Here’s what I meant to say to the 8th graders in their pre-graduation ceremony:
“Three C’s and one K. We’ve tried to encourage certain qualities here at school and looking around at you all, I think we’ve done pretty well. And when I say we, I mean all of us—you the students, we the teachers and of course, your parents and families. But it’s always a good idea to say out loud what we’re aiming for and here at this moment, it's a good time to share what I wish for you to carry into your next four years of school and beyond. 3 C’s and one K.
1.) Creativity. A terribly overused word, but truly one of the great possibilities we have as human beings. You’ve exercised it a lot during your schooling— improvising and composing in many styles, choreographing dances, writing songs. Think of all the art you’ve created, the stories and poems you’ve written, the science fair projects you’ve done, the Travel Fair presentations you’ve made. Your imagination muscle is strong and flexible. Keep it in shape.
2.) Convictions. Have them. Build them slowly from your reading, your thinking, your conversations, your values. Aim them toward the things the world needs more of, all those difficult things like justice, beauty, tolerance, stewardship, compassion. Stand up for them and speak up for them even when it is unpopular and sometimes even when it’s downright dangerous. If you don’t, who will?
3.) Contribute. Keep asking yourself in every situation— “What can I offer here? How can I help?” It can be as simple as setting the table or washing the dishes, lending a hand, asking what’s needed, as complex as offering the world your talents and skills even when it hasn’t asked for it. No potential is fully realized until you put it out into the world, take that terrible risk of sharing your ideas, putting up your artwork, offering a concert.
4.) And the final one, the K? Kindness. A word so important that the Dali Lama once said “My religion is kindness.”Most of the world is about who’s on top and who’s on bottom, who wins, who loses, who’s in, who’s out and we have to accept that’s the way we’re put together. But within that, there’s degrees of inclusion and exclusion and that’s where kindness comes in, those moments when we realize we’re all in it together and we might as well be nice to each other and help out those in need. Be kind to others and be kind to ourselves. Lean towards compassion and forgiveness.”
That’s what I wanted to say to the 8th graders as my last words. But after dancing the Grand March, passing around the Tibetan bowl with each of the thirty-two 8th graders sharing a memory of school and ringing it, when it was my turn to speak, I could tell they had surpassed their quotient of wise counsel and adult advice. So I simply said, “I will remember each of you and tell stories about you to those who come. Lots more I can say, but hey, we got a graduation to do. Let’s do it and then go out and have fun!”
We sang Siyahamba, played a last rollicking body percussion piece and off they went into their glorious future.