I did it. I still can’t believe I did it. It was all God. I gave a graduation address! It was an honor to speak to my beloved “blanks” one last time. I am tearing up as I write this. I pray I can feel this way with every class. I pray it never gets easier because it means I truly developed lasting relationships and deeply invested in the lives of these kids. The heart-ache of letting them go into the world is worth it as long as they leave knowing they are loved by a God that loves them more than they can ever imagine.
It has been a marathon week. I worked with a team on students to plan and run our 5 day senior trip to Zanzibar, came home Tuesday then worked with a team of teachers to run Graduation Dinner Wednesday night and Graduation Thursday morning. I was able to just watch the final school assembly that afternoon. Was surprised and overjoyed to find out one of my grads was getting baptized at school after the assembly! Then finished out the day with an Alumni vs students football game.
Now, they are all graduated and heading off around the world. 1 to Canada, 1 to Malaysia, 1 to Germany, 1 to Mauritius, 1 to South Korea, 1 to South Africa, 1 to Norway, 2 to Netherlands, 2 taking a gap year, 8 to the United Kingdom, and 9 to the U.S.
Here is my Commencement Address to the Class of 2015:
Good morning and welcome. It has been a privilege to be your Lifeskills teacher and academic counselor and friend. I love doing what I do because I get to work with you. Many of you apologized last night at the graduation dinner for teachers needing to “put up with you”. No apology needed! You kept me laughing, excited for the next day, and dreading today. The day we have all been preparing for is here. Parents, you have some pretty amazing kids sitting up here with big dreams and goals to influence their world. 13 years of preparation and we are finally here! From the beginning of the school year, these students would walk in my office and see the picture of the Class of 2014 on my wall and they would comment. “That will be us next year! But they look so much older than us! We aren’t ready.” You weren’t ready then. I think you are ALMOST ready now. Come August, your picture will be on my wall and the class of 2016 will be looking at it saying, they look so much older than us. We aren’t ready!”
I have had the privilege of walking alongside you through this past year. From pizza nights at my house, killer games of spoons, many days serving in the snack bar, running big events, serving on SEW teams, and just sitting in my office usually laughing, and sometimes crying. And as I’m sure you all know, surrounding all we did were my prayers for you; only desiring the best for you all. You are all my children and a good parent knows the best for their kids isn’t always what the kid wants. No I am not going to buy you a soda at the snack bar. Yes, you must pay for the broken window. Colin PLEASE stop talking when I or your classmates are talking!
Through the positive and the few hard times, you have all grown and matured. I am so proud of you and the changes you have made and rising up to the challenges your teachers and I have laid out before you. In August, when your AS results were released, we had some hard conversations. You realized attaining your goals would require hard work. Life got real, real fast. We all knew their needed to be some major changes this year. So this is how we started they school year in Homeroom:
Each class has a reputation. Your class is lazy, unmotivated. Many of you were at Graduation and heard Mrs. Mwenda’s challenge to the class of 2014. If she were to step up today and give a speech about your class, do you want to be the Apathetic Class of 2015? Unmotivated Class of 2015? Lathargic? Slothful?
After sitting through your results meetings, most said, this year is going to be different. How will this year be different? Are you just going to snap your fingers and suddenly, your study skills will improve? Your prioritization will change? Your memory will work better? Regretfully, it doesn’t happen that way. It is a conscious choice to make changes that over time change a reputation. When you graduate, what will your reputation be? That is determined by each of you individually and will affect your class as a whole. Like it or not, you are now the seniors, the ones 325 other students are looking up to. YOU set the tone! Are you going to be indifferent about house competitions? Sleep through assembly? Not volunteer to do anything? Leave all the planning to one or two people in your class and MAYBE show up? You each have the potential to be someone who does something significant here at HOPAC and in your future, but that starts with your attitude right here, right now. Prov. 27:17 As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another. We as teachers and staff are here not only to educate you, but to encourage and support you to be all who God created you to be. Sometimes that is fun and sometimes it is painful. But we aren’t the only ones here to challenge and support you. You have all been together now for at least a year. You have been through some great times and some REALLY hard times. You have gotten to know each other pretty well and will continue to develop those friendships this year- like it or not! You have the responsibility to hold each other accountable!
So how will this year look different? What reputation will your class have by the end of the year? Knowing most of you individually, I could come up with some pretty great words to describe you. You are a talented, social, welcoming, enthusiastic group of individuals. But as a class who are you?
I left them to think about this for a week or two til our outing to Mbudya. That day, they were asked to choose a word that they thought would best fill in the blank. There were many great ideas that did describe who they were at that time… and many still work now. But as John said, Cindy had the winning one. It was unanimous. From that day you were the “blanks”. you had unlimited potential to fill in the blank with so many words. Words you came up with at the beginning of the year to fill that blank included: Unique, eccentric, intellectual, motivated, committed, wild, majestic, loyal, original, changed, positive, united, family, friendly, photogenic and social.
