Dr. Grauer's Column - Indelible Images
Keynote Address for The Grauer School's Class of 2022 Graduation
You can click here to watch a video recording of Dr. Grauer's keynote address, which was recorded from the Zoom livestream of the graduation ceremony.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome!
Let’s start with a story. I came to San Diego to start a school, inspired by the school leaders I met in the European Council of International schools, and as I was finishing my doctoral degree at USD, I now faced actually doing what I had come to San Diego to do, start an independent secondary school. But reality was confronting me on this crazy move, and I got a lump in my throat. Start a school? I didn’t even have any money.
It so happened that I knew two other school founders right nearby. One was Charlotte Rhoades Glinski, founder of The Rhoades School, and I called her up and asked if we could meet? She urged me to go for it: “Just think of a good name.”
There was a second person I called and asked to go for a beach walk, and he kindly agreed. I don’t remember it all that well, we might have walked Del Mar beach, but anyway, we walked and he said, absolutely, you must do this, we need you to do this, and of course I did. It was well over 30 years ago.
And as if by magic, this person is here, in the hall, today and we have magically just finished educating his own amazing granddaughter. I would like to honorably mention school founder, San Diego educational legend and, first and foremost, Sophia’s grandfather, Michael Cole. Michael, thank you for all you have done for education in this part of the world and for your inspiration in authentic education. I will go for a beach walk with you any time.
In fact, thank you to all of the grandparents here attending graduation, both in person and online. As we continue to evolve as educators at Grauer, every year I hope to tiptoe just a little closer to a thing called elder wisdom such as you have earned.
Welcome all from near and far. We are honored and happy to have you here with us. That’s real and true. The Grauer school offers the most compassionate education balancing Socratic and expeditionary learning in the world, and it has been the source of almost overwhelming inspiration to me, along with every other emotion known to humankind.
My job today is to reflect on that inspiration with you, and especially for our graduates. In this keynote address for the next 15 minutes, let me entertain you and also note that this is an enormous honor for me to have this time and attention.
I know across the country, keynote speakers are pontificating on all sorts of things we read about every day—the scourge of Russian expansionism, the dire threats to US democracy, the scourge of online disinformation, the terrible politics of guns, national economic trends. I, too, have read too much of all this, done too much of the media doomscrolling that only distracts, not only from what I have to offer the world, but from what you graduates may have to offer. The noise and cavalcade of media are externalities and abstractions. The interactions I have with each of you are what I have found to be warm and authentic. No media can surpass this authenticity ever, and it is your human interactions that are valuable and most needed in this world.
So I’d like to start out with a smile. I’d like you seniors, and really everyone in the room, everyone on of Zoom too, to think of something that delights you, some image that comes to mind that you want to keep for life. Got it? And now, Graduates, please smile on that image. What I am looking for is a knowing smile, Mona Lisa smile, a little subversive, the smile that says: “I know something that you don’t know!” Let's see it.
Yes! Keep that!
From my actual experience with students, and with you all—in a world that almost demands that we live vicariously amidst virtual noise and dissonance, a world where it often seems people value augmented reality more highly than human presence or things you can touch and smell, a world where the smart money is on fear—I believe you all just observed the most important work I can be doing. Human warmth.
A story. A friend of mine from afar is an Egyptian fellow called Amir who was a student of mine for two years in the world I left behind 40-some years ago in Bern, Switzerland. Amir is a formable business person today, but in my real time with him he was a diminutive, little fellow with such a worried look in his darty eyes, like a puppy that needed weeks of petting. He was only nine.
His father was the distinguished ambassador sent from Cairo, a graying, guarded man always in a silk suit and a stiff white shirt, with suspicion on his face, thinning hair above both temples, and a much younger wife of such magical, exotic beauty that she had to have to come out of 1001 Arabian Nights. Their boy, Amir, had a hard time reading. He had a terrible time sitting in a chair for very long, and a complaint had been registered about me, the teacher, before the headmaster.
