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Doodling Between Black and White

June 03, 2013 in Inside SWS

Speech given by grade 8 parent Joel McCulloch at the Stepping Up Ceremony on June 1, 2013

So here we are to celebrate the completion of this part of your life. Macklemore couldn’t be here and so you’ve honored me to be a part of your celebration, and I thank you.

While we know that this day is in every way about you and your transition, you have to recognize that everyone in this room is transitioning. You are going to high school; we parents are going to have high schoolers. You are going to explore new places; we parents are being left behind. The school will be just a bit emptier for a time.

We are all stepping up from a close knit community that has held us as we grew to be the new people that we are today. Your class has seen tragedy more than any should bear, but you’ve balanced that gracefully and elegantly with your successes and optimism. Your class is cohesive, strong, sensitive, and gentle. You’ve learned so much since kindergarten, where you used only two colors of crayons and paint at a time. As you passed through each grade, you took on more and more responsibility, saw more and more choices, more and more paths to take. You have grown to be wonderful young adults.

Yesterday, at the Rose Ceremony, you celebrated your school, the creative energy it fosters, the art, the freedom, the community, the philosophy. Nowhere else do we expect that art and science, movement and math, language and song come together so harmoniously. Nowhere else will you make a stool from a stump, Trevor. Nowhere else are there field trips that push your strength and temper quite so; nowhere else is there such opportunity to learn to learn. And teachers, we thank you.

Each of you, regardless of where you go to high school, are going to experience a bigger pond to explore. Where you are going there will be less protection, less handholding, more risk, more personal responsibility, but your past will guide you and you should trust it. You are well prepared.

In that bigger pond you will be reminded by many, to borrow from David McCullough’s commencement last year, “that you are not special….” You will have to meet absolute and unreasonable standards, that have been set by absolute and unreasonable people. You will be at the bottom of the food chain…suck it up; you are not special. It will be unfair, unjust, and uncaring, and you will want to poke your eyes out in frustration. Relish this time; engrave on your soul what it is like to be starting out, to be the new person, the underdog; learn humility. You are not special….

But you will become special. You will learn and demonstrate new ways to do things and do them well, even better than ever done before. You are well prepared.

You do have some very specific tasks over the next four years:

  • Your Freshman year you will need to learn where your locker is, where the bathroom is, and how to meet a completely different grading standard. You’ll need to respectfully accept that for many the world is only black and white, and while you (respectfully) argue that there is gray; they will not care. You will struggle to fit in; they will not care. They are well meaning, but you are not special…. You will complete your work in black and white… but in that tiny gap between black and white, you will draw form-drawings and borders of gray. You will intrigue them…. You are well prepared.
  • Your Sophomore year you will perfect your study skills. You will learn to budget your time between friends, studies, new extra-curricular activities, and many other distractions. And you will fit in. You will start to tint that gap with color, red and yellow at first. You will impress them…. You are well prepared.
  • Junior year you finally show the school who you actually are. It will be a crazy, busy year. Suddenly you will become a big fish. You will suddenly become, well, AWESOME. In all that chaos and busyness, I challenge you to stop, pause, look around, take a breath. Make sure that your talk is reflected in action, (yes, remember your eurythmy). Make sure you are on YOUR path and not someone else’s. You will draw with Technicolor, and it will be hard to pause, to breathe, but you are well prepared.
  • As a Senior you will yearn for “the real world.” You might have access to cars, to later curfews, and part time jobs. Look back at what is engraved in your soul, and remember what it is like to be at the bottom, to be the underdog. Reach out and help those that need your help, because you remember. You are well prepared.

Many years ago, a wise man, in this room today, told me about walking… he suggested, “people that are focused, hard working, preoccupied, they concentrate on the ground, with their shoulders hunched when they walk. Scholars, and artists, and people ready for new experiences, they look up, with their shoulders back.”

Now you don’t know what you are interested in for a lifetime career, despite being questioned daily by well meaning adults. High school and even collage is the time to look around, to figure that out. So, go. Literally go to the center of your new school, set your shoulders back, and look up in each direction. Look down the science corridor for the explosions and clouds of smoke, the examples of biology experiments that seem interesting; stroll down the art corridor and see all the new media, all the color you can create into new expressions; listen in the language corridor for that accent that turns something in your heart; and check out the names and specialties on each of the doors in the math corridor for that concept that makes you think just a little harder. Because this is your time to explore, with the fewest restrictions, and with the most open mind you’ll ever have again.

You Freshmen already know what a “renaissance person is.” Plato, Aristotle, De Vinci, yes, even Steiner. Several in this room today. These people explored many disciplines, each becoming fluent in art AND engineering; music AND math; foreign languages AND athletics. They are people that can speak on any topic with knowledge. More importantly, they listen; they empathize. And they think critically. They are the most compassionate and just of our citizens. You have already started down this path. You already have the start of a broad foundation to build on, you are well prepared.

Now in this “information era,” what is labeled as “news” gets to you faster than ever before, in extremely convincing ways, rarely getting “fact-checked.” Our society needs people that can think critically, people that can take a breath, remember broad experiences, able to see the bigger picture and not to jump to conclusions of cause and effect. You are setting out into a world with complicated problems, whether it is pollution, warming, water, food, disease, and you are well prepared. Well prepared to bring compassionate, artistic, and thoughtful solutions.

So that is my wish for you. That, in the next four years, and then the next after that, that you cast a wide net, explore, seek new experiences, new friends. And as you explore, you find at least one that you truly love and that you create something special. Look for the imaginative solutions, the creative gnomes and fairies that elude so many of us. Set your shoulders and look up to see beauty and inspiration in the clouds, hear music in the trees, but glance down once in a while; make sure you are where you should be.

Now some of your explorations won’t really excite you, some you will even fail at. For that, I hope that you, as another said, “go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes (Neil Geiman).” We all have to start at the bottom, we all have to allow mistakes.

It’s been a long time since we jumped rope to learn our times tables. It’s been a long time since we’ve walked holding hands. For many years you have been pushing your boat further and further into the pond, away from the dock, and all to soon you’ll be out of sight. Each of you has become, in your own way, an adventurous, creative, articulate person. As you explore and try new things, always know that there are hands to hold, to help. Hands of friends, family, teachers, coaches. And also know that your parents will always be there, waiting back there on the dock.

Be kind and graceful to those you meet; do good deeds; build lasting relationships; forgive your mistakes and those of others; develop and live by your principles; have the courage to follow your heart and intuition; stick up for the underdog and disadvantaged; create beautiful things. It is my honor to know each and every one of you, and we celebrate your future.

Joel McCulloch
On behalf of the parents of the Class of 2017