Andrew's 2020 Graduation Remarks


Commencement Address

Class of 2022, shortly after high school admission decisions and just hours before spring break, we launched a new strategic plan for MTS. This plan will guide our work for the next Five Years. I am sure you were incredibly interested in this and asked your parents for all the details when they came home from our launch event. 

Eighth graders, while you likely came to graduation looking to get a diploma followed by lemonade and cookies, I am sure your parents would love it if you left today with a diploma and a strategic plan for your next five years. 

Our plan is titled “Into Action” and is centered around Four Habits of Excellence. Perhaps your plan could be titled “Into College.” Trust me, your parents will like the ring of that one. Though you will not be at MTS, I suggest you build your plan for the future based on the four Habits of Excellence that we have committed to here at MTS. Let me explain.

The first Habit of Excellence of the MTS strategic plan is The Habit of Committed Exploration: “Seeking out new experiences and working past initial challenges to broaden and enrich one’s life through the pursuit of learning.” Perhaps your plan could be “1. Try new things outside my comfort zone and persevere through challenges.” 

Class of 2022, you have done this at MTS. Most recently, a number of you sought the new experience of being in a major play when you tried out for Guys and Dolls. Challenges ensued. From learning dance steps to hitting high notes, you worked past the initial challenges. From Jazz Hands to Luck be a Lady tonight, you broadened and enriched your life.

You are all about to do something new, high school. While the first days and weeks will likely feel outside your comfort zone, you will all quickly find some friends and a new, comfort zone routine. Once settled, I encourage you to keep looking for opportunities to broaden your experiences and perspectives. Keep looking for ways of getting out of your comfort zone. 

One of our neighbors here at school is the Tam High state-championship winning Mock Trial coach. I was recently up at his house collecting misdelivered mail and apologizing for the fast driving of some of our audience members. When I asked him about his recent mock trial success, he told me that his best mock trial lawyers are often young freshmen and he loves seeing them take down 17 and 18 year old at states and nationals. While I have not met any of those students, I guarantee that at the first Mock Trial meetings, those 9th graders felt out of their comfort zone. The room was filled with older students who had done the program for years. “Vogie,” their coach, is a 72-year-old who is loud, fast talking, and has large tattoos up and down his arms – a tattoo for every Mock Trial state and national victory. Those students stepped out of their comfort zone and became state champions.

Each of the high schools you are attending offers opportunities to study and travel with wide-ranging groups, like Vogie’s Mock Trial at Tam High. Look for places where you initially feel both out of place and a bit excited. Take on these growth opportunities and don’t falter when you hit the initial challenges.

Describing the Habit of Critical Reasoning, our second Habit of Excellence, the MTS plan reads: “Valuing and seeking multiple inputs and considering all facets of a topic to understand, analyze, and effect change.” The second pillar of my suggested high school strategic plan is: 2. Seek and value multiple perspectives. 

I have switched the order of the verbs – seek and then value – as I think it is critical that we seek out a diversity of perspectives. Here in the Bay Area, it is quite easy to live in an echo chamber where everyone around us is sharing similar ideas. This geographical reality is compounded by a digital reality where Google, Meta, Amazon, and less-known but similarly pervasive entities serve us headlines, stories, memes, and reels that it thinks we would like. The algorithms that drive profit value a single perspective and work against this effort to find and value multiple perspectives.

A few quick thoughts on how to find these other perspectives. First, leave your lunch table. While this may be shocking news to our first graders, in high school you actually get to choose where you sit! You can even go straight to recess without eating in 9th grade. High school is awesome that way! 8th graders, chances are the people you end up sitting with at lunch will share similar perspectives to your own. Look for classes, clubs, teams, and shows with unfamiliar faces. This is your best chance of finding new ideas.

Second, leave your campus. I fondly remember Jack, a high school student that I taught who said his best conversations about life were with his fellow employees at Sloat Garden Center where he worked every summer and on weekends. His fellow employees lived over an hour away in Tracy and Manteca. Their politics were different, and their homes were different, but they bonded over succulent soil and an annoying manager. He valued these diverse friendships and found connections where differences were most obvious. Whether through a job or a volunteer opportunity, regularly get off campus and meet people who are living a different experience.

Third, leave the Bay Area. If you have the opportunity to travel with your school or church or club, take it. You don’t have to go far! In fact, a school trip to the Central Valley will likely introduce you to people with more diverse perspectives than a drama club trip to London.

