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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Proof That Not All Commencement Speeches are Boring!

School Committee Chairman Paul Bockelman recently delivered, in my opinion, one of the best commencement speeches I have heard in a while. It makes me wish I was a member of the Class of 2012 from Somerville High! ~Courtney O'Keefe Matignon High School Class of 1998 (Somerville High was my first choice...just for the record).

Chairman Bockelman and his daughter. 

"You guys look AWESOME! Forget the weather, this is one