Embracing the Unknown
Students, parents, fellow teachers, distinguished guests – thank you for being here today. And to the young men and women of the Xiwai International High School Class of 2017, may I first say: Congratulations on your achievement! You worked very hard to get here, and this day belongs to you. I hope you will remember and cherish it always.
Today’s ceremony is a very special one for me personally, for two reasons. First, it gives every teacher great pride to see his students graduate, knowing that they are ready for the many challenges that lie ahead. But more than that, your class entered Grade 10 at the same time that I began serving as Principal of our High School. So you are the first Xiwai class to complete your entire high school career under my leadership. And I have not only been your principal; I’ve also been your subject teacher and homeroom teacher. So I feel a very special bond with you, and I’m extremely proud of all of you.
Today, of course, we celebrate. But what about tomorrow? All of you know where you’re going at the end of this summer; but how many of you know what you’ll be doing once you get there? What lies in your future? When faced with this question, I have no doubt that most of you will respond in the same way that you responded to many, many, many questions that I asked you in my History class: “I don’t know.”
When I was your age, and sitting – as you all are today – at my own high school graduation ceremony, I did know. I knew exactly what I was going to do with my future.
First, I was going to become fluent – and I mean native-level fluent – in at least two difficult foreign languages. Then, once I finished university, I was going to go back to Washington, my hometown. I was going to take the foreign service exam – one of the most difficult exams in the world – and I was going to pass with flying colors. I was going to become a diplomat, and travel the world in the service of my country. I was going to negotiate with leaders from Europe, the Middle East, and yes, China! I was going to have a brilliant career in government. And even though I was just eighteen at the time, I was extremely confident that all of this would come to pass.
Well, absolutely none of those things happened. And there were many reasons they didn’t happen. In some cases, I was too lazy. Mastering a foreign language took up too much time, and it also hurt my eyes! In other cases, I lost interest, and my attention was drawn to new interests instead.
But for the most part, it was the experience of being at university itself that changed me. I formed friendships with people whose goals were totally different from mine, and I started to rethink what I wanted to do with my life. I had teachers who recommended interesting books to read, and these books gave me new and different perspectives. I argued and debated with people – friends, classmates, even professors – often into the early hours of the morning. I became bored with some of the topics I studied, and obsessed with others. I joined new clubs and took part in new activities. I worked part-time, and I did internships to gain professional experience. I traveled around Europe. All in all, it was an experience I’d never had before, and have never had since.
By the time I graduated from university, I had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life. That confidence that I’d had when I’d finished high school was long gone. But I did have a much better sense of who I was, as a person, and what kind of life would make me happy. And at the end of the day, that is the most important thing that an education can give you.
So to the Class of 2017, I say: There’s nothing wrong with not knowing. None of you, and none of us, really knows what lies in your future. What happens in life is a combination of planning, action, and random chance. Some things are within our control; many things are not. I promise you: Wherever you end up ten or twenty years from now, it will be very different from where you now imagine you’ll be.
So don’t worry too much about that. What you should be focused on instead is this: For the next four years, you will have an opportunity like you’ve never had before. Never again in your life will you have the chance to meet so many new and different people, be able to learn so much and try so many new things, and have so many resources available to you as you will at university. This is your time to explore, to challenge yourself, to figure out who you are, what you love, and what you want from yourself. Seize that opportunity! Take these next four years of your life and make them yours – because they’ll be gone before you know it.
Seventeen years ago, as the day of my high school graduation drew near, some of my friends and I were talking about what we would do when we were all grown up. One of my classmates said: “Enrico is going to be a teacher.” And I remember thinking: “Yeah, right.” And yet here I am, speaking to you today at your graduation ceremony, as your teacher, your principal, and your friend. I love what I do – and I hope that many years from now, all of you will be able to say the same about yourselves.
Congratulations, and all the best as you go forward into the future. Thank you!
Good morning, dear teachers and parents, and our special guests from Grade 11. Before I start my speech, I would first like to thank my parents who sent me here, and my teachers and friends. Thank you – because without you, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m honored to be here, in this position, representing my class at our graduation ceremony.
Three years ago, we started our new lives at Xiwai. I can still remember the first time I met and talked to my classmates, and the first classes that I had with my new teachers. And now, we are about to leave. Looking back, I would say that our time in high school has been like the process of painting a picture. I’m not good at drawing or painting at all, but I will use this as my example.
Our first year was like a blank paper. We were nervous, anxious, and a little scared as we tried to figure out how to fit into this little community. And then, one day, we were ready – ready to study and live in our new environment. We became less concerned with trivial things, and much more concerned with who we were and what we would do with our time here. But we still didn’t really know how to paint yet, so we often looked up to the upperclassmen, who were already good at painting. When you paint, you have to plan your painting, or it will turn out a mess. By the end of our first year, we were ready to paint our pictures.
In our second year, we started sketching on our canvases. Now we knew what high school was all about. Moreover, now we were upperclassmen, so we became leaders instead of followers. We took TOEFL and IELTS classes and then took the tests. But there were so many things to do, and that second year was incredibly busy. It was hard to focus on one thing at a time. So the pictures that we painted were often good, but also messy. They reflected the energy of the year, but also the challenges and stresses.
Time passed quickly, and before long we were in Grade 12, the last year of high school. By this time, many of us had finished our paintings, while a few were still working on theirs. In Grade 12, there were new challenges, like AP exams and the SAT. And we started to really learn and understand our responsibilities. We wanted our paintings to be perfect, so we sought help with our pictures – removing useless lines, making the colors look more beautiful. Soon, everyone finished their paintings, and there was only one thing left to do – apply to college.
Applying to college is like finding someone to marry. It’s a very important decision, and you want it to be great, so you don’t want to rush into it. You search for years, from college to college, and finally, you think you’ve found the perfect one for you. You give yourself a deadline to make your proposal, so you don’t waste time. And as the day draws closer, you start to get nervous, and wonder if you’ve prepared enough. Then, you propose, and just like that, everything is over. If your dream school says yes, then it’s wonderful. But if not, then you know it’s not the right school for you – and there are better ones out there waiting for you. You will find your place eventually.
Congratulations to the Xiwai International High School Class of 2017, and thank you so much to all those who helped us get there. To my fellow graduates: good luck, and may all our futures be bright!
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