Did you accomplish that? Do those words describe you? How will you be remembered? The Lazy class of 2015 is not sitting before me here. You have changed, you have grown-up, at least a little.
You are determined, focused, maybe a little scared. Excited, ready to tackle the challenges, How do I know you can be all these? Because you need to be! I know you can be because you have challenged each other. You HAVE held each other accountable this year and will continue to be an influence on each other. You are United.
You are the United class of 2015. The love and support you have given each other this year was beautiful. Some might say you were partners in crime at times, but all in fun and genuine love. Never did I hear one of you speak poorly about another. I heard words of concern and support. When fundraising, I never doubted we would have enough workers because I knew you all wanted to be together. Sometimes that meant their might have been a few too many people in the kitchen, but I wouldn’t have traded those times together for anything.
You are an individual in the blank class of 2015. On G12 day Joanna challenged you to be you! Figure out who you are. Don’t let others determine that for you. Don’t let the words others choose to use to fill in your blank change who you are.
You are the compassionate class of 2015. One of favorite images in my head of you is from Football camp day. You knew your tasks and did them. If their was an issue between a couple kids, you stepped in and dealt with it. When someone’s feels were hurt, you came down to them and heard what they were sad about. You showed love and compassion. I saw maturing adults ready to take the next step in life.
Who does God say you are?
1You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
2You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
4Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
5You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
7Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
12even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
13For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17How precious to me are your thoughts,a God! How vast is the sum of them!
18Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
You are known; you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are never alone, where ever you go God will always be with you.
Eph. 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works
Colossians 2:10: You are complete in Christ
Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
John 1:12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
You are God’s creation, You are holy and dearly loved, you are children of God! The verses go on and on. God loves you and has shown his love to you in ways you don’t even recognize.
Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God. Rest in that. Trust in that. Know this God has more words than we will ever know to fill in the blank. He sees you and loves you more than any person in this room is capable of loving you. He knows your future and your potential.
Now you are ready. Most of you have your college acceptances, you have your visas, in a few minutes you will have your diplomas. Your teachers and parents have poured into you book knowledge and life lessons to prepare you for this transition. In lifeskills, we have talked about navigating between cultures, the emotional transition you will be dealing with, the academic differences, and how to make good choices with your new found freedom at University. You have been given the tools. Now all that is left is to pack.
Girls you might want to take your rasta with you. Getting hair done can get very expensive. David, don’t forget your blue band. Make room in your luggage for home. Take the things that will remind you of your foundation. Where you came from. Your family pictures, kangas or shukas to wrap around you when you want to feel close to home. Pictures for your walls. Maybe a favorite snack. I know you all love your bracelets. Keep Tanzania on your wrist. There will be hard days. Days you will see that bracelet and cry because you miss home. That’s ok. Take it off for a few days, but don’t lose it. That feeling will pass. Now, pack all the words used to describe you and your class. Don’t leave them here. Don’t leave YOU here. Yes, you will change in Uni, you will adapt. But don’t lose YOU. You will be challenged and pushed and pulled. People will try to put new words in your blank that might not fit you. You don’t need to accept them. Know who you are and WHOSE you are. You are loved more than you can ever imagine. Pack the book of blessings I gave you on our Zanzibar trip. Read through it when you need to be reminded that you are loved. You will always be loved by the people who wrote in that book. You might lose touch. Sadly, you might never see them again, but their love for you and their memories of you will never go away.
Now I think you are ready. But is the world? Family and friends, we are releasing a pretty crazy crew into the world. This world-changing class of 2015. Students, that sounds huge, right? I just want to be a businessman or engineer you say. That doesn’t change the world! Don’t underestimate yourself or God’s work in your life. World change begins in your life. The choices you make in how you live and raise your own family. Stand up for what you believe. When I was in university, I came across an illustration that has stuck with me.
There was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing.He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
50 years from now, when you look back and laugh that you called each other the “blanks” will you have filled your blank with positive adjectives? How many starfish will you have thrown back into the sea? Is the world a better place because you were here? I have no doubt the answer will be yes.
My beloved blanks, I could have gone through and assigned a word to each of you, but you all have limitless potential. You can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens you. Own that. Claim it. In Christ, you are more than you can ever imagine. More than your parents could ever have dreamed and prayed for you. So my crazies, I release you into the world. Live out your unlimited potential. Know you can be all God has created you to be because you are surround with love and prayer wherever you go. I love you all and I am only a whatsap/Facebook/skype call away. Alright class, lets go, your late…. Ok, maybe not this time, but just wanted to say it one more time.