because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Moving Up Day Speech by Melanie Ward

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This speech was delivered by Melanie Ward, Principal of Mendon Center Elementary School on June 22, 2010 on its annual Moving Up Day Ceremony which occurs on the last day of school. As in any good speech, the speaker’s words have resonance not only for the graduates but for all audience members, and I asked Mrs. Ward for permission to share her words here, for parents to consider: How well do we, as adults, heed the advice of an elementary school principal to her graduating students?

I am pleased to be able to say a few remarks, and share some of my thinking with you on this, your last day at [our school]. As we prepare to move you up to the middle schools, it is natural to think a little bit about your experiences in elementary school. You have worked hard and accomplished much in your time here.

You have learned how to read and to write; you have become proficient at math, learned how to think like scientists, and have become acquainted with many of the world’s regions, customs, and history in your social studies lessons. You have created beautiful pieces of art, performed musically, and learned much about physical fitness and wellness. You found the Gingerbread Man and set butterflies free. You played games at the Math Carnival, punched tin, made bread on Pioneer Day, and came through Ellis Island as immigrants. You participated in International Day and Science Day, donated Halloween candy, collected soap and canned goods galore.

Along the way, you have made new friends, and have been taught by many wonderful teachers.

Most importantly, I think, you have learned what it means to be a responsible and respectful people – good citizens of your school and your community.

No matter what subjects your teachers taught you over the years, what they were most concerned about was helping each one of you to become the best person you could be.

Our job here is done – we’ve taught you all that we have the time and the days to teach you and – for the most part – you have learned our lessons well. Before we let you go, however, I hope you will allow me this one last opportunity to give you some advice to take with you to the middle school.

1) Work hard. Things won’t always come easily to you, and they shouldn’t. What is worth learning is worth working hard for. Don’t let frustration get the best of you – persevere, ask for help, keep trying. The payoff will be great.
2) Be humble. Yes, you are smart. You are talented. You are athletic. You are a lot of great things. But so are a lot of other people. Be humble about your accomplishments and be quick to compliment others’ on theirs. You will be respected and appreciated by others for this attitude.
3) Smile. That one seems silly perhaps, but it is important. Maintaining a positive attitude – or faking it when necessary – will go a long way towards helping you to make new friends and feeling good about yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much better the world looks – and how the world looks at you – when you have a smile on your face.
4) Be courteous and respectful. Towards adults, towards your peers, towards yourself. Good manners and a respectful attitude will take you far in this world.
5. Get involved. Find extracurricular activities that you are interested in and get involved. Don’t worry if you are the only one of your group of friends interested in joining a particular club or activity. If that activity truly interests you, go for it. You are likely to meet new friends who share a common interest with you – and have some fun along the way.
6. Follow the “golden rule” – do unto others what you would have them do unto you. There is no more important rule to live your life by. It is also a very general rule, so here are some more specifics to help you as you continue your journey:

If you open it, close it.
If you turn it on, turn it off.
If you unlock it, lock it up.
If you break it, admit it.
If you can’t fix it, call someone who can.
If you borrow it, return it.
If you value it, take care of it.
If you make a mess, clean it up.
If you move it, put it back.
If it belongs to someone else, get permission to use it.
If you don’t know how to operate it, leave it alone.
If it’s none of your business, stay out of it.
If what you have to say will brighten someone’s day, say it!
If what you have to say will hurt somebody, don’t say it!
If something isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.
If you think you know it all, look around and see how little you really know.

Fifth graders, you leave here having learned a lot, but you have much more to learn in the years ahead. Be willing to keep on learning – from your teachers, coaches, parents and friends. Maintain a positive attitude, a helpful disposition, a willingness to try new experiences. Keep reading, be helpful, clean your rooms, practice your instruments, be good to each other, and keep smiling.

What advice would you give to kids entering middle schools/Jr. High schools in the fall?

Be Gentle With Your Graduates

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photo by pixiesticks23@flickr.com

When I graduated from Hobart & William Smith Colleges in 1989, Professor Lee Quinby made a poignant speech and reminded audience members that another word for graduation is commencement and that commencement means “to enter upon” or “to begin.” She described commencement as a hopeful word, and it is. But she also went on to remind us that whenever there is a beginning, there is also an ending.

I have held onto these words for all these years because they have felt true to me. For example, I understand that when a man marries – while he adores his bride – he may simultaneously long for his bachelor days: the time he used to spend with his friends, unfettered by the responsibilities that come along with being a husband. When a woman gives birth to a child, she is no longer alone; she now must care for the needs of another person. And while she may revel in her child’s newness, she may simultaneously grieve the loss of her independence. When a child moves from one grade to the next, he may be excited about moving to another level of education, but he may be nervous about new expectations. Children may secretly mourn friends they know they will not likely see again; they may become silent and withdrawn or explosive and nervous.

Professor Lee Quinby presenting, recent

Professor Quinby suggested that we consider allowing ourselves to grieve a little bit as commencement can be a scary time, an uncertain place, that middle place where one doesn’t know where one is going yet. We only know where we have been.

My advice to parents during this time of year is an echo of a lesson taught to me by Professor Quinby over 20 years ago: Be gentle with your graduates, whatever their age or grade. Some of them may be feeling a little disconnected – particularly if they will be starting at a new school, separating from old friends, starting a new job, or moving away from everything they have ever known. And while you may not be able to tell it from looking at them, on the inside, they may feel a little bit like lopsided, three-legged tables. Okay . . .  just a little unstable.

George Eliot wrote, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” So don’t worry if you see your graduates begin to reinvent themselves a little bit over the summer: The rule-following boy who was so kind throughout elementary school, may become a little meaner as he enters middle school; the introverted girl who has always done everything her parents asked may suddenly seriously consider getting her belly button pierced, despite their protests. It’s okay, they are morphing, becoming, and this starting over can make all the difference in the world.

At one time or another, we all want to be someone else. The smart kid. The pretty girl. The cheerleader. The athlete. The guy with the cool car. It’s what children want – and what we grow out of, if we are lucky.

So let them change. Let the star football player put down his shoulder pads and try out for a play, if he wants to. Let the ballerina trade toe-shoes for track shoes; let the drummer try a little yoga. Feed their dreams. Help them discover all the various, untapped parts of themselves. Support them, but don’t rescue them from their jitters as new strengths will come from the discomforts of the middle place. Transition takes time. Give them time.

But for heaven’s sake, don’t baby them. And don’t buy them crap for graduating from kindergarten (“We’re so proud you can finger-paint!”) or elementary school. (Gag.) Instead, give the age-appropriate responsibilities as rewards for their new stage in life.

And trust me when I say that your graduates are going to be fine. Lee Quinby told me so a long time ago and, in my experience, she was right.

What do you remember feeling about graduation?

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