In my time as a Head of School in both India and Germany, I have addressed more than a dozen graduating classes. Each time it is challenging to know what words to say at this critical crossroad when our seniors are preparing to leave home and begin the transition from dependency to independence. But in 2020, and again this year, the weight of the pandemic added an entirely new dimension to what it has meant for our students to reach this milestone in their educational journey.
Our graduating seniors’ – and indeed all of our students’ – education is the result of a partnership between our school and our families’ homes. In our classrooms and around their family’s dinner tables, our students receive lessons that vary from math theorems and global politics to deconstructing a novel or play to probing questions about compassion and suffering. The school and home curriculums may be different, but they share the same goal: to prepare our students for their next stage in life.
Unlike most graduating classes, this year’s seniors had a third teacher beyond their family and our school. Although I would never have wished this form of learning upon anyone, the pandemic inadvertently became a different kind of mentor, particularly to the Class of 2021. It asked a great deal of them – patience, resilience, ingenuity, compassion and sacrifice – and in many respects, too much of them.
Many philosophers, authors and mystics have warned that we must eventually face hardship in order to grow fully as humans. However, this often happens much later in adulthood, not as we are at this initiation to the next stage of our lives. When I was our seniors’ age, my challenges were rather traditional and predictable – trying to win the State Tennis Championship, doing my best in school, suffering the occasional relationship woes of an adolescent, and working for my spending money. Nothing happened to me in my high school years that forced me to look much further beyond my own life, my own family, or my own country.
But our Class of 2021 is different. They are well ahead of where I was at their age. Even before the pandemic struck, their view of the world was already far greater; their understanding of their role in bringing about peace and unity in our fractured world is much more than mine ever was at 18 or 19 years old.
I know I speak for all of our teachers who have watched our students endure, mature and thrive, when I say that they have earned our respect not only for what they have learned, but for what they have taught us as well.
On Friday, 4 June we celebrated the achievements of this incredible class during an in-person graduation ceremony in our FIS Stroth Center. I invite you to read the full commencement speech here, which was co-authored by my colleague, Director of Admissions Alec Aspinwall.