Commencement Address 2021

Dr. Bob Ogle
Below is the text of Dr. Ogle's remarks delivered at Commencement on June 10.
Faculty, Staff, Parents, Alumni, family members – On behalf of the Board of Trustees, welcome to Commencement, 2021 – the eleventh in Pacific Ridge school history…
I stand before you today about to give diplomas to a group of young adults who have been very clear in saying that they do not want their class, their high school experience, to be defined by COVID-19. 
However, I will tell you that, while the last 15 months do not define this class, their reaction to this experience is as good of an illustrative example of what has made the 105 graduates seated before you – and the three who are watching the livestream of this ceremony in their homes abroad – such an excellent class for their entire time at Pacific Ridge School.  Let me start by telling you a story from this year…
During January and February of each year, I spend time visiting with the advisories of our senior class.  I have a fairly standard “exercise” I do with them, and then I take questions and ask how we can help make the rest of their time at PRS the best it can be.  I have to admit, this year I was a little worried about these conversations.  These seniors had every right to complain about what they had lost – and looked to be losing over the next few months. 
They could have asked for all that we could not guarantee.  I was worried about asking what they wanted from us, but I knew it was important to ask.  So I did. 
You know what was their biggest request?  It was simple…
“Give it to us straight.  Please don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep.  We know what’s going on, just tell it like it is.”
What a lesson.  What maturity.  What deep understanding for the world we live in.  Yes, they wanted more in-person school, global travel, sports, arts performances, social events, and on-campus graduation – but they did not really ask for that.  They knew I had no control over many of those things.  They mentioned the obvious, but when given the opportunity to ask for what they really wanted from the school… this class – they asked for the truth.
Whatever it was, they would adjust to it.  “Just give it to us straight.”
Oh, and they did ask for a Prom.
The Class of 2021 understood the situation we were all in.  These students were thankful for whatever we could do. They wanted more – of course.  But mostly, they wanted us to understand that they could handle challenges and uncertainties without sugar coating or false promises. And, in doing so, they displayed their own understanding about how to adjust to whatever life throws at you.
Now, Fast forward with me to the last few weeks of school…  
I have found myself in the habit of asking people what they will miss about this year.  And, of course, I have heard all kinds of answers.  Anything from “sleeping in,” to various quips about wearing pajamas all the time and dress code.  What are MY answers?  What will I miss about this very unusual year?  Pretty simple. 
Now that the world is opening up, and my family is returning to our many activities, I already miss knowing we will have dinner together each and every night at 6:30. 
And, I will miss learning as much as I have this year. 

