On Thursday, May 21, The Hawbridge School held a two-part graduation for seniors. The first part was a virtual “tassel turning” ceremony. Our civics and theatre teacher, Mr. Ferris, was selected by the seniors as a speaker. The text of his speech is provided below. The second part was a “drive by” diploma ceremony. Our environmental sciences teacher, Mr. Greenberg, graciously took photos which are provided in a slide show at the bottom of this post. Congratulations and best wishes to The Hawbridge School 2020 graduating class!
Good afternoon, and congratulations to The Hawbridge School’s very own Quarantine Class. The graduating class of 2020!
I am Kevin Ferris, rarely affectionately known as just Ferris, and I am the civics and theatre teacher at The Hawbridge School. This year, I was chosen by our seniors to be the faculty speaker for graduation — proof that even the best of us make bad decisions under acute stress. Considering that you all chose me for this, you must have thought that I had something worth saying at some point this year. As I started thinking about that and our classes together, it came to me that at the beginning of most class periods, we generally opened up with a little family check-in. We would see how each other were doing. Talk about our days or weekends. Then, I typically would opine about whatever the topic du jour was before we got to work. Since we have not been able to have one of those in a while, let’s do one now.
Do you remember how those started?
I walk in, usually a minute or seven late, sit on a table, and say, “Hey y’all.” How’s quarantine? How was schooling from home? Yeah, I know.
It’s hard to believe that after today y’all are done.
I’ve been teaching seniors for a long time, and each year it surprises me just how difficult it is to send off another group of students. I know that each of you has your own collection of skills, knowledge, memories and more that you are taking from your time with us at Hawbridge. Each of those collections is filled with your one-of-a-kind experiences from one of the most unique schools that you can find. My first hope for you today is that you can always dip into that collection for a bit of strength, hope, or just a moment of peace. It may take you some time to sort through and realize which parts were most meaningful, but high school would not be one of the most mythic parts of American life if there were not some importance to it.
For a while, I was not sure at first what to tell y’all during this. I had more than a few moments of self doubt about my ability to meaningfully address you all today. After 11 years in the classroom, what advice do I really have to give out? What should I add as the final piece of your Hawbridge collection? I settled on two pieces that I hope round out your collection: a wish and a bit of perspective.
First, my wish for you. That you can go through life being authentically and unapologetically yourself. Easy enough, right? Not quite. You may feel like you’ve got yourself pretty much figured out by now. You may feel like you have no clue who you are right now. Don’t worry. Both categories have lots of revelations ahead. That’s for another speech. Regardless of your category, fully embrace who you are. The perfections. The imperfections. The in-between fections. The parts that you feel are your core. The parts that are vague or ambiguous. The parts that feel foreign or uncomfortable. Embrace and own every bit of it. You’ll turn heads. Some in admiration. Some in admonishment. Probably more in admonishment because you will threaten their carefully curated, but largely superficial life. That’s okay. Remember what I know I have said in class, “I don’t do this for fans.” But when their heads swing around and they have some unsolicited notes for you or about the course of your life, here’s a tip from me and Latrice Royale, “Look sickening, and make them eat it.”
Graduations celebrate success, and rightfully so. Today is a day where there is a clear, indisputable success. Your success. Before the socially distanced revelry begins though, I want to offer a bit of perspective.
We all know every day isn’t graduation day. Every day doesn’t have a clear, indisputable success. Or get it’s own special hat. We’ve all had those days this year, and you can probably think back to more than a few you have had since you started your education. What are we supposed to do and think and feel on those days? Especially when our culture tells us that every day is about maximum productivity, supreme happiness, and clear, easy paths to success.
The perspective I want to offer for those days is one I took from Dorian Corey in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. In an interview for the film, the pioneering transwoman, designer, performer, and icon says the following:
“Everybody wants to leave something behind them.
Some mark upon the world.
Then you think, you’ve left a mark on the world if you just get through it & a few people remember your name.
Then you’ve left a mark.
You don’t have to bend the whole world.
I think it’s better to just enjoy it.
Pay your dues and enjoy it.
If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hurray for you.”
Each day, be it your graduation from high school or an average quarantine weekday, offers you new arrows. Some are headliners. Graduation. College acceptances. Job offers. Relationships. Others feel less than newsworthy – especially now. Getting out of bed. Taking a shower. Not wearing pajamas – I mean high performance sleepwear – constantly.
Here’s the thing that most people miss. What counts as an arrow and what counts as “real high” should be self-defined. Not by your parents or peers or Twitter or your soon-to-be high school teacher.
So today, you’re graduating, but tomorrow, you might have one of those “all I did was get out of bed and go lay on the couch” days. Nothing makes one day inherently more successful than the other.
Are you doing the best you can? Awesome. Are you not? Enh. We all have bad days. Just keep reaching for the arrows.
“You don’t have to bend the whole world.
… enjoy it.
Pay your dues and enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hurray for you.”
Graduates, on behalf of my colleagues, we are so proud of you. For myself, I will miss you, and I appreciate your trust in me today. Nothing but love here y’all. Congratulations.