to embark on something many of us “old people” have experienced – many times. Transition.  

In the next few months, most of you will move to a new, unfamiliar location, join an institution you have only researched, become part of a community where you know very few people, and start a new life. It’s exciting. So exciting!

And that much newness, that much lack of familiarity can be unnerving. It can leave you wondering how to proceed, how to act, how to dive in.  

This won’t be the last time you feel this way… and whenever it happens I suggest you ask yourself a question – one that has buoyed me for years.  

Let me tell you a story where I used that question…  and then I’ll share it.

In 1996, I moved from New York City to Park City, Utah. I left New York after my first year as a high school English teacher. I left a school that I liked very much. I left the familiarity of the big city, one that housed many close friends. I even left a long-term relationship. For what? For a new high school where I knew no one, a town where I had no personal connections. I was starting a brand new life and a brand new career – all by myself.

And, I was young to be making a move like that.  

So young, as it turns out, that, apparently, I did not yet even look like a teacher.  

You see, at back-to-school night that year, I was about 30 seconds into my second-period presentation to parents when the school district superintendent came into my classroom.  I was expecting her because her daughter was in my class. What I didn’t expect was for her to come into the class, take one look at me, and leave. Needless to say, I was a bit thrown.  A minute or two later she returned, this time with my boss, the high school principal, in tow.  I’ll never forget it, because he came into the room with a stricken look on his face. But, as soon as he entered the room and saw me, his appearance softened, and he almost started to laugh. A moment later, he gathered himself, and I heard him say to the superintendent, “No, no, that’s the teacher.” And, he left.  

Yep, I felt about this big!

Later that night, the incident made me consider how to move forward in a community that did not know me and, apparently, where I did not look the part I was being asked to play.  What did I do?

I leaned into the question that has become a bit of a mantra for me at times of unfamiliarity.  Here it is…  

“What do I have to offer?”

The answer is different at different stages of your life and in different communities. What you have to offer your family will be different from what you have to offer your school, your friends, or your job. What you have to offer will be different when you are 18, 28, 38…

However, over the years I have come to recognize that in ALL situations there are two things nearly anyone can offer.  What are they?   

Time and care.  

Since they are always available to us, and since I have come to believe that how we offer our time and how we offer our care defines us, I want to spend a few moments on both.

For the offer of “time,” I go back to the father of one of my oldest and dearest friends. His name was Carrel Reavis, and he was a man who led an amazing, inspiring life. He was one of the first black Americans to join the Marine Corps in 1942. He ended his military service 22 years later as a drill instructor at MCRD and Camp Pendleton. After that, he ran a barber shop in Logan Heights for 30 years - and became a pillar within a tight-knit community. Whenever I was around Mr. Reavis, I recognized him as a man who understood something about life and how to use it.  And, when he spoke about time, he would say this:

“The greatest gift you can give a person is your time.”  

He would continue by adding that your time is your life – when you give your time, you are giving a piece of your life.

I love that.  It reminds me to be both generous and thoughtful about how I offer my time.  

Now, let me discuss “care.” 

Sounds simple. Care about people; care about things. Take care of others; help others.  

But there are many different kinds of caring that you should pay attention to.

I hope you care deeply about your learning, your causes, your activities. Commit to them wholeheartedly.

As part of joining a new community though, I suggest you also look for a kind of caring that gives something back to you.  

Stanford University philosopher, education scholar, and “care theorist” Nel Noddings wrote that a “caring relationship” must have a reciprocal element for it to rise to the level of true “care.”  

In order for a relationship to rise to that level, the cared for must give back, must reciprocate somehow.  It does not take much -- it can be as simple as saying “Thank you” or just using that which is given to you by another. As Noddings wrote, the cared for simply need to reflect back what she referred to as “personal delight or happy growth.” That may sound far flung, but what I think she meant is that there is a reaction, a spark, that you can feel. And that spark of reciprocation makes all the difference.

Now, caring of all kinds matters, but the reason I am promoting the idea of reciprocal care today is that when we offer our time and our care to people or to communities who reciprocate… well, that’s where the opportunity for connection lives.  

And, as it turns out, it is connection that we truly seek -  particularly when transitioning into a new stage of our lives.

And, transition is something I have been thinking a lot about recently.

You see, as some of you know, I am about to undergo a transition myself.  

In a few minutes, I will have the pleasure of handing my youngest son a diploma.  And, with that moment, a vast amount of the time and care I have offered for the last 20 years as a parent will transition away from my day-to-day life. That’s a big deal.

And, it is something that I have prepared for.

What did I do to prepare? Well, I did what usually do! I did some research! 

In fact, a few Head of School friends of mine suggested a book called From Strength to Strength by Arthur Brooks.  

In it, Brooks suggests that people should always be seeking out what he calls “root systems,” connections to others. He says that humans “may look solitary, but we form a vast root system of families, friends, communities, nations, and indeed the entire world. The inevitable changes in [life] are not a tragedy to regret. They are just changes to one interconnected member – one shoot from the root system.”  The secret to enjoying these changes, these transitions, “is to be more conscious of the roots linking” us to others.  

But, what’s so important, according to Brooks, is that, once we recognize these deep connections, these roots, we must call them out as important; we must nurture them.  

Class of 2024, make sure to look for and recognize to whom and to what you feel connection. Those connections (intentional or otherwise) are “the root systems” that will link you.  And, those connections are worthy of the offer of both your time and your care.

So, let’s go back to that moment in 1996 when I was given the opportunity to become deeply enmeshed in a school where I knew no one and, apparently, I looked like a student!  

Because I was new to the place and knew no one, I had tons of time to offer. And, offer it I did - to my students and my colleagues. Where appropriate, I combined the offer of time with the offer of care. Some students and colleagues reciprocated that care, and from that we formed connections. Those connections, created by time and care, fueled an amazing three years for me in which I experienced as much personal growth and fulfillment as any other time in my life.

Class of 2024, you are about to enter a new world. A time in your life where you will have more choices about how to live your life than you have ever had before.  

Daunting? Could be. Exciting? Absolutely. 

Remember to ask…  

“What do I have to offer?”

We all know, that each of you has so much to offer.  

But, there will be moments when you can’t quite figure out what you have to offer a new community, a new environment. When that happens, remember, you can always offer your time and your care.

Whenever you enter a new stage, try combining the thinking of Carrel Reavis, Nel Noddings, and Arthur Brooks.

Think of your time, your care, and the resulting connection as gifts.  And treat those gifts as if they are of great value – because they are. They are you.  

How you use them will reflect who you are and who you will become. Your time, your care, and your connection are the root systems that create your one, precious life – and paying close attention to them will lead to a purposeful life.

Class of 2024, as you depart, I leave you with my usual two requests – and a third for this year.

First, seize the unique opportunities that come with each stage of your lives. Seek out ways to extend your current interests, while always keeping your eyes open for new passions as well. By growing, changing, and evolving, every decade will challenge and delight you.
Second, every once in a while, ask yourself this question:
“Who, or what, has stayed with me throughout all of my life?”
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. Wrap your arms around those people, those things, as much as you possibly can.

Finally, keep asking “What do I have to offer?” to the people and communities you encounter.

You have so much to offer; try to be generous and thoughtful about where you offer your time and your care, and where you look for connection, because those choices ultimately, will define your life.

I hope that, for many of you, Pacific Ridge School will be a place that remains part of your life – as you will always be part of ours.  
Class of 2024 – you have forged your own path through high school. It has been amazing to watch. But, now, it is time for you to leave this place – it is time for you to leave the nest. Indeed, it is time, and you are ready.  

High school graduates throw caps in the air during commencement


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