On Saturday night our high school seniors graduated and moved on to the next phase in their academic careers. Roopa Purushothaman, author of the BRIC Report / economist / model / anchorwoman and just a super person, was our graduation speaker. Jason Roy, an incredible math teacher and “Model” of the Growth Mindset, was our faculty speaker. They both shared how Life Work has guided their choices and personal mission.
Roopa’s message of Straying From Your Path and the benefits resonated with many in the room.
A few highlighted comments: “Paul Coelho’s book The Alchemist that says ‘When you want something, really want something, all the world conspires in helping you to achieve it.” And, I believe, if you stay true to your question, the world can help you figure it out much better than you could
ever do on your own. It’s a delicate balance, but you have to lead with your intent. I wanted to share with you a story that a friend of mine told me about a month ago. This friend of works at Oprah’s Leadership Academy for girls in South Africa. And recently she organized an assembly with a speaker from Mali. The speaker is known as “Madame Urbain”, who has created a movement for educating girls in Mali. Madame Urbain spoke French, no English, so my friend had difficulty describing the Oprah school to her on the way in from the airport.
As soon as Madame Urbain, this tough woman from Mali entered the school grounds she locked eyes with one of the students. The student started crying first. Surprisingly tough Madame Urbain started crying uncontrollably as well. But for different reasons. The student was overwhelmed with seeing a woman whose work she had read and seen so much about. When my friend asked the translator why Madame Urbain was breaking down, the translator managed to tell her that she had never conceived that such grounds, such a facility could be devoted to girls education. That someone would think it that important a purpose. She had never known her work could be done on such a scale.
The ability to connect is so powerful yet underplayed in our daily lives. And while you accomplish all the great things you will accomplish once you leave here, I hope you will remember to connect your work, your experience, yourselves to others to enable them to achieve their dreams. Sometimes its as simple as showing up and being present. We tend to forget.
And my hope for our generation is that we do well and prosper, not to accumulate more for ourselves, but to expand opportunities for others. In all the dramatic surprises and tragedies we have been through this year, I’ve never felt more strongly that we build that kind of collective future.
So those were the two simple messages I wanted to share with you today: that the unconventional or unexpected path can be full of benefits, and that I hope you will connect others with new opportunities while remaining connected to your communities.”
Jason was incredible as he urged the students and all of us to Seek Out The Hard Questions.
Highlights included: “Perhaps immediately, or after a few more years of schooling you are going to spend the rest of your lives working. But believe me this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Except for the PD days involving Atlas Rubicon, working here is kinda like Diwali every day, except the celebration doesn’t last a week, it lasts forever. Sure I’m looking forward to hitting some amusement parks this summer but given the choice of 180 days of roller-coasters or 180 days of math class its ASB, no question. And if I should stop feeling this way then I am gonna get the hell out of Dodge and find something else to do.
Spolsky, Hall, and Moore are inherently familiar with what Malcolm Gladwell laid out so clearly this year in his book Outliers. In Outliers my favorite thing Gladwell explains is the 10,000 hour rule, the rule is that if you really want to be great at something you need to devote yourself to it with deliberate practice and about 10,000 hours or 10 years of solid work. He backs up the rule with concrete examples from the Bill Gates to The Beatles. Overnight successes are fairy tales; the idea of natural talent and simple IQ tests are vastly overrated. Real success involves years of hard work and a relentless pursuit of excellence.
At some point in your life you’re going to realize that there is another essential element of doing good work. An unselfish element. We know about Joel not because he is a successful programmer, but because he gives back. He writes on his blog frequently and shares his ideas freely so that other programming houses will be as successful as Fog Creek. He has integrated service with his work.
“In my second year of teaching my colleague and mentor Bill Babine, an English teacher (of course) gave me a copy of Donald Hall’s Life Work and its become one of my favorite books. If you don’t know him Hall is a writer from New Hampshire, he packs his words with both meaning and perfect phrasing. I ache to be a writer when I read Hall. In Life Work, Hall talks about how life and work should naturally coexist. One great part is when Hall talks about how when you see work depicted in a TV advertisement “it is something done quickly and the reward is drinking beer.” Reality is much different. Hall wrote more than 500 drafts of one of his poems. This speech could probably use a few hundred more drafts and some edits, but unfortunately for you Hall is the poet and I am a teacher.
Another writer, the great, David Foster Wallace said it best “… there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad of petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”
So as you leave us today I hope that you find a boss like Joel Spolsky who will ask the hard questions and ask you to challenge yourself and those around you; I hope that you find the kind of Life Work that Donald Hall writes about —work that makes you excited enough to almost jump up out of bed most days; and I hope you find David Foster Wallace’s really important kind of freedom.
These four years with you at ASB have been incredible. It has been a privilege and an honor to speak for you today. And one not taken lightly, these ideas are really close to my heart, cupcakes and candy-canes idealistic you might think but they have worked out pretty well for me, and I hope a couple of them have resonated with you. Thank you and congratulations again on your graduation.”
ASB’s mission inspires all of our students to continuous inquiry, empowering them with the skills, courage, optimism and integrity to pursue their dreams and enhance the lives of others. Jason and Roopa are both models….”Models” of our mission and the mission of a preferred future. Thank you both!
1.Outliers is an easy, fascinating read (in typical Gladwell style), and is widely available here in Mumbai.
2. Hall and Moore’s quotes are both from Donald Hall’s book Life Work, available from Amazon.com.
3. This David Foster Wallace quote is from a commencement address he gave at Kenyon College in 2005, the speech can be found here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122178211966454607.html