2023 Graduation

  • 2022
  • High School
Dr. Jadis Blurton, Head of School

I know that you are all sitting here shaking your heads that these high school years are coming to an end. Seriously, how can that be? This cohort of students has had its high school years disrupted by school closures, unpredictability and confusion, and in some ways it feels like you just started in-school high school this year. And yet you are all heading out into the world to conquer new challenges, and your time at The Harbour School is done. This year we also have our most far-flung class: only 12 graduates who will be going to five different countries!  
Instead of talking about what’s going on in the world, or the future or the past, I thought that tonight I might talk a little about what is going on in this very room. Because in your whole life you will very rarely encounter a room so full of conflicting emotions as the one you are in right now. You have them yourselves. You are ecstatic and excited about your next steps, but you are, undoubtedly, a little worried about what those steps might be and whether or not you’ll find your shoes to be able to take them. We - and I speak for your teachers and parents - are elated and beaming that you are going off to exciting places with new challenges, but of course we are also sad that you will be leaving us and we know that we will miss you next year. This is one of those rare nights when everyone in the room is looking both forward and backward. We’re proud that you will be taking over to determine your own destiny, but we’re also scared because you will be much more on your own. So what do we want you to know? What tips can we give you so that we and you feel confident?

The motto of The Harbour School is “unlocking the best.” THS has been trying to help you do that for however long you’ve been at the school, and your parents have been trying to help you do that for the past 18 years or so. Now that you are going off to five different countries, you will be much more in charge of unlocking your best, and that’s a daunting thought.

So I thought now might be a good time to go over how we’ve been doing that, and one of the best frameworks I know is the school’s five values. You can see them written on the walls in the stairwell, but I see them in you.

At THS, we believe that “the learning experience comes first.” This is why we emphasize experiential learning and choice. We wanted you to try new things, choose different things, go outside your comfort zone. Your parents also exposed you to different things, after school activities, fun or challenging classes or experiences. Now, obviously, not all experiences are wise or safe. Don’t go jump off a cliff or use heroin and say, “Well, Doctor Jadis said to try new things.” Just as we had to ensure safety on the boat or in the Foundry, you now have to do the same. But the adventure that is a new country, new skill, new business or new person is something that you know you will learn from, and it’s the best way to learn. It’s also important to reflect on your experience, whether it’s chosen or not. When I was your age a friend sent me a letter (in an actual envelope) and on the outside of the envelope he wrote “Every experience is a learning experience.” That motto has gotten me through a lot of difficult times, including the trials of the pandemic. So when you do have hard experiences, it is helpful to ask yourself what they have taught you. When you make a mistake - and you will - ask yourself how the mistake has improved your future.

The second THS value is “invested in the individual.” We know that people are different, each person has strengths and weaknesses, and everyone has value. Understanding and really believing that allows you to accept other people and most of all to accept yourself. But it’s really more than just accepting people. It’s knowing that everyone’s path is different and you cannot tell another person what path to take.     You cannot understand other people’s journey, and they may not understand yours.  That’s why you can’t try to please them or mimic them or compete with them in how you conduct your life.  You may need to find peace when they seek excitement.  They may value speed while you love going slow.  You may want to climb mountains while others want to sit in a field.  Listen to your own voice and walk your own path, not someone else’s. Otherwise, seriously, what’s the point? Looking around at your cohort of graduates, this becomes so apparent. You all have very different life stories, different aspirations and different interests, and yet you know that’s okay and there is really no point and no joy in trying to force one of you into another’s path.

The third THS value is “lifeworthy learning.” When I explain that to visitors I tell them that the skills you need throughout your lifetime are almost always the ones that are not going to be on a paper and pencil test. Many of the things you learn in school - any school - you will forget over time, but some things are important for a lifetime. Those are things like kindness, the urge to think creatively, the resilience to tackle adversity and the ability to solve a problem. Being able to form a team, communicate your thoughts and feelings, and demonstrate results. You know these things because you practice them every day. They have become habit.

The fourth value is similar: We say that we are “redefining rigor,” but what does that even mean? I think it means that we tend to think beyond just memorizing facts or passing a test and instead depend on authentic production, really practicing and enhancing the skills we want to perfect. We emphasize that getting a grade or someone’s approval is just the beginning, and we aim for a higher perfection. Don’t forget that just doing enough to please others is never really good enough. Do something, say something, create something, make something or bake something that is even better, enough to please yourself. Follow your interests and make them deeper and wider than the expectation or evaluation of others. 
And finally the fifth value is that we are “community oriented.” We see that every day, and so do you. You have supported each other, contributed to the school, and reached out in many ways to help solve the problems that people all over the world and the world itself are facing. Don’t stop. Wherever you go, remember to connect. Reach out to the community around you. Oddly enough, while seeking happiness for happiness’s sake  doesn’t really make us happy, seeking happiness for others really does make us happy.  Brain studies show that the same parts of your brain light up when you are kind or helpful as if you eat an ice cream cone – and they stay lit up longer.  So do focus on being kind.  Do something nice, every day, that nobody knows about.  Write a nice letter, give somebody an unexpected flower or compliment, pass along praise, do a favor for your roommate.  Besides adding to the general positive force of the universe, you will actually be helping yourself as well.  Be especially mindful of doing this when you yourself are sad, because it is your best medicine.

You are entering what will literally be a new world, not only like most kids who are going away to the new world of college, but into a new reality that is profoundly changed and in some ways unrecognizable and in many ways unpredictable. Everything is being re-written. Your generation will perceive innovation and adaptation as necessary, not disruptive, and you will be joining an entire cohort of others who will consider improving the world to be their calling and their duty and their challenge.

But as I look at the values that you already know and practice, I realize that none of us need worry. You’ve got this… even if you can’t find your shoes!

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