Class of 2020 Commencement Speech

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The following speech was given to the Class of 2020 during the Brimmer and May School Commencement. The speech was recorded in advance on May 19, 2020 prior to the May 29, 2020 event due to COVID-19.

Class of 2020, I want to you to close your eyes for a moment.

Take a deep breath and remember back to September 7th, 2016. You arrived at Upper School Camp a few hours ago and now you are sitting in a circle in the Pearl B at Wingate*Kirkland. If you can, try to channel some of the feelings you had that day. There was a sense of excitement about starting high school, some fear and nervousness about the unknown, and a myriad of mixed emotions. During that meeting, I asked you to think about what you want to accomplish during your time at Brimmer and what your goals were for your first year of high school.

With your eyes still closed, let’s jump ahead to September 4th, 2020. We are all gathered in the Leoj at Wingate*Kirkland. Once again, we are sitting in a circle about to start our discussion. This time, you are deeply connected to each other. You are hanging on every word that is said as your friends talk about how much being at Brimmer has meant to them and the legacy they hope to leave, both individually and as a grade. This time there are tears- tears that come from the depth of your connection and general love for each other as a grade. Even though there is excitement about the potential that lay ahead for your last year of high school, you are already thinking about the end of your Brimmer journey, not yet ready to let go of each other. This powerful moment in the Leoj, where you opened up about the profound way you have influenced each other was a testament to who you are as a grade. A group that has achieved so much and is committed to one another. While we may not be able to sit with each other on stage today, to hug one another and experience this momentous milestone together, I want you to remember that moment in the Leoj and keep it as a lasting image of who you are – and what you mean to one another – and this school.

You have grown so much from that September day in 2016. At today’s commencement you are standing in the doorway between two worlds. The first being Brimmer, the place that you have called home from anywhere between 1 year and 14 years. Here you have experienced so many firsts and created the foundation for your futures.

You are not the same people you were when you arrived. Yet you owe so much to your pasts. In 2016 you spoke about being more organized and getting good grades. In 2019, your focus was on your impact on the community. Your 9th grade self was focused on self-improvement, while your 12th grade self is about legacy.

Just like who you were earlier in high school was critical to who you became today, who you are today, will lay the groundwork for tomorrow.

You are pointing in a new direction that is the start of a new journey. Nothing is set, just the possibility for growth. For this reason, I want you to think about the following phrase that was shared with my by Rabbi Becky Silverstein.

Another world is possible. You are authorized to enact its vision

Here you are. You are ready. You have the tools and the knowledge to go forth. We live in a world with problems. This moment is a testament to that. Having arrived at Brimmer’s Upper School at the same time as most of you, I have looked forward to your graduation for the past few years. We never could have imagined that we would gather in front of screens to participate in Commencement. If this time has tought us anything, it’s that some of the problems and challenges we encounter can be anticipated and others will be unexpected. You have learned through your time at Brimmer that we are not judged by the mistakes that we make, but instead how we respond to the challenges that we face.

Your high school career is bookended by the themes Building the Future and Student Voice and Responsible Leadership. We, quite literally, are asking you to use your voice and to create a better future.

Another world is possible. You are authorized to enact its vision.

You have learned while here, how to draw new meaning from a text, how to stand up for those who need a voice, the ways that art can inspire, and how to use data to draw conclusions.  We have empowered you to use your voice to lead.

As you prepare to go forward, we need you to focus on the solutions and not be paralyzed by the problems. We will overcome our current crisis, because there are people working on solutions. Solutions that help individuals, communities, and the world – solutions that you will undoubtedly be a part of.

My dear Class of 2020, there is no doubt that this is a scary time filled with uncertainty. However, do not forget another world is possible. You have been the leaders at Brimmer and will be leaders in your colleges and beyond. You are or are authorized to enact its vision…You are ready to take what you have learned and what you have experienced at Brimmer and bring it with you. Our school is a better because of the impact you had on it. The School, your parents, and I could not be prouder of each of you.

Close your eyes, one last time. Feel the energy of this moment. You have grown so much and have the ability to have a tremendous impact on our world, to use your voice to solve problems big and small. I hope that when you find yourself facing a new challenge and are faced with uncertainty or doubt, that you remember how you felt on this day- the joy, the sadness, and the pride that we are all feeling today.

Class of 2020. Thank you. It has been an honor to have gone through my first four years at Brimmer with you. We love you, we miss you, and we cannot wait to be gathered in person again.

 

 

Morning Meeting Reflection on NYC Attack

The following thoughts were shared with Upper School students on 11/1/17.

Yesterday afternoon, while our school was ending the academic day and students were transitioning to sports, play rehearsal, and after-school activities, people’s lives were upended in New York City when a man drove a pick-up truck down a bike lane in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people and physically injuring at least twelve others—forever changing the lives of the victims, their family and friends, those that witnessed the attack, and causing those who have faced trauma to revisit their past experiences.

We have seen these types of tragedies in London, Paris, and throughout the world, but seeing it in New York feels closer to home. Many of us have strong connections to N.Y.C. through families, visits, and alumni who have moved there. Our empathy is even stronger having experienced the Boston Marathon bombing not too long ago.

