Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Smith School

(My address to the graduates of the Smith School, New York, NY)

It is an honor to be with you this evening.  On this very special day, we celebrate you and your accomplishments.  You have successfully completed the courses that will now serve as a foundation for your future. 

For those of you who now move on to high school, you will soon enter an important phase in your life.  The next four years will expose you to subjects and ideas that will challenge you, but also prepare you for your adulthood.   I encourage you to focus all your energies on your studies—and to make the most of your high school years.

For those of you graduating from high school, you have now completed an important phase in your life’s journey.   Now go forth with confidence and the knowledge that you are well prepared for the future.

Because of the Smith School’s unique approach to education, and its caring teachers and nurturing environment, here you have been given an opportunity to learn and to succeed.  You should all be proud of yourselves—your parents sure are! 

Many great people throughout the world’s history have recognized the importance of education.  The great South African leader and civil rights icon, Nelson Mandela, said, “Education is THE most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world.” 

The great American philosopher Allan Bloom said, “Education is the movement from darkness into light.”  And the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  This is a very important idea—for the pursuit of your passion, whatever it may be, inevitably leads to great personal reward.

A great American educational reformer, Horace Mann, said, “A human being is not attaining his full heights until he is educated.”  A great (and very large) former NBA basketball superstar, Charles Barkley, said, “People cannot rely on government to come help you in times of need.  You have to get your education.” 

The great American historian, Daniel Boorstin, said, “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.”  Here at the Smith School you have been given a wonderful opportunity to learn many things you did not already know.  But learning, and educating yourself should be, must be a life long experience.   And the tools you have obtained here at the Smith School can be applied in your continuous pursuit of learning, and your career.  The great Chinese Philosopher, Confucius, said, “You cannot open a book without learning something.”

The Smith School mission statement is inspiring, and it contains several important words:

Responsibility.  You should strive at all times to be a responsible person, a responsible employee and a responsible citizen.  So be fully engaged in your life. 

Adapt.  Everyday technology is advancing and Society is evolving—you must be able to adapt to change.  Do not fear it--rather embrace change.  The great American inventor and Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”
Innovate.  Do not be afraid to develop new ideas, and to bring them to fruition.  Conversely, do not be afraid to make mistakes, or to even fail.  Everyone makes mistakes--everyone has failures.  The key is to learn from your mistakes—and you will.  The great Irish author, Bram Stoker, the man who wrote Dracula 100 years ago, said, “We learn from failure, not success.”  The great founder of the Apple company, Steve Jobs, who endured some failures along with great success, said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” 

Alas, this is not the time to speak of failure, for today is a culmination of your success, your hard work has paid off.  You all have overcome many challenges and have navigated uncertain seas to prove to yourself that you can do it--you can succeed. 

So take the many lessons you have learned in this wonderful institution, and build upon the foundation you now have in place.  

President Barack Obama wrote a note to my daughter several years ago that still today hangs on her bedroom wall.  “Dream big dreams.”  Like so many people, President Obama was challenged by childhood difficulties.  But he dared to dream.

I tell all of my students to find their passion--then put all of their energy into pursuing that passion.  Shine a light, light a fire, reach for the heights, and change the world.  Be true to yourself—be who you want to be—but never stop being a student.

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