David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at the school [Wellesley High School in Massachusetts], delivered his rather unusual speech (see full text below) Friday, telling graduating seniors that they had been “pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped.”
Dr. Wong, Dr. Keough, Mrs. Novogroski, Ms. Curran, members of the board of education, family and friends of the graduates, ladies and gentlemen of the Wellesley High School class of 2012, for the privilege of speaking to you this afternoon, I am honored and grateful. Thank you.
So here we are… commencement… life’s great forward-looking ceremony. (And don’t say, “What about weddings?” Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective. Weddings are bride-centric pageantry. Other than conceding to a list of unreasonable demands, the groom just stands there. No stately, hey-everybody-look-at-me procession. No being given away. No identity-changing pronouncement. And can you imagine a television show dedicated to watching guys try on tuxedos? Their fathers sitting there misty-eyed with joy and disbelief, their brothers lurking in the corner muttering with envy. Left to men, weddings would be, after limits-testing procrastination, spontaneous, almost inadvertent… during halftime… on the way to the refrigerator. And then there’s the frequency of failure: Statistics tell us half of you will get divorced. A winning percentage like that’ll get you last place in the American League East. The Baltimore Orioles do better than weddings.)
But this ceremony… commencement… a commencement works every time. From this day forward… truly… in sickness and in health, through financial fiascos, through midlife crises and passably attractive sales reps at trade shows in Cincinnati, through diminishing tolerance for annoyingness, through every difference, irreconcilable and otherwise, you will stay forever graduated from high school, you and your diploma as one, ‘til death do you part.
No, commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue. Normally, I avoid clichés like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.
All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.
You are not special. You are not exceptional.
Contrary to what your soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.
Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman! And now you’ve conquered high school… and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building…
But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.
The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore. Newton, Natick, Nee… I am allowed to say Needham, yes? …that has to be two thousand high school graduates right there, give or take, and that’s just the neighborhood Ns. Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs. But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it. So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you. Imagine standing somewhere over there on Washington Street on Marathon Monday and watching sixty-eight hundred yous go running by. And consider for a moment the bigger picture: your planet, I’ll remind you, is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe. In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it. Neither can Donald Trump… which someone should tell him… although that hair is quite a phenomenon.
“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection! Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!” And I don’t disagree. So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another — which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?”
As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans. It’s an epidemic — and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune… one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School… where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement. And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.” I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition. But the phrase defies logic. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.
If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning. You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness. (Second is ice cream… just an fyi) I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning. It’s where you go from here that matters.
As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.
The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer. You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on YouTube. The first President Roosevelt, the old rough rider, advocated the strenuous life. Mr. Thoreau wanted to drive life into a corner, to live deep and suck out all the marrow. The poet Mary Oliver tells us to row, row into the swirl and roil. Locally, someone… I forget who… from time to time encourages young scholars to carpe the heck out of the diem. The point is the same: get busy, have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands. (Now, before you dash off and get your YOLO tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression–because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life. Rather than You Only Live Once, it should be You Live Only Once… but because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.)
None of this day-seizing, though, this YLOOing, should be interpreted as license for self-indulgence. Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
Because everyone is.
Congratulations. Good luck. Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.
I’m going to Turkey for 2 weeks starting Sunday. I’ll be in Istanbul, Ankara, Cappadocia, Kusadasi, Ayvalik, and Canakkale. Any recommendations for things to do?
Anything, really. I have an itinerary, and I’m traveling with a group of educators. We’re seeing a lot of the great sights and participating in some local events in some of the more rural areas, but I guess I’m just looking for some tips and suggestions based on other people’s experiences. Thanks.
Summer has officially started for many of you! I know that you will probably be relaxing for the first few days, but eventually you may feel the need to be inspired and motivated for the upcoming school year! Social media provides us with incredible opportunities to choose the way we want to develop professionally. You can choose the topic, the medium, and who you want to learn from. You can choose the way you like to learn, because social media provides us with several multimedia experiences, such as webinars, LMS, live video, and more. The experience is usually dynamic and motivating because you are learning with others around the world! Additionally, you will be developing your Personal/ Passionate Learning Network (PLN).
Professional Development Opportunities to Choose From…
The 30 Goals Challenge- Over 1500 educators have downloaded this free e-book that challenges you to accomplish 30 social media and professional development goals in 30 days. These are short-term goals, such as guest posting, setting up a Google alert, causing a ripple, and contributing to a blog carnival. Download the free e-book to get you started. Additionally, feel free to contribute to my new weekly series that will be featuring a post from an educator who accomplished one of the goals.
31 Days to Become a Better Edtech Leader- With his vast experience, Terry Freedman offers excellent goals to accomplish each day that help you use educational technology effectively. Goals include conducting a SWOT analysis to organizing an inservice! Here’s a handy list of each post and the links.
