Keynote Address to the Class of 2012, The Grauer School, June 8
A Message from our Board of Trustees Chair, David Meyer
As your board chair, I send my best summer wishes along to all School families. Last June 8, I was honored to attend another Grauer School senior graduation, an event I would surely not have missed. There is nothing like a Grauer Graduation! It is a great wish of mine that that all school families and prospective families read the “Class of 2012 Commencement Address,” given to the crowd of over 300. To me, and I think you will agree, this speech articulates what is essential and transformational about our work at The Grauer School. This visionary message is sure the enlighten and inspire, whether you read it at home, at work, or even on the sand at the beach. I know that, if all of our families can receive the messages herein, we can move to “the next level” of great education. Pass this speech along to friends and relatives. And enjoy!
Chair, Board of Trustees
“Go Forth, Our Metaphysical Students” – By Dr. Stuart Grauer
Metaphysics, a concept introduced by Aristotle long ago, is the science of that which we cannot measure.
Our students completed their annual standardized achievement testing weeks recently, but our seniors were exempted from this. What did you do then, seniors? Were you doing something much more sensible, like senior ditch day? While at TGS, you had something like six annual standardized achievement tests, plus you had two or three rounds of scholastic aptitude tests: SATs. And The ACTs. And the PSATs. Etc … So you know the drill.
We always spared you the opportunity be judged by the Advanced Placement exam, a gigantic national event wherein each year many students are made to feel as though their self worth, societal value and future prospects can be gauged with the greatest reliability in terms of a standardized exam where you choose which ovals to fill in with a lead pencil. In many of your finals through the years you were directed instead to develop portfolios, displays and presentations, and participate as members of teams, all of which tested your ability to create and integrate ideas and information so as to generate new meanings and reflect core values of the School. Seniors, again and again at Grauer, you missed out on the opportunity to become standardized – I commend you, renegade students one and all.
You did it your way, came through as extraordinary, non-standard, fascinating individuals, all while beating the odds by coming from a renegade school — and getting into your colleges of choice anyway, by identifying positive life paths if not careers, and by averaging over a quarter of a million dollars each in merit scholarship offers from colleges. You deserve to be celebrating today, and to feel proud of all this, as is everyone in the room today.
Our recent standardized exams were followed the next week by expeditions to points far and wide, you went poetry reading & literary touring in San Francisco, zip lining in Costa Rica, art touring in San Diego, and more.
And in the past you’ve been all over the world, Europe, South and Central America, Asia, all over North American and especially the American west, farm to city, from housebuilding on dirt roads to cruising on rodeo drive:
Hiking the Big Sur Wilderness
Filming on location in Los Angeles
Touring colleges in Pacific Northwest
Providing locally needed humanitarian or ecological service, communing with nature far and wide:
the Marin Headlands
The Grand Canyon
and all this provides a striking contrast of two educational environments: inside the tiny bubble you fill in with a lead pencil, and outside under the unlimited, unsheltering sky. Our students went from standardized tests to open-ended field adventures across the globe, in two weeks.
These might even be perceived as educational extremes. Both of these polar experiences suggest very different types of educational pursuits, two or really more than two types of education you will continue to be facing. For instance, if you are entering a college or career that relies upon testing for the assignment of your personal worth, as you might, you must naturally begin to wonder things like :
–How did my points compare to the ones desired by large organizations that seek these things out.
–How do I rank as a student or employee?
–Wouldn’t it be fairer if my achievements were graded by computer
–If a test is metaphysical, does that mean it has no value?
You students, those of you with a priority on adventure and metaphysics, straddling the other side of this educational playing field, here is a parallel set of things to wonder about:
–Will my need to assign value to my human worth cause me to seek prestige or money fundamentally as a core life value?
–What is my grade or score of my gratitude on the gratitude scale?
– Why art?
–What is a long enough glide time between each paddlestroke?
–How can we increase our consciousness?
–Why do we seek the connectivity and warmth of others; and why a kiss?
–Here, I am standing in the dust and pines, staring up at the stars? What is this?
Those are sample questions. What are your questions?
Seniors, will you seek things with limits or no limits on them, with norms or no norms, so-called real things, or metaphysical unmeasurables. Who or what will determine your worth, if not you?
