I had the opportunity to listen to a principal at a school share her thoughts on achievement, graduation and the world. It was a powerful, meaningful speech, and I was pleased to see that she didn’t provide some kind of antiseptic warm and fuzzy, aren’t you all wonderful kind of speech. Instead, she gave it out like it was, and didn’t hide from the students the challenges that they would be facing in the years to come. Inspired by that, I’ve composed my own address.
Dear graduating students,
It is, as always, an honour to speak to you, and I am aware of the importance of this occasion. After 13 years of education, you are finally graduating. From here, you will go forth into the world, no longer as representatives of your school, but as young men and women. Teaching is a difficult job – I’m sure you’ll agree with me on that, and in recent times, teachers have received perhaps more than their fair share of criticism for the apparent moral failings of society, but it is also the best, and most important job in the world. I can say that without a moment’s hesitation; in what other capacity besides teaching do adults have so much capacity to influence the lives of young people?
And now, that influence is coming to an end. Well, at least the direct, day-to-day aspects of that influence. You will take memories about what one teacher or another said with you for the rest of your lives. I hope they are good memories, and they provide inspiration at your lowest points, and comfort in the darkest days. In some countries, teachers are called shapers of infinity – no on can predict where their influence will end.
Enough about teachers; tonight is all about you. I’m sure you are excited at the end to schooling. I’m sure you are keen to get out there and start working, or start university or move in with friends. Perhaps some of you are even considering moving to another country. Ancient cultures used to value the moments when boys became men and girls became women. There were elaborate rituals and important ceremonies. Modern societies seem to have dispensed with most such ceremonies. Except, perhaps, for your graduation from high school. In many ways, people see this as one of the big steps towards adulthood. No longer a child, you are now free to make your own way into the world. The choices you make will be yours alone, and you will reap the benefits and consequences of those choices. Such is the nature of adult life.
Personally, I don’t agree with this viewpoint. It’s too simple, too neat. And, if I’ve learnt anything in my years teaching, it is that nothing about growing up and moving from adolescence to adulthood is neat or simple. We live in a world of uncertainties. A world of turmoil, where joy and celebration is quickly tempered by despair and misery. We live in a country that has some of the highest standards of living that there is or ever has been, and yet so many Australians live in misery. We live in a world where the gap between rich and poor is widening into an insurmountable chasm. We live in a world of stark inequalities bounded only by our hope and ability to work collectively to bridge those inequalities.
So, if I have to give you any advice, it would be this. Do not wait for your life to begin. Do not consider this graduation night as the starting point for your adult life. There are no perfect moments to start something anew. There is only the present. There is only now. Don’t spend time waiting for your life to begin. Don’t spend time waiting for something to happen. Don’t spend time waiting to be discovered on the X-Factor. Instead, get out there and make things happen. Your life – your adult life – has already begun, and the way you are living now is as important as how you will be living in a week.
Seize the moment. Seize the hour. Seize the day. Identify those things that are important to you, and strive to achieve them. I hope, having grown up in the environment provided by this school, that those things that are important to you are important to us all. I hope that you are committed to working ethically to help others, that you believe in the sanctity of human life and you value the opportunities to work collectively with others to improve everybody’s lives. Remember, all of us that sit in this room are privileged beyond measure.
And that’s all the advice I can give you. It’s not much, but in world of uncertain futures, it’s the most important words we all need. Year 12, I congratulate you all on your efforts and achievements. You should be proud of yourself, as you complete this part of your lives. I look forward to hearing stories, in the years to come, of further achievements and successes. Go with God.