Math Department Chair Elisabeth de Sévigné gives the 2019 commencement address.
Dear Alex, April, Asha, Ashlee, Ben, Bowon, Cassidy…ah, forget it…
Dear Class of 2019,
If you have ever had me as a teacher, then you know that I often send letters (via email) welcoming you back to school after break, or begging you to study for an upcoming exam. As this is my final letter to you, I’m sure that you’ll indulge me, and let me write about something else. In fact, I’m sure you’re so happy I’m not begging you to study mathematics that you’ll let me write about whatever I want. And so, with that indulgence, here I go.
Did you know that in 1st grade I stapled one of my fingers, not once, but three times in a row? That’s right, I have A) started my letter this way, and B) I stapled my finger three times. It wasn’t on purpose, and it was for a good cause. The stapler was broken, and I was trying to fix it. It just so happened that it took me three tries till it was fixed. Now, as this story indicates, I didn’t show great promise growing up.
I struggled with so many things. In kindergarten, I could never quite figure out how to spell Elisabeth, so by the end of the year, the teacher became exasperated, and essentially proclaimed that if I could spell “Beth,” then she would say I could spell my own name and could go on to 1st grade. In 1st grade, while my gifted and talented friend could read The Tortoise and the Hare at – like – a 12th grade reading level, the only thing I could do with the book was color it. In 4th grade, spelling was still a problem. On a story about making Thanksgiving pies, I spelled “cool whip” as “cool wipe.” As a final example of how unpromising I appeared in my childhood, during a social studies test, I declared that the main language of Brazil was Vietnamese.
By the end of fifth grade, everyone (except for me) knew that if I didn’t get my academics into shape, I was in serious trouble. So my 5th grade teacher and my mom came up with a great idea that would help me build my academics. Oh! – What is it! – tell me! I would spend 2 hours of every weekday in my summer studying academic topics. Say what? I know what you’re thinking (you actually followed their plan?). Of course I did! I was a delightful child that followed all directions. Okay…actually I was a little sassy, but I did follow through with the plan. And it was one of the best ideas ever.
After that summer, teachers began to recognize me as being an academic leader in my class, and over the course of several years, I started to get placed in honors and advanced courses. The work done that summer, and the changes that resulted from it, taught me a great life lesson. My work ethic defines how skilled I am. While there will forever be people who are more skilled than I am in oh-so-many ways, that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to outrun them, because striving for perfection raises my performance.
This life lesson has led to several positive consequences. My hard work in mathematics led me to liking math (notice that liking math is a positive consequence!). This in turn led me to my career choice: a high school mathematics teacher. Being a mathematics teacher is great! Besides encouraging students to believe that fractions are their friends, I get to continually hear my students tell me they spell better than I do, and I get to spend time after school grading papers.
During one of my after school grading vigils, I was sitting at my desk, and I reached for a certain item, but it turned out it wasn’t working properly. It was a stapler. Don’t worry, I didn’t staple my fingers fixing it, all I had to do was add more staples. However, I suddenly realized an important fact. I want myself – and all of you – to be like a stapler. A stapler serves its function of faithfully, consistently, and humbly fastening together papers to form a cohesive document whose whole is more than the sum of its parts. It sits in the background. It doesn’t need the limelight. Yet, we appreciate its work every day. It does its job so well, no one realizes how important it is to the everyday run of things, until it is broken. And when it is broken, it is cared for, because of how well it has cared for others.
I have seen students of this class have staple moments. In fact, because I once heard that people remember speeches they can see better than speeches they can hear, I’m going to illustrate one student’s staple moment. Now I had many students in this class to choose from, and you know I love you all, so naturally, I chose my student with great thought. I wanted to pick one that the largest amount of people could visualize. As the head of the student body this year, Chris Bennet was in front of the school every week, so I figured that everyone could visualize what I am going to describe. About a week ago, some members of my AP Statistics class were playing tennis during their free day. In one of my many moments of strange ideas, I decided that I would join them, even though I was in heels. As we played, Chris took on the ideal coaching persona. He didn’t monopolize any shots, in fact he let me take some of his shots so that I could hit some – not so good – backhands. Based on my statistical calculations, Chris hit the ball pretty evenly to all the students on the other side of the net. He also gave timely and encouraging feedback, that wasn’t a lie. For example, he told me, “For being in heels, you covered a lot of distance.” or he said “It was the thought that counts about that shot, you had the right idea about where you wanted it to go.” In that specific moment, by being a stapler, Chris was not only the ideal coaching persona, but a leader – a leader that built other people up, that helped them want to be their best self on the tennis court, and that helped everyone want to work together. When we aim to be like a stapler, we aim to do the right thing in every circumstance, and this inspires other people to do the same as well.
We are approaching the end of my letter.
As any student of mine will know, whenever my classes are on break, during the middle of the break, I send an email wishing you well and saying “I miss you.” As this is my last letter to you, I won’t be able to say those words again. So I want you to know that when I step back into my classroom for the first time after the summer vacation, I will miss you. Likewise, when you are stepping into your first college classroom, I will miss you. When you are forty and forget what my name is, and you can’t quite remember what this speech was all about, I will miss you. But I wouldn’t want it to be any other way. It is right for you to go on with your life. So while I will miss you, I’ll be proud that you have finished your time at George Stevens Academy. As you go forth from this stage into your profession and future life (hint: I am about to state this speech’s theme), work hard, be faithful, be consistent, and be humble. Proactively desire cohesiveness with others. Aim to do the right thing in everything you do.
Alright. It is time. C – O – N – G – R – A – T – U – L – A – T – I – O – N – S. Congratulations! You did it! Happy graduation class of 2019!