You see, as hard as this year has been, I feel as if I have been granted the opportunity to learn so much.  Small things and big things, mundane things and important things.  I think I have learned more during these past 15 months than during any period I can remember.  Here’s a few examples…
  • You are looking at an English teacher who runs a secondary school who has not taken a science class or read a scientific journal since 1990.  And yet somehow, this year, I became an expert on a virus. Who knew?
  • And here’s one to which many of you can probably relate. Before March of 2020, I had never used Zoom…   Now, I have memorized and internalized how to manage Zoom webinars for up to 300 people – and so many other tricks!
But, more importantly, I have learned so much about life and how to live it.
One book I read this year was Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.  In it, Frankl shares lessons he learned as a prisoner during the Holocaust.  Now – of course – being a Holocaust survivor has nothing to do with what we at Pacific Ridge experienced this year.  However, I found that Frankl’s text had a lot of lessons for living through this moment.  His wisdom, and his deep understanding of human existence, can give us a template for understanding our own experience in this very different time. In the book, he writes:
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
This insight has been tested over and over again THIS year and, as a learning opportunity, may be the biggest silver lining to all the frustration, uncertainty, and yes, pain, that our students have experienced.
At Pacific Ridge, we talk quite a lot about being prepared for an uncertain future, about being comfortable with the uncomfortable.  We believe skills such as commitment, agility, and persistence are essential in order for our students to flourish. Yet, it can be hard to fully teach these concepts in the context of what is, for the most part, a pretty stable, predictable environment like high school.
But life experience is the best teacher, and this year unpredictability was everywhere.
The pandemic has taught us all many things, but, for me, the need for persistence is prime among them.
When describing our nation’s struggles with racism and social justice, the late Congressman John Lewis described it simply: “Never give up.  Never give in.  Never become hostile.”
Never giving up, never giving in, never becoming hostile, staying positive, focused, and clear.  These traits and realities are incredibly challenging to live up to – in normal times. 
Yet, in extraordinary times, it is so much harder – and so much more important.
Staying on point during a multi-year global crisis requires patience we don’t have, empathy that is hard to muster, confidence when we are most fatigued, and care for others – just when we want to be the most selfish. 
And, I am here to tell you that the Class of 2021 has shown all of that – and more.  This class internalized what had to be done in this moment and lived it – on campus and in their lives.
They have been patient.  They have trusted.  They have had confidence that they would come out of whatever “this” was.  And, they have cared for one another and the school. 
When they came to campus, they spent their time here in all the convoluted ways we asked of them.  They even thanked us for what we were doing, and by thanking us, they inspired us to do more on their behalf. 
Now, I am not saying they had the best senior year possible – of course not.  But I will argue that this class got more from what we were able to provide than any PRS class before them.  They recognized that the best way to get the time they wanted together was to trust the process, trust one another, show gratitude for the efforts being shown on their behalf, and respect the very different needs of different members of our community.  And the result? 
The Class of 2021 successfully completed our course of study and, they quite successfully, applied to colleges around the country and abroad. They turned winter formal into an outdoor carnival (complete with roller skating!), they celebrated an outdoor 100-day dinner.  They created films of musicals, live-streamed arts performances, they played almost every sport we offer in April and May, they went to prom on a boat, they created outdoor pep rallies, they travelled, and today… they walk across the stage in front of a live audience on campus to receive their diplomas. 
Why do I list all of these events?  Because they are all part of a “typical” Pacific Ridge senior year experience – and this year, each of these had to be accomplished differently than ever before.  In short, the Class of 2021 (along with the help of this amazing faculty and staff) created a senior year we will never see again because they persisted, they trusted, they adapted, they owned that which they could control, they cared for one another, and they said “thank you.”
So what have I learned this year?  So much more than the science of viruses and how to manage Zoom.  This faculty, this staff, and the Class of 2021 have shown me the qualities that can lift a community to achieve more than we thought possible.
Seniors, this year was too unusual to be forgotten. I hope that when you reflect on it, you will search through the memories of a challenging, sometimes grueling, often downright bizarre year to see how you have grown and what skills you have learned. Those skills can be applied in good times as well as bad and can lift you to achieve more than you thought possible. Above all, I hope you hold on to your gratitude – for the opportunities that come your way, to others when they support you, and to yourself for the effort and attitude you bring to each day.
If you can maintain an appreciation for what you do and for what others do for you, well, you will certainly live purposeful, and fulfilling lives.
Now, I opened these remarks by saying that this class did not want to be defined by the pandemic, and then I have gone on to talk only about that.  But here’s why.  I am just so impressed, and I am so deeply grateful, to this fine group of young adults that I had to use this time to express my thanks.
Class of 2021, thank you.  You have been front and center for the most unique school year I have ever experienced, and you have helped us make the best of it.  
Thank you for your ingenuity and care. 
Thank you for trusting the good of our intentions and for calling us out on our impact. 
Thank you for leading the student body with positivity and vision. 
Thank you for all you have taught me this year.
And, as has become our tradition at Pacific Ridge, I am not the only one with words for you today.  Our faculty and staff have something to share with you as well.  So, I’ll step away for a moment so you can receive their congratulations.
 (Faculty Sentiments Video)

Class of 2021, as you depart, I leave you with just two requests.  They are my usual ones – with an emphasis on what we learned during this unique year.
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.
Recognize what you can control and what you cannot.  Put your effort and energy into those things you can impact and be ready to adjust to those that you cannot.
Be sure to thank those who help make your opportunities possible.
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.  Our time together this year has been too short -- We may not be ready for you to leave - I know I am not. 
Class of 2021 – we will miss you.  We will miss your ingenuity, your music, your trust, and your care. 
But it is time, and you are ready.