So I sat in the client chair that felt more like a dentist’s chair, next to the father in the office of our headmaster who had summoned me for a conference, the smell of the cow pastures behind us up on Gumligen mountain wafting, and I had no idea how to present. “Amir is not reading,” the headmaster stated, and both men looked at me. I explained I had not read much at that age either, that I was dealing with this by lots of physical activity, imagination exercises, and lots of warmth. I would get the boy the confidence to read through encouragement and patience but, I explained, there was that nervousness.
My headmaster had come from a headship in Pakistan, where he had been hired after an interview before the whole village where one-third of women at best were taught how to read and girls education was in rapid decline, and in Egypt, whipping of students was still allowed—it no longer is, but misbehaving students of 15 and up can be sent to jail to this day. The use of force on students when they disturb a class, forget their homework, or tease a classmate is still widespread in many parts of the world. Of course, children who are bullied by teachers and parents do not read better or earlier. That is the context of the people I was in a head’s office with, and so you probably already know how my words were received by these two men. Besides, this headmaster had never even been in my classroom.
“I give Amir lots of encouragement every day,” I said. “He loves hearing stories I read him, so I know he will read when we get him into a receptive state.” And the father, elegant and severe, turned to me and said, “But the boy does not read, what will you do?” The headmaster said, “Amir’s father wants a plan, he wants reading.” Of course, even as a young teacher, I knew my approach was particularly important for a sensitive and vulnerable child, and I also knew it fell upon deaf ears, that they would ignore and disregard my methods as they were.
“We must get him to read!’ the father said of his little boy, with no margin for bargaining, and now getting anxious. So I explained more: “He knows I believe in him and I know just when he will read: he will read when he is ready.” I had got that philosophy from my childhood dentist when I’d asked him when my last baby teeth would fall out. Those words tumbled out of my mouth even as I knew they had no place to land, and, in the client chair next to me, the father looked as though a fuse were igniting in his head.
I can still see the veins as he clasped the arms of the chair with his fists, and now shouting at me words that still reverberate: “If the boy does not read, MAKE the boy read.”
I dared not look at the father, so I looked at the headmaster and I thought he must know: this is the role fear plays in education and parenting. You cannot grow students that way. You cannot lift anyone’s moral aspirations that way or develop their courage or creativity. But none of this was on his mind as far as I could tell, and now I looked at this father as the anger, I could sense, began to dissolve. For the first time, I saw through his silk and elegance—and everything that fear disguises, and I had no words. His angry words hung here like past lives. I would not disturb the silence.
75 years ago this week, in one of history’s most famous keynote addresses, US Secretary of State George Marshall addressed the graduating class at Harvard and reshaped the modern world as though the graduation podium were our national or political theater. There he delivered the Marshall Plan speech, filled with advice that would appear to fix our geopolitical alliances. I am standing before you today with absolutely no advice, no geopolitics, no global insights—just images, and the simple faith that there is a way forward when our conversations are all broken, our power is of no use, and you are alone and dispirited, as I have often been.
We sat in the headmaster’s office. In silence. In a few seconds, the anger was changing and I don’t know how, but it became sadness. And I felt this sadness through the father’s stunned eyes and perspiration on his forehead. This is one of the only times in my life that a silence like this was not awkward.
Today, this situation is just an indelible image, like an imprint, like a snapshot of that office, that face. This snapshot would be in my head for the rest of my life. It now seems like a whole way of life, a whole world. I know what you should want from me if you’ve been well educated. You want me to come up with a moral for this story. I don’t have it. You want a moral: okay, fine, don’t use any plastic. But really all I have for you is just an image.
I understand we can transform one another through fearless listening and observing, sometimes through silence or faith, but I don’t really know what happened that day in the headmaster’s office. A lot of what I was doing as an educator in those days was intuitive and would only have a strong research base years later.
I’m sorry to say Amir’s dad is no longer on earth, but happy to say that just a few days ago, 45 years later, long after I had realized why Amir would become a great student, when he was ready, I received another correspondence from Amir. “Dear Stuart, I wanted to reach out and remind you that...", and I heard the gratitude for the patience and love that Amir and I had shared long ago in another world.
