Be Present & YOMOFO - Andrew's Graduation Speech

Congratulations to our 8th grade graduates! 

Andrew's Commencement Address 

And now, 8th graders, I have some thoughts for you as you head off to high school. And while I was tempted to see what Chat GPT 4.0 could do compared to last year’s speech, I promise that these are original Andrew Davis words, and this is not Scarlet Johanson’s voice.

Class of 2024 – eighth graders – I want to take you to a place quite different from where you are right now. While I won’t ask you to close your eyes, I want you to imagine for a moment that you are back on an outdoor education trip, perhaps alongside a lake in the Hetchy Hetchy Valley of Yosemite.  These fancy clothes are replaced with shorts, a fleece jacket, and a warm hat. You are surrounded by a small group of classmates, there is the white noise of a camp stove in the background, and the sun is falling behind a ridge. 

Try to feel what you felt in that moment.  Hold onto that feeling as my advice today is centered around the experiences and feelings you had on outdoor education.

Before you receive your diploma, I want to speak to you about the word media and its cognate, unmediated, and how it relates to that memorable outdoor education moment. 

Nearly every graduation speech I have given for the past eight years has included a reference to Latin etymology. Today is no different.  Media is from the Latin “medius” meaning middle. Media is what is in the middle between us and what actually happened. 

While “the media” is a rich topic for a graduation speech, my remarks today – advice for you, Class of 2024 – are centered around a related word, unmediated.  Un-media. Take out the middle. Be direct. 

Graduation speeches are meant to give advice so I offer three pieces of advice for high school and beyond related to the concept of living an unmediated life.

First, go directly to the source.  We could have shown you photos of Eleanor Lake in the Hetchy Hetcy and watched documentaries about challenging outdoor adventures as well as the history of dams and water rights in California.  Instead, we sent you directly to the source. 

You experienced the literal weight of carrying a heavy pack mile after mile and the beauty of Yosemite. Your experience was unmediated, and for that reason, it is memorable.

As you head off to high school, I encourage you to continue going directly to the source. Too often we make decisions based on information that starts, “I heard that…” Such as “I heard that track team is way too hard” or “I heard that Mrs. Krabappel  is the best teacher.”  Class of 2024, don't rely on others. Experience it yourself –unmediated – and form your own opinions.  

In going directly to the source, you are able to step outside the echo chamber of media that reinforces narratives and beliefs that are often not grounded in truth. Cut out the echo and go directly to the source.

My second piece of advice to live an unmediated life is to “Put it down and look up.” There is a direct connection between the profound moments that many of you experienced in Yosemite and on other outdoor ed trips and the lack of phones and digital devices you had in the wilderness. Sitting around the campfire alongside the American River, you couldn’t drop into the world of your screen. When hiking with a classmate you did not know as well, you couldn’t put in an AirPod and tune out. The wilderness forces us to put it down, look up, and see the people and places around us. Life in the wilderness is unmediated.

While none of you have opted for a wilderness high school experience - yes, those exist – I encourage you to minimize your technological distractions so you can have similarly profound experiences and personal connections. Four years from now, you will be graduating from high school and reflecting on those four years. I guarantee you will not remember a single moment when you were looking at a screen.

While I cannot think of a healthier collective action, I am not so clueless as to think that all of you will leave your phones at home when you start high school. Knowing that many or most of you will walk on campus with a device in your pocket, I encourage you to be aware of how and when you are on a screen. While it is easy to hide behind a screen, it is impossible to make friends without looking up. 

When reflecting on both your time at MTS and what you are looking forward to in high school, many of you spoke about “the community” and “the people.” Community and people are in real life. They are here, looking at you, not their phones. New people will be there at freshman orientation, lunch, and the morning snack break that we call “recess.” Yes, in case you didn’t know it, there are no games of army tag in high school. To make meaningful connections, to make new friends, you will need to put it down, and look up.

The final bit of advice that I have to recreate the unmediated experience of outdoor education is both the simplest and perhaps, the hardest. Be present. 

As you rode the whitewater of the American River in 7th grade, the cold water splashing in your face and the shrieks of your classmates made you be present. What does it mean to be present in high school? First, show up. Try things. If you haven’t already, you will soon be bombarded with opportunities to engage in school life. 

I strongly encourage you to sign up for a sport that starts practicing in August. Once you sign up, and show up – be present –, you will immediately make new connections and develop friendships both in your new class and throughout the school. If volleyball, football, or tennis are not your thing, there is always cross-country. Anyone can run cross-country, making new friends and connections. In fact, it is the only sport where the worse you are, the more playing time you get. If it is not a sport, then show up for clubs such as mock trial or debate. Tryout for the first show of the year. Being present means showing up.

Second, be present, even when it is difficult. You all have learned to do this at MTS. Pulling Beauty and Beast together last week was difficult. And yet, you showed up to the challenge. You were present. Toni’s science tests are difficult, and you not only show up to class, but you stay for office hours. When it gets tough, show up. Be present.

Finally, being present means dropping the constant FOMO, fear of missing out, in favor of simply being where you are.  The sooner you learn to embrace the people and experiences around you, rather than the others you think might be happening, the better your high school experience will be. Trust me YOMOFO - you are missing out when you have a fear of missing out. 

Class of 2024, thank you for being present to my words of advice for the years to come. When you leave here today, I hope you will go directly to the source, put it down and look up, and be present.  MTS Community, I encourage us all to live a more unmediated life. And let’s all strive to be present.

MTS Class of 2024, we are present with you right now. Congratulations on completing your Mount Tamalpais School career!

Read More