Upon returning from afar and afield in May, one of your teachers wrote to me:
“Following an amazing expeditions week, I wanted to express my gratitude–What a cool school we create, one that takes students out of the classroom to experience LIFE and interact with others and nature without the predictability and limitations that an education constantly confined within four walls fails to provide.”
This issue of predictability invites a huge life question: will you do your thing, and how will that match up with the predictable life that people expect of you and may want to measure you by?
I asked about this recently when you were all together at our senior luncheon: “YOLO” you all told me straight up, without hesitation, with a pure confidence as though I had asked the most obvious question in the world. YOLO. You only live once was your answer.
Thank you very much!
There, I knew I could end the speech there, but we can go to the next level now. It’s time to.
II. Part 2 of my Address. Gratitude:
This was a fascinating year for me, as I was gone from my regular worklife for one semester, travelling the world, on my own with nowhere to report, nothing required, for the first time in 37 years and the first time ever in 21 years at Grauer. Luckily, I had an amazing staff back home led by Dana to support it. Dana, I cherish and honor the stability, warmth, integrity and compassion you put into our work, which year after year is directly and powerfully responsible for turning out students like this class. Thank you for the enrichment, friendship and wisdom you are bringing not only to my life, but to all of our lives.
You all, class of 2012, thank you for the energy and growing sagacity you have brought to our school and to one another. These qualities form a bond, which will sustain you and give strength whenever you need them to. No matter what else you put on, you will always wear our brand.
We have shared thousands of classes, thousands of miles of world journeys and thousands of hours of community service. Recently, you have shared with me a series of wise thoughts that might even transcend those of any class I have ever met with. Here are your words of direction, your very own words of wisdom, which I recorded: “Challenge yourself, break down your big goal into many small ones, take advantage of educational opportunities, experiment and go out on a limb now and then, out of your normal comfort one, step out of your bubble, be open to new people and cultures, get involved, if people or plans are not right for you try other plans, find your passion, listen to your inner voice and your heart, do what you love, trust your instincts …”
In short: YOLO.
Your words are an incredible set of marching orders to go on for a rich-textured, happy life. And what courage you will need to heed your own advice! I promise I will heed your advice and I thank you for it.
I’d like to make a special tribute to someone who lives this way and who has influenced a good number of you graduates through the years: Alice Borg. Not all of you have had her as a teacher, but most. The thing with Alice is, if you show up and you are seeking something that is meaningful to you in the moment, she says: let’s go! She is what you call, “Present.”
If you show up and you need to talk about something, she’ll get you a cup of cocoa or coffee and you’ll talk. I’m sure some people have said, “but that’s not the real world. In a real school you have to do what the curriculum says.” Those people are confused and seem to have no gratitude for the world they are really in, and their intuitions are blocked. I want to thank Alice for making decisions for her students based fundamentally on her ability to tap in to matters of the heart.
I treasure Alice who embodies The Grauer School real world. Real teaching is surely the study of the student, and Alice …is a real teacher. Because real teachers understand that the wisdom that matters is the wisdom we can get from our students. Real teaching cannot be the study of the book or the study of the teacher’s mind. Real teaching is the study of the student.
I attended class with Alice, a week ago, outside on a beautiful spring day with her science class. It was her last annual bridge building contest, kids all around her, sixth graders of all shapes and sizes and smiles and Alice completely surrounded as all eyes pointed towards the bridge in question. Just a dense pack of wiggling sixth graders squeezing in, watching and measuring the little balsawood structures absorb stress, and Alice is sizing them all up knowing that no matter what they are going through, it’s lovely, it’s just lovely, and its right and good, and she looks up at me with a fox in the hen house grin–if you know Alice you know this grin–and she is pulling a fast one on Aristotle and the Department of Education and the tax collector and on the State of California and on the whole of civilization to be surrounded in this tender way, she is the surfer perfectly in the barrel … and she looks up at me, grinning at the universe, and lip synchs, “I love this” [I love this].
And there it is, “I love this!”
The answer to any and every significant question. The answer to the question: what is the true measure of great education? What is the great life? Class of 2012, if YOLO is really true, if you mean it, then Alice’s situation is the situation you really must one day find yourself in.