I want badly to make meaning out of this image in the headmaster’s office, and I'm not existentialist but sometimes I don't know what to do with indelible images, like these, of our seniors:
- Mo up on the nose of the longboard, arch backed
- the tear in Savannah’s eye
- Joshua’s hair, of course
- Sophia’s smiles while playing bass
- Lourdes’ percussive feet kicking in flamenco
- Jaden C. kicking his feet up on the swings
- Jaden’s F.'s sweet smile while playing electric guitar
These images and are more real than newscasts and advice and theories. I’ve learned to “Beware of theories.”
I always ask every graduating class at Grauer, at the end of the year, what's the meaning of this class, what's the theme? and this is the one class, this post-pandemic class in this exhausting post-pandemic year, that wouldn't give me much. No theme. Just independence. Independence.
Years ago, I was driving along the northern part of Italy just north of Lake Maggiore or Lake Como when I looked up the steep hillside upon a terraced farm, and a little girl with a bowl-cut and bangs was singing out into the hills, opera, with no one around anywhere. I passed by her but suddenly, a few meters down the road, I pulled over impulsively and dug around for my SLR camera. I badly wanted to turn around, to go back and photograph her, and capture this image forever, because I recognized this not as a child or an image but as a whole world. And it hit me: that I would always have this world in me, I would never let it go, and I didn’t need the photo. So now you have it, too.
Class of 2022: We don’t come from just families. We don’t come from just schools, or hillsides, or clubs, we come from worlds.
Thank you for listening to this story, I feel like my whole time as a teacher leading up today has been a fascination with people finding their voices, the truest expressions of not just their hillsides or schools, but … their … worlds. That’s “the work.”
I have loved watching and listening to you, this year’s graduating class. You have gone through worlds, you have been fascinating. These voices you have been finding or almost found, around the world, sometimes with a tinge of fear or anger or insecurity or concern, and sometimes with a lot of compassion, now have had plenty of practice.
At The Grauer School, we have insisted upon each of you articulating with those voices six key words that you will always carry, you can never shake them. These core values are our major gifts for every student, far more important than any other subject:
- Intellectual Curiosity
Each of us has some amazing lifetime images, snapshots not taken, some you wish you had not even seen, others you wish if only I could find someone, anyone, to talk to about this, if only there were someone. Other images are solid in your gallery for life, like gems. Your class, and classes of 2022 all around the world, have come through a strange tunnel of mirrors called pandemic, and the Grauer seniors have come out as self-reliant, introspective, independent voices. The pandemic was hard, like another gift.
We have completely failed in turning you into controlled, controllable segments, and as your teachers, we have loved hearing your voices emerging, and guiding your applications to colleges in areas like psychology, business, the arts, and more, including one of my favorite majors: undeclared. Whatever the specialty, The Grauer School has developed warm-blooded, motivated, individualistic young humans whom we can be proud of for life, ready for the changes, ready to bring sheer delight to others in any form, which is the main thing we will need from America’s graduates.
Seniors: Now you all are ready to put your own spin on those six core values. They will be permanent works in progress, and they will have a life of their own inside of you. They can take on different names and that’s okay: determination. The expression of admiration. The expression of love that puts you so far out on a limb that the limb can snap. And I hope you will dare to keep going out there despite that snap. And now: there is your Marshall Plan. Relationship is risk, and still the possibility and the reality of real relationships is our only hope.
Thank you, everyone, for sharing this beautiful dream of today. Thank you, Seniors.
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The Grauer School is assessing our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies. DEI has to be done uniquely on our campus, to fit with our core values and evolve as necessary to be equitable. We're confident that "the Grauer edge" will guide this process to deepen the connections and sense of belonging in our community.
Dr. Grauer delivered this keynote address at The Grauer School's 2022 graduation ceremony. His address melds indelible images from his past with images of this year's graduates, as he ushers them into the next phase of their lives.
Congratulations to all of The Grauer School's 8th Grade graduates! The graduates received their diplomas in ceremonies on June 10, cheered on by their family and friends.
Congratulations to all of The Grauer School's 12th Grade graduates! The graduates received their diplomas in ceremonies on June 10, cheered on by their family and friends.
This year has presented unprecedented challenges for educators. The Grauer School had a strong and adaptive team that worked together to overcome all of these challenges, and we thank everyone for their support.
Grauer's Senior class had a fun "Grad Nite" at Disney's California Adventure theme park.