The Graduation Speech I Never Gave

It’s the morning of June 30, 2010, the last day of my eight-year tenure as Head of Children’s Day School and the end of 36 years as school principal. As I walk through the empty halls of the school the faces and names of hundreds of children come back to me, and their parents, too. The teachers who teach in these rooms, and who used to teach in these rooms, they all crowd into my mind. On my way into the garden to say goodbye to the sheep and chickens–the only beings I haven’t said goodbye to yet–I hear the mournful mourning dove. Perfect. And as I walk back through the silent yard

and hear the mocking bird high in the giant Elm, I am hit by a small wave of grief. I am going to miss all this.

Yet, all the goodbyes and thank you’s have been entirely gratifying and I am complete. The last graduation was a kind of final exam. Each 14-year-old spoke so articulately, so succinctly, so passionately, so confidently. What more could an educator want? Another class of well-educated young people. A+

Only one small thing is missing for me and that is my graduation speech. I didn’t get to give one because the students did most of the talking. That was appropriate, of course. They were each so radiant of their own unique genius, that for an adult to say anything would have been to guild the lillies. But something is missing. I want to give a graduation speech. So, I’ll do it now, as I leave the school.

In this last month students, teachers, parents, trustees gave me the perfect goodbye presents: “What I learned from Mr. Rick.” Here is a sample list:

“Play position.”
“Go directly to the person you have a problem with.”
“Take responsibility for your relationships (100%-0, not 50-50)”
“Treat the other person the way you would most fondly hope they would be, rather than the XXX they seem to be proving themselves to be.”
“Do the present right, and the future will take care of itself.”
“Treat other people as if they know what they are doing.”
“If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.”
“Treat the other person the way he or she uniquely wants to be treated. (The platinum rule)”
One teacher wrote: “What I learned from Mr. Rick? Easy: Be Kind. Always start there.”

Reading the children’s notes to me one message is loud and clear: If you want to be “Best Princible Ever,” here’s what you do: Smile and say Hi to everyone–all the better if you can say their name, too. Maybe, it really is just that simple.

But wait. This isn’t a graduation speech. The graduates already know and practice these disciplines. And although it seems we adults will never be as well educated as the students, still it is true that many, many parents and teachers have been telling me this stuff, and I know I leave the school in good shape.

So it turns out I don’t really have a graduation speech to give, and my job here is done.

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6 thoughts on “The Graduation Speech I Never Gave

  1. Because I look forward to a Wednesday ritual of savoring “Words from Rick” in the CDS Weekly, it’s great to learn that you’re continuing these conversations here in cyberspace. It seems easier to say goodbye to you knowing that each Wednesday new Words from Rick will magically appear here to lead, engage, provoke and inspire. There’s a beautiful balance of heartfullness & mindfulness in your words, coaxing their meaning to “metabolize.” The proof? – In the fray, I can begin to take note of knee-jerk reactions and start to think! I’m still learning from Mr. Rick. Thank you!

  2. What Rick modestly left out was that the yard through which he walked, in which he heard the mourning dove and the mockingbird in the giant Elm, is (and has been since June 13th) named The Ackerly Yard. We at Children’s Day School are most profoundly grateful for the unique perspective on education that Rick brought to us – almost 40 years of experience as a parent and educator yet open and fresh and imbued with the idea that every day, each of us is new. (Buy the book and you’ll learn exactly what I mean.) Having had him more or less to ourselves for eight years, we are pleased to share him with all of you on this blog. Thank you, Rick. You’ll never be far away.

    Tracy Kirkham, Board Chair Emeritus, Children’s Day School, San Francisco

  3. Rick,

    As many of us have entered this next phase, post-headship, we are finding different ways of extending ourselves and sharing thoughts and insights.

    What you have done with your blog is awesome and reminds me that this may be the best way of keeping the conversation alive and fresh.

    Many thanks for sharing.


    Judith Glickman

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