From Sparks to Flames of Action

At graduation this past June, I ended my remarks to the Class of 2017 by quoting Golda Meir. She said, “Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” These words are a perfect bridge from last year’s theme of Building the Future to this year’s theme: Inspiring Thinkers and Doers. What are those inner sparks of possibility? How do they become flames of achievement? 

To help us understand, I want to share two stories with you today: 

A number of years ago, I had an advisee named Wyatt who was also in my Chemistry class. As his advisor, I had known that Wyatt suffered from debilitating migraines—the kind of migraines that can make it difficult for you to get out of bed. At the end of the semester, as part of his final project, Wyatt chose to research the brain chemistry of migraines, why they occur, and how they are treated. Over the course of a couple of months, Wyatt learned from texts and journals, met with his doctor, and spoke with other people that suffered migraines. He finished his Chemistry project and turned it in at the end of the year. For many students that would mark the end; not for Wyatt. The next fall, Wyatt returned and petitioned to do an independent study. He wanted to learn how to create apps in iOS in order to put what he had learned into use. He went on to learn how to code for iOS and created an app to help people track the potential triggers of their migraines. Wyatt released the app just a few years ago. His doctor now regularly recommends patients to use it, and he has already made a difference for people suffering from migraines. 

The second story is about two students that helped raise the consciousness of the Brimmer community just a couple of years ago. While the story does not begin then, it was spurred forward when Alexis Ifill, Class of 2017, and Katheryn Maynard, Class of 2018, went to the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference. At the PoCC they listened, shared, and learned with other high school students from around the country. They listened to the struggles and successes around diversity at other schools and shared the work that has been done at Brimmer. What they learned and brought back has had a profound impact on our School and will help shape the experiences of everyone in this room and future students.  

After the conference, they wanted to share what they learned with the Brimmer community. They were eventually invited to present at a Board of Trustees meeting. Their message was that, at Brimmer, we are grateful to have such a diverse and accepting community. AND, at Brimmer, we should be proud of the work that has been done to raise awareness of issues of equality and inclusion. Katheryn then explained, however, we cannot just give ourselves a pat on the back and be content with where we stand and the success we achieved. Being a diverse community is hard work and you cannot rest on your laurels. You need to continue to think about what our community is capable of accomplishing and then work towards those new goals. Seeing the need, theyall gender focused improving in areas of gender and identity. The message from Katheryn and Alexis left a lasting impact on the School leadership and has helped lead to an updated dress code that strives to be inclusive and does not talk about bodies as a distraction, the removal of gender specific pronouns in the Student/Family Handbook, the formation of affinity groups for our students of color, and the reassignment of single-use bathrooms in the school as all-gender restrooms. 

What does being a Thinker and Doer mean to you? Perhaps it is building something new to help people. Maybe it is creating a new club for the school or designing a way to help limit food waste. It could be organizing a fundraiser for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Or it might be simply performing a small act of kindness or finding a way to make the experiences of your classmates more positive. No matter what the idea is, or how big or small it may be, we are all capable of being thinkers and doers.  

Each one of you has the potential to transform the sparks of your ideas into actions; Actions that will lead to the flames of achievement that emanate from our community this year. 

Thoughts on the Class of 2017

I had the opportunity to speak to our 12th grade students and families the night before Commencement and then to give concluding remarks at the Commencement ceremony. Here are my remarks about Brimmer and May’s incredible graduate, the Class of 2017.

Senior Dinner Speech, June 1, 2017

I can still vividly remember the first night of US Camp with this group of 12th graders.large_news1111410_1042653 There we were sitting in a circle in the rec hall at Camp Wingate-Kirkland. My hope that evening was to just listen to them talk about themselves, their grade, and what made Brimmer unique. About ten minutes into that conversation- two incredible things happened. First, I realized that we should have recorded the entire conversation because the statements the students gave about what makes the school unique could have been used in Brimmer marketing materials for the next decade! Second, I knew from the way they described the school and each other that I would not regret coming to Brimmer.

Over the past few weeks, as I continued to reflect back on this class I kept thinking back to a theory one of my college professors, Presidential and American Historian Robert Dallek, shared with me. I would just ask you bear with me for a few moments as I dig into the idea a bit.

As many know in the early 20th century the United States was thought of as a melting pot. A place where people could come and cultures would mix. The concept being that everyone would influence each other and form a new norm for society. The problem with the model was that it was only a homogenous view of the world and didn’t celebrate or even recognize our diverse backgrounds. It assumed we all had to be the same. So, historians and sociologists began referring to America as a Salad Bowl instead. Showing that we each have our own cultures and identities, we are mixed together without losing who we are. Together as a whole we are greater. Dallek, my professor, predicted that sometime in the future the model would shift to a fruit salad. And I think that this perfectly describes our incredible class of graduates. Each of our students has their own distinct identities, personalities, and stories. They each bring their own unique flavor to our school. But over time, as they continue to work together, learn from each other, and challenge each other, some of their flavors start to get absorbed by other classmates. The cantaloupe begins to have some hints of honeydew and strawberry, the pineapple keeps some of its tartness, but also absorbs the sweetness of the watermelon, and even the grapes that seem impenetrable are coated with the ideas and experiences that help to shape what they have become in the fruit salad.

These 29 students are all incredible individuals with bright futures ahead of them, but they also have each shared a piece of themselves with every other member of the class and the school. They have enriched all of our lives by adding their unique flavor to each of us. And for that we will always be grateful.

I want to end with a short poem from Maya Angelou that seems fitting for this class and for them to keep in mind as they start the next phase of their journey:

Open your eyes to the beauty around you,

Open your mind

To the wonders of life,

Open your heart to those

Who love you,

And

Always be true

To yourself

Commencement Concluding Remarks, June 2, 2017

I present to you the Brimmer and May Class of 2017.

As we come to the conclusion of Commencement, I wanted to take one last moment to address the Class of 2017. During Convocation at the beginning of the year I shared with you the following:

“Our world needs young leaders who are actively working to make a difference. So, do not just sit back and be consumers of information. Be creators. Be active participants in the world and strive to make a difference- no matter how big or small. Some days you will take a risk and you will fail miserably. Other days those risks will pay-off. But in the moments of attempting something new and stretching yourself, you will be setting yourself up for future success”

Everything that we have heard today and all that you each have done over the past 2, 4, or 14 years at Brimmer and May is evidence that your futures are bright. 29 individuals with their own stories, passions, and strengths. Each one of them has grown from the risks they have taken at Brimmer and they each have helped shape our community. The Class of 2017 have individually and collectively pushed us to think differently about music, art, science, race, identity, and so much more. They are a group of people that simply do not accept the status quo and I want to thank you for imprint you have left on our school.

As I conclude, I want to leave you with one final thought. Golda Meir said: “Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” May your sparks of possibility never be extinguished so that one day we may see the billowing smoke from all that you achieved. Congratulations!