The 23 Things Project- Take Steven Anderson’s 10 week course that shows you how to use various web 2.0 tools effectively in the classroom.
SEETA Courses- The South Eastern Europe Teachers Association offers several week courses with a guest author or expert in the field. You can check past courses or take the upcoming one with Lindsay Clandfield from June 16-20, Coursebooks of the future: Adopt, adapt or abandon? You will have to register, but the courses are free!
ELT Moodle Web 2.0 Tools course- Andy Chaplin offers several classes to help you become acquainted with using Web 2.0 tools effectively with English language learners. Register for free!
Edufire Free Live Online Classes- Register for free and have access to various topics such as using various web tools or learning a different language. You get a live tutor on a video.
Attend Live Events in Real Time!
You can attend several free conferences, webinars, Twitter chats, and presentations online with your PLN! These usually last one hour, but many conferences also offer free all day live streaming of their keynotes.
The Educators’ PLN Ning Live Chats with Authors- The Educator’s PLN is a great place to interact and learn from other educators. Join us for free live chats with various authors. In the past we featured Alfie Kohn. Please join us for our live chat with Howard Rheingold on Wednesday, June 16, at 5pm PDT/ 8pm EST.
Watch Live Streams of the 140 Character Conference- Jeff Pulver has been amazing in getting celebrities, educators, and leaders in various fields to speak passionately about how social media is revolutionizing their fields. If you cannot attend physically, then attend virtually. Jeff live streams the talks! Follow the hashtag, #140Conf for continuous updates.
Edublogs Live Events- Every week, attend a free webinar on various topics. Usually, Jo and Phil Hart hosts these free webinars that cover effective use of web 2.0 tools or instructional methodologies.
Classroom 2.0 Live Events- Every week, attend a free webinar with an expert in a field or listen to some great authors speak live and ask them questions.
Ever dream of studying at Stanford or MIT? Well you can attend several free online courses from their universities. Below are useful links to find a free online course at several top universities in any subject!
MIT Open Course Ware offers over 1900 free online courses in over 20 subjects. You can subscribe by RSS or get e-mail updates.
Stanford on iTunes- Download courses, faculty lectures, interviews, music and sports that will play on your iPod, iPad, iPhone, Mac or PC.
17 Universities with free online courses- Find out how to access these free courses from some of the most respected universities in the world! This article also describes the experience of learning through these online classes.
250 Free Online Courses- Find a list of several more free online courses from the top universities categorized by subject.
Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain: Why We Should Examine Our Approach To Networked Living
It’s the second day of summer (well not exactly — we still have reports to write and half a week of in-service professional development) and my mind is unwinding. I’m starting to feel myself marinating in the ideas that really get me going: The changing technological landscape and its effects on our social lives, the purpose of institutionalized education in a world where what it means to learn is shifting quickly, and the ways in which we construct and present our identities online.
— Networked Living —
What is your practice for managing it all? I try to be as transparent as possible when it comes to the contributions I make to the network. While I recognize companies have been trying to build strong privacy structures, I also realize that most of what I put online could easily move outside those barriers. Most of my social networking defaults are “public”. I usually keep photographs private, and I’m not big into tagging or accepting tags made by other people (I remove those tags).
In his brilliant treatise, The User Illusion, Tor Norretranders, in discussing the momentum toward artificial intelligence, touches on a hard truth:
It began as a pest: quietly, persistently, irritatingly, but just as a pest. Computer viruses, fragments of programs capable of moving into computer memory, where they immediately order the computer to make copies of themselves. They were originally created by mischievous programmers who wanted to tease one another, then their employers, and finally vast networks of communicating computers. Then teenagers, so called hackers, started playing hide-and-seek with technological and defense colossi by infecting their computer networks with pranks. the idea is that a short length of program code inserted in a computer propagates as a “virus,” infecting the host computer and any other computer the infected host is in contact with.
On the face of it, an apparently innocent, harmless game, which merely goes to show that there is not much security surrounding computers: that computers all over the world chattering away together make it possible to spread messages never meant to be spread.
It’s that last line that I keep coming back to. The network doesn’t care about the sensitive nature of the bits and bytes we contribute. Our role is simple: to add stuff and then copy other stuff. We care about privacy; the network doesn’t, and in fact, the network can’t. The more we build structures for privacy, the faster the network finds ways to remove those barriers. We’re the filters pushing content around (although bots also do that job — they locate a piece of information and replicate it somewhere else on the internet).
I read Norretranders observation as a guiding principle. I can’t put too much faith in the network to protect the data I have on it. If it’s connected, it’s at risk.
