Yesterday was graduation for my school. Pretty soon I’ll have to start calling it my “old school”, since as of next week I won’t be working there anymore. But until grades are finalized and my office is packed up, I still f-ing work there. So it’s still my school.
What I was really going to write about was the commencement speaker. The student speaker in particular. In a kind of strange tradition at my school the students pick the faculty speaker (not unusual) and the faculty picks the student speaker (fairly unusual, as far as I know). I didn’t really know the seniors this year, so I didn’t put any thoughts into the nomination process. I just showed up to the ceremony and listened.
The student speaker was actually the first speaker, after the welcome by our head and a blessing by our school chaplain. (No, we’re not a religious school, we just happen to have a chaplain. It’s complicated.)
Her topic was “Choices and Failure”. I was immediately intrigued. A commencement speaker talking about failure? Who’da thunk that one? A pretty ballsy choice.
While she may not have spent all of her time on point, she made the strongly worded statement that, yes, all of us will fail. Which, for high school graduates going off to college and/or other things, is completely true. Just not something you hear in a lot of commencement addresses. But this speaker said it. She said it loudly, she said it emphatically. And she said it with the conviction of someone who has experienced some failure and learned and grown from it. She held the knowledge that failure is important to becoming better close to her heart. I was impressed that someone so young, and someone who admitted in her own speech that, when she was a freshman and got a D on a quiz that she’d totally freaked out, had learned this lesson about making mistakes.
I was really proud and humbled that our school had helped to teach her that. I hope that she is representative of all of our students in that way.
I think it’s important to teach students that it’s okay to fail, in fact that it is a step on the road to success. That’s the vital component of this lesson: that failure doesn’t mean that you’re done, that you are a failure; it means that you’re not done yet, that you still have something to learn.