Once you find multiple perspectives, value those voices that are saying something different than what you are used to hearing. It is easy to immediately vie for your perspective. Instead of planning your retort try these steps: First, notice a difference in perspective. Second, give yourself a high five for having met someone who is thinking differently. Don’t actually high-five yourself. That would be awkward. Third, approach with curiosity. You can genuinely want to understand the why and hows of another’s beliefs without losing your own beliefs. This third step is hard, but with the critical thinking skills you have developed here at MTS and will further refine in high school, you can decide what to think after you have truly heard what others think.

The third Habit of Excellence of our strategic plan, Conscientious Citizenship, reads: “Recognizing our responsibility to society and actively engaging to make our communities stronger, healthier, and happier.” My suggested high school strategic plan part three would be: Think global. Act local. 

We need each of you, Class of 2022, to take responsibility for our society. Looking back on the events of the past few weeks, few months, and few years, I am confident that each of you could come up with a long list of problems that need our – and your – urgent attention. Recognize the big problems and act. As you have seen and discussed in various classes, you can’t wait for us – the generations before you – to be the difference. You need to be the difference.

The forces of inaction will be many. School deadlines and sports practices will try to stymie your efforts. For the next few years, you will also need to rely on the continued chauffeur service called your parents. Don’t be deterred by these impediments and, instead, commit to making a difference.  We need you to.

Finally, and most importantly, the fourth pillar of the strategic plan, the Habit Collective Wellness and Belonging: “Actively nourishing the mental, physical, and emotional needs that allow individuals and the collective to thrive.” While I am providing four elements to your high school strategic plan, this fourth element is the most important one. Take Care.

First, take care of yourself. Just like a flight attendant reminds me to do when I am seated on the plane next to my children put on your own emergency mask first before assisting others. Having spent part of my career working with high school students, I know that taking of yourself in high school means: 

  • Sleeping enough. Get as much sleep as you can. Sleep equals happiness in high school.  
  • Move your body. Play sports. Go to the fitness center. Walk your dog. Whatever you do, keep moving.
  • Ask for Help. You have learned how to do this in resource periods and office hours. Take it a step further and ask for help for things beyond academics. My high school teachers gave me help when recovering from a break up with a girlfriend. Seriously, your teachers – even your parents – are there to help.

Finally, take care of others. Class of 2022, you have done this. You have FaceTimed with a friend in need. You have righted wrongs. And, importantly, you have asked for help when a friend’s hurt has been above your paygrade. Keep taking care of others. 

Great things await each of you as you embark on high school and the rest of your educational journey. As you move forward, remember this suggested strategic plan for success - The Into College Strategic Plan:

  1. Try new things outside your comfort zone and persevere through challenges.
  2. Seek and value multiple perspectives.
  3. Think global. Act local.
  4. Take care

If you don’t remember this, feel free to ask for help. Get back in touch with me or any of your MTS teachers in the years to come. You are the MTS Community now and will continue to be in the years to come.  Class of 2022, congratulations. You are ready for a bright, strategic future.

 

Nancy Tracy Teaching Excellence Award

While today we celebrate the Class of 2022. We also get to celebrate and recognize a member of our faculty. For the second time ever, today I will award the Nancy Tracy Teaching Excellence Award. During her forty-year tenure at Mount Tamalpais School, Nancy Tracy was one of the most revered of Mount Tamalpais School’s many excellent teachers.  To honor her service and recognize future outstanding Mount Tamalpais School educators, we established the Nancy Tracy Teaching Excellence Award in the Spring of 2020. The award is given every other year to a teacher who has been at MTS for more than three years and embodies the spirit of Nancy’s excellence in their pedagogy and care for students. The recipient will have the same commitment to teaching, learning, and community spirit that Nancy demonstrated over the years. 

Though the award is not decided by a popular vote, this year’s winner received more nominations from fellow teachers and parents than any other teacher. Those nominations include words such as:

“She has the kids' best interest at heart at all moments. Her pedagogy and teaching philosophy is focused on having the students thrive, and to that end, she will do anything to support them.”

“She cares deeply about giving her students meaningful work that promotes intellectual and social-emotional growth.  Any time I have passed by her classes, her students are joyfully and enthusiastically engaged, in part because she is joyfully and enthusiastically engaged herself.“

In the words of her fellow 5th grade homeroom teacher, “She exemplifies commitment. Of course, she demonstrates incredible loyalty through the sheer numbers she has taught here. But more importantly one can see her commitment in how she shows up each day. Her enthusiasm for the content she teaches and the love she has for her students are both palpable at all times.”

Finally, after reviewing all of the nominations and helping to select this year’s winner, Nancy Tracy said, “I would appreciate it if you would tell Trisha Cahill how very much I valued her as a colleague and friend.”

Congratulations to Trisha Cahill, the winner of the Nancy Tracy Teaching Excellence Award. Trisha, please stand so we can recognize you.

 

 

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