Each of you are going to have your own personal feelings, responses, and emotions around these events. I want to share a few thoughts with you and ask you to think about them.

First, it is important during the times after terrorist attacks, while facts are still being collected, that we not jump to conclusions. As Ms. Christian shared, we should not make assumptions about the suspect or all people that look like the suspect. It is important to remember that when people choose to perform acts of terror, they are making individual choices and are not representative of all the people with similar identities.

The other idea I want to leave you with is how you respond to these seemingly random acts of violence. A natural response would be avoidance—taking extra precautions to stay away from “high risk” areas. By doing this, you will feel like you are helping yourself remain safe.

At the same time, though, it can feel counter-intuitive and is difficult to carry on with your normal day while keeping the events in mind. In many ways, continuing with your day can be a way to fight against acts of terror. By choosing to still visit N.Y.C. you are not allowing fear to rule your life. This does not mean you should not be cautious. Instead, it symbolizes something stronger and defeats the ideals of a terrorist. We still run the Boston Marathon each year for these reasons, and the N.Y.C. Marathon will still be run three days from today, for these reasons.

As we move into our moment of silence, I ask that you think about those that have been impacted by yesterday’s attack in New York City, the terrorist attacks that we may not hear about as easily, and all those that have been victims of terror.

Celebrating Our Diversity

Like many, over the past forty-eight hours I have struggled over the election results. My first thoughts were how did we get here and how do I explain the results to my four and half year old? His understanding of Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton was that Trump said mean things and did not apologize, whereas Clinton made mistakes and said she was sorry. So, as we explained who won the election he was obviously confused. In his world, we value respect and taking responsibility and not the use of “mean words”.

After trying to explain to my son the results, I left the house Wednesday morning still struggling with what to say at our Upper School Morning Meeting. How do we make sense of this to our students? While I still do not have all the answers to this question, and I’m not sure I ever will, I wanted to share the thoughts I gave to the Brimmer Upper School.

In 1796 George Washington stepped down from the Presidency marking the first peaceful transition of power to a unrelated person in Modern History. Washington easily could have stayed on for another term but understood what would be one of his final nation-building responsibilities- establishing the transition of Presidential power. This idea has been a hallmark of our democracy for the last two hundred twenty years. A peaceful transition is how other modern democracies model for their government election processes.

In four years, just about everyone in this room will have an opportunity to vote in the next Presidential election.That being said, understanding the nature of our democracy does not offer much solace for those that are in shock over the Presidential election results. Intellectually the importance of transition makes sense, but emotionally this change doesn’t, due to the nature of the campaigns. This election was filled with hate and hurtful words from conservatives and liberals. No one was immune from divisiveness engulfed us. But President-Elect Trump has come to symbolize those intense feelings and words that have many of our diverse students, faculty, and staff feeling uneasy about what this means for them. What this means for the future our country?

Now, I want to share a short personal story. This year, when I began at Brimmer, I was transitioning from a school that had little diversity. One reason I came to Brimmer was because I wanted to be in a place that was more diverse, but I wasn’t prepared for the impact that this aspect of Brimmer has had on me. At our school we celebrate our diversity and each morning I wake up inspired to come to a place that has such a rich cultural, ethnic, religious, and gender diversity. Celebrating diversity is part of what makes this school a special place.

So, when I think about the past year, I remember a lot of arguing and yelling about what people thought was most important. Whether it was Bernie, Trump, Clinton, Cruz, Rubio…the list goes on. There was a lot of talking but there was not very much listening. People were willing to shout their values at the top of their lungs, but found it difficult to open their ears to the underlying fears of each side. As a community we can respond to this election by continuing to create a powerful, thriving diverse community that is engaged in dialogue. We know that being diverse is not easy. Putting together so many different people with a wide range of values and experiences takes work. A lot of work. In many ways, it is easier not to be diverse. But easier does not mean more valuable. We don’t want to settle for easy. The desire to be diverse challenges us to think about what is necessary to live in a society that respects all voices, takes responsibility for its actions, shows kindness even in the most difficult situations, and remains honest. 

So how do we respond to the divisiveness that has come out of this election? We respond by building the community we desire for the country here at Brimmer. This is going to require us to be upstanders. We cannot allow the hate and disdain to permeate our community and build walls between us. We are going to need to stand up for those people whose voices may be silenced. We need to support each other and not create more fear. The subtleties of our words and actions can have a powerful impact on our community and we must work to be supportive. If we do this, we can begin to heal. We can be an example for how to build community, instead of creating divisions. Over the next few hours, days, weeks, and months- be there for each other. I know that this will create the light that will shine through the darkness that has come from our divided nation.

Today, I cannot think of a better way to honor the memories of our Veterans. To honor their sacrifice for protecting the United States and the world. Our veterans do not represent a single political party. Rather they come together from all different backgrounds to to preserve the freedoms we know in our country and to protect those around the world that cannot stand up for themselves. I cannot think of a better way to move forward, then as coming together as upstanders celebrating our diversity and standing up for those that need our help.