It’s as though we’ve secretly ‘leveled up” as a society, and on this new level privacy means something completely different than what we’ve been taught to believe on the previous levels. Part of the game is figuring out how to change your character’s behaviors so that you can effectively manage yourself as you explore and capitalize on this new information reality. If you want to get ahead in the game, you must seek out the truth about the network and how it works. You may be the Wizard of Oz telling yourself: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, but you can’t afford to continue living the illusion forever.
We hear buzz-words like network citizenship and digital footprint. These are ways of asking you to think about what it means to be on the web, just like you might ask students to think about how they should behave and act in school. Here’s the problem: The network is unlike any place we know because it’s a model for organizing ourselves and our information that literally transcends the idea of “place”. From now on we will be engaged in a ever constant struggle with the new dynamics that appear as the network grows and develops. Experience on the network will inevitably richen, and as it does, we will need to classify the types of behavior that emerge in response to that richness.
I’m not going to say that we should model responsible or ethical or best behavior, because those words are loaded with meaning we carry with us from a time when the network was only a dream in the minds of a few visionaries. We have to examine ourselves as part of a system and realize that the system exacts certain behaviors from us — ones that we may have little control over. The more we seek to understand how those behaviors develop and form, the better chance we’ll have at making an impact on the design of the network, which for now, we can probably all agree, is a jumbled mess.
The ever important pivot that every traditional newspaper publisher is realizing: “We are a technology company that happens to publish a newspaper. We deliver content. And we will deliver content on many platforms and in ways that we haven’t yet fully considered.”
Interesting white paper offering detailed models for blended learning environments.
Two design principles governed the process of updating and expanding upon the blendedlearning definitions:
1. Develop flexible definitions so that they can still be useful even as the field continues to innovate. The definitions are intentionally broad and open, rather than specific. They set forth basic patterns that are emerging, but avoid setting tight parameters about how a model “has to be.”
2. Exclude normative qualifiers. This principle is a holdover from the last report. Some blended programs are high in quality and some are not. Some use dynamic content, whereas others have more static content. Some are more expensive than the traditional schooling model; others are less costly. The definitions in this taxonomy leave out such appraisals. Just as a hybrid car can be either efficient or a clunker and still be a hybrid car, blended learning can be both good and bad.
Design for Social Impact: A High School Course for Creating Citizen Innovators
Two years ago, a colleague approached me about starting a course at our high school (residential 9-12 school) that dealt with ideation and creativity. As we talked, read, and brainstormed, the course which developed, Design for Social Impact, grew into an experience which teaches kids how to use design-thinking, a process for inquiry, development of a product/service, and innovation to make an impact on their immediate community.
The course is completely project based. Students spend the first part of ten weeks occupied entirely by a single project where we walk them through the design process as they engage in it. At the beginning of the project, they receive a design brief, like the one they got at the beginning of spring term: http://bit.ly/KHNBby . They’re organized into teams which, over the course of the project, are given the tools to think divergently about the issue and brainstorm possibilities, converge on a particular question or problem about the issue, research the constraints by closely observing those who the issue affects, then brainstorm and prototype solutions that can be synthesized and iterated upon before they arrive at a solution which they present at the end of the project.
This year the class worked on two big projects. The first, in which they learned about the process of design-thinking, students attempted developing solutions that would creatively and efficiently improve waste management on our campus. We have a huge push toward sustainability and recently inaugurated a 70 acre solar farm on campus, so this type issue resonates with our student population. You can see some of the artifacts from their presentations here: http://www.lvillepress.com/va511/design-projects/.
The second project was focused around the Harkness teaching an learning plan. Our classrooms consist of large wooden oval tables around which 12-14 students and a teacher sit and engage in discussion based learning. Here’s the design brief: http://bit.ly/KHRq0G. For this project we posed the challenge:
Develop an innovative way to deploy information technology for the improvement of Harkness teaching and learning at Lawrenceville.
For the second project the students were also divided into teams. Some of the solutions proposed were better than others, but the process of thinking about the opportunities for improvement in a system which everyone takes for granted was an enlightening experience for many.
Here are some of the artifacts from their inquiry and process:
Interesting to note: We expected the students would have an easy time making the videos for the class, but when we asked for their feedback, that was one aspect of the course they were most frustrated with. They did say that they wished they could take the course earlier in their Lawrenceville career; they thought the method they learned for designing projects would have been useful in many of their other classes.
All of the students in this class were seniors, so our hope was to encourage them into social entrepeneurship tracks in college. We brought in a couple guest speakers who were both inspirational and practical to that end.
Design for Social Impact, an offering for high school students is really a work in progress. Like any designed solution, the product will be re-designed and improved for every iteration. We put huge value on the feedback from students and are looking forward to an enriching experience for our students this coming fall.