Alice is retiring as of today from teaching, after a decade at Grauer. Alice, your incredible, warm hearted, passionate, caring, eternally positive and understanding, expert skilled and fine service to our school and community is your legacy. We will carry on your message but you will have to come back to preside over next year’s bridge service, will you?
A surf sequeway:
I was watching Rob Machado surf one time, when the wave sort of opened up and a beautiful face of the wave was right there and I thought, perfect, he would glide right along it. Here’s what he did, and this actually reminds me so much of Morgan’s decision to choose teaching over physics: he slash cut in the complete opposite direction of the open face, hit a churning white water cascade, came bouncing and floating down into the troth of the wave with such speed that next thing he just caromed up the beautiful face that was now moving faster and steeper than ever, and Rob went screaming down the line. You see, the straight line is measurable but it may leave out the transformation and the acceleration, and the acceleration is love and discovery. Let us be open to the learning that new and unpredictable spaces bring. Let us intuitively find our own parts of the wave. Let us be open and have the patience and faith this requires.
In the recent movie: “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” the protagonist says: “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.” His fearful parent demands, “You must move to Delhi and we will get you a job, rather than stay here and pursue this silly dream of an exotic hotel.” Whereupon the son answers,
“Mommela, perhaps the life you wish for me will be a more secure life, but it will surely be a smaller life.”
As you seek authentic, fearless paths and as you seek larger, open spaces, many things will not work out, many things will not be secure right away: great! Because all the other things that occur next will be what you experience deeply as this transformational thing called: Life!
People of all ages often say it is too late for this or that, too late, and how terrible this is: Albert Schweitzer became a doctor at age 40. I started the Grauer School at age 40. My own mother got her college degree at 54. Living is not a fill-in activity. There are no real lines. It is perpetually now in the happy life.
Recent news about new Yale Grad Marina Keegan is a good example. She had been published at age 22 in the NY Times, was hired by the New Yorker, a premier job, and had completed writing her first play for production.
She wrote a recent, moving column in the Yale Daily News to inspire her fellow graduating seniors at Yale. In that column she pointed out to her peers, “We have so much time” and she described, “the immense and indefinable potential energy we all felt as freshman.” “We can do anything,” she wrote, “…we must not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.” A few days later, a few days ago, her life was taken in an auto accident. “We can’t, we must not, lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.” Students, we must treasure the possibility that infuses chi in every moment. In 50 years, you’ll be able to drive cars with your mind, or increase your happiness perception by 18% on demand. Every day is filled with 100% possibility. There will often be people to tell you that there are no choices—this is their fears, not yours. Do not follow them. YOLO.
When people tell you, “That’s not the way it is in the real world, I hope you will recognize such an observation for the nonsense that it is, that this false “real world” is code for entrapment in somebody else’s limits. Here is the anthemic advice of the great Ansel Adams, who was not one iota greater than any of you in this graduating class:
“I believe the world is incomprehensively beautiful – an endless prospect of magic and wonder.”
“ … the world is incomprehensively beautiful – an endless prospect of magic and wonder.”
And yet, none of this is measurable. Here are some other things that are not easily measureable: Can I cope with all this? Don’t I deserve more than so and so? Am I too fat or thin?—Is my body terrible? Are most of these people smarter than me, or better at giving a speech? Am I pretty, handsome, homely, attractive? Do my parents or teachers understand me? Do I look old today, or too young? Do I have friends or are they not real friends, and am I popular?
I can promise you that these questions will remain unanswerable, metaphysical, except by your mood swings and the changing tides: whenever you feel certain about one of them, remember to smile and let that thought go like gliding a paper plane out the window. Let is go. It is not real.
All these questions may persist even if you know they are not real. In feeling happy and successful, your openness to the universe transcends anything that can be objectively graded.
Class of 2012: You will face many tests of many kinds. I now leave you with my instructions for the real tests you will face: Next time you see the words “fill in the field,” maybe, leave the field an open space, a space of wonder, karate chop the pencil. Think, “I love this!”
Next time you see the words, “fill in the field,” think, “It must be the other kind of field, the green one.” Go there!
Thank you all and good luck class of twenty-twelve.