Thursday, May 27, 2010

Commencement 2010

Last week, I gave this speech to my seniors. Tonight, I'll be watching them walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. No tears (for me), but always a moving time.

We're here. Many teachers come to the end of a school year thinking "I wonder if they've learned anything of meaning", let alone the things you were trying to teach. As you walk across the stage to receive your diplomas, a teacher (at least this one) is filled with mixed feelings of accomplishment, failure, pride, and relief. We envy the possibilities open to you, but do NOT envy the uncertainty that every young person faces as they "commence" with this new chapter of their life.

My final words are probably nothing I haven't already said to you at one time or another, but this is my last chance to make a lasting impression and I'm taking it! As I read to you the following bits of advice, let them envelop you and soak in as a fog would on a long walk. I hope that one or more of these pieces will be helpful  to you someday.

*If it seems too good to be true, it probably is... but don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

*If it ain't broke don't fix it... but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Inspect things from time to time.

*Use sunscreen... but don't be afraid to get some fresh air. Take it easy on the tanning bed too - you look great as it is and you'll look better 20 years from now if you take my advice.

*Choose the person you'll share your life with wisely. Choose someone with common sense and a sense of humor, because these are harder to develop than a fashion sense, and surgery can't cure an ugly personality.

*Eat well... and understand that eating well is not the same as eating a lot.

*Slow and steady wins the race... if your opponent is fast, but really, really dumb and overconfident. "Isogaba maware" is true, but that doesn't mean that you can't go wrong by going slow. Sometimes slow and steady is not fast enough. Sometimes you will need to pick up the pace and sometimes you will need to slow it down - learning when to do what will take a while, but it will take less time if you understand from the git-go there is a time for each.

*Sometimes you should put your head down and keep on keeping on, but sometimes it's better to stop and reassess. If, at the beginning of a race, your course is off by as little as a few degrees, by the time the race is over, you could be miles off course.

*TV, the internet, nor your cell phone are more important than your classes, the road, or the friends and family with you right now. I have over 300 Facebook friends, but probably know less than half of them. "Real" people are more important than PMs, emails, tweets, or updates.

*Having a clear sense of purpose makes boring less boring and more fun. If you are bored, change your surroundings or change your perspective. ...and do it quickly. Your life is too valuable to waste being bored.

*Woody Allen said "90% of success is just showing up." I believe that to be true, but it is also a fact that NOT showing up will net you failure 100% of the time. Failing to be present in this moment right now is falling into Dr. Seuss' dreaded "waiting place". Choose to be here, right now, over and over again because, good or bad, it's all you got.

*NEVER say "I'll never need this". Ignorance is like blindness - you have no idea what you are missing. You can say "I'll never need math", and yes, you can live without it, but it's like living without fugu... and you, as my students, know how much I love fugu - things as seemingly small as a basic understanding of mathematics, or the experience of eating something new and wonderful can change you in a very real and fundamental way if you let them. Never lose your beginner's mind.

*Don't give up and keep moving. When you get beat down, tell yourself "GET UP!" and "MOVE!" (repeatedly if necessary, and it probably will be necessary).

Congratulations Class of 2010.

May the force be with you always.

Live long and prosper.

gokurousama deshita.



Unknown said...

That is a great little speech, I wish I had teachers like that.

Boris said...

Thanks Tommy. It's a solid speech, I think. Still plenty of room for improvement as a teacher however.

michael plunkett said...

Nice commencement but avoid too much sunscreen- it could be more dangerous on your skin than we know. Get as much Vit D from the sun as you can but protect yourself with hats and shirts and exposure time. Build a tan as defense.
just my three cents

L. Wu said...

I'm still figuring out what to think about sunscreen.

A friend of mine in medschool here at Stanford suggested: get 10-15 minutes of no screen sun every day, and if you burn, put on sunscreen.

Seems like a decent compromise to me...