Words of wisdom to the FIS Class of 2014

Frankfurt International School’s Class of 2014 walked across the stage in Oberursel’s Stadthalle on Saturday 7 June to accept their diplomas. Below is the welcome address that I delivered:

Parents, faculty, guests and – you better get used to this word, GRADUATES – of Frankfurt International School. Welcome.

I know that there are a number of graduates here today who started at FIS in our Primary School. And while you may have come to our school later – or don’t remember your Primary years – one of the Units of Inquiry in Grade 1 is called Now and Long Ago.

In this unit, students are asked to interview their grandparents to understand what school – and the world – was like 100 years ago. For those grandparents in the audience today, you’ll have to accept my apology because I realize that you weren’t born in the late 1800’s. I also apologize because I know this assignment potentially led your grandchildren to ask questions like: “Did you ride a horse to school?” “Did you have books back then?” Or my personal favorite, “Were you afraid of the dinosaurs?”

By now you know that your grandparents learned from books and not cave drawings, but school was indeed very different when they were your age. For instance:

  • Their resource library didn’t include the more than 4 billion indexed pages available on the Internet…
  • Their concerts, sporting events and graduation were not live-streamed to audiences around the world…
  • And I doubt they had daily lunch options that included a choice of hot entrees, and a soup and salad bar – all of which could be paid for with an electronic chip.

I could go on for hours listing the differences in your education compared your grandparents’ (or your parents’ for that matter), but instead would like to share my hope that you have learned a few truths here at FIS that were taught to your grandparents as well.

First, hard work pays off.

Fochtman Department Store
The Fochtman Family’s department store in Petoskey, MI.

My great grandfather learned this lesson when, as a young man, he emigrated from Germany to America and opened a small general store in Petoskey, Michigan. Operating his own business wasn’t easy, but over the years his store grew, and he eventually moved the operation into a three-story brick building with the name “Fochtman Department Store” proudly displayed on the front. The store later expanded to include auto parts and today, the legacy of the Fochtman Motor Company remains as one of the largest stores of its kind in Northern Michigan.

Maybe your grandparents found their own rewards by having the courage to migrate from one country to another, or by working a second job to save a bit more for a home.  My hope is that you have found your own rewards by pushing yourselves through the demands of your coursework; or giving your all on a sports team; or performing on stage; or becoming involved in one of the school’s important service projects.

Whatever it is, I hope in some way FIS has allowed you to be surprised by what you can accomplish if you are willing to push yourself to new limits.

Something else I hope you have learned – especially considering all those in the audience who are here today supporting you – is when it comes down to it, success is defined by your relationship with people – NOT with the things or titles we accumulate.

FIS Students
Success as defined by people – not things.

You will leave here today in pursuit of different paths. Many people that you meet along the way will try to convince you that your worth is defined by the college or university you attend; the prestige of the job you eventually land; or the size of your bank account.

But I have no doubt that your parents and grandparents would agree that there is no greater treasure than the family and friends we have in our lives. It is those who have an abundance of loving relationships that have the greatest wealth.

Another truth that I hope you take away from FIS is that our differences make us stronger.

You’ve been immersed in a school where being different isn’t…well… so very different. You speak a multitude of languages, come from varied cultural backgrounds and see the world from 130 unique perspectives. Yet you are proof that an open community with differences is much stronger than one that is closed and lacks diversity. (This is a lesson your parents must also have learned or else they would not have chosen to enroll you in a school with more than 50 nationalities.)

One truth that has withstood the test of time is that failure is just another step toward success. It may seem like a strange statement to make, but I hope you have had a taste of failure while at FIS. Whether it was a wrong note that sounded particularly loud during a concert, a lab experiment that defied all the laws of science, or an attempt on an assignment that missed the mark, I hope you somehow tasted a bit of failure because we all need to realize that failure is simply part of the learning process. It does not define who we are.

There’s one final truth that might be hard to swallow given all that you have been through – and all that lies ahead. But it was true 100 years ago and remains true today.

There is always more to learn.

You are not leaving here having finished one stage in a race toward the “end of learning.” You are still just beginning and – if you’re lucky – you will be able to share what you’ve learned with your grandchildren when they ask you someday what it was like to live “way back in the olden days.”

Guest Speaker Philip Inghelbrecht
Philip Inghelbrecht

Our guest speaker this year is a person who definitely understands the idea that “There is always more to learn.” His passion for envisioning the future led him to become a co-founder of Shazam, which is one of the most recognized music identification services in the world.

And he did this in 1999.

While he was still a student at UC Berkeley.

After selling Shazam in 2004, he joined Google, where he served as the Head of Sports and Entertainment partnerships. Since 2011 he has been working for Rockmelt, pursuing his interests in the technology sector, developing applications and working with search engines.

I am very pleased to introduce to you our 2014 Guest Graduation Speaker, Philip Inghelbrecht.

Credit to Alec Aspinwall and Ryan Karr  for their assistance and creativity in drafting this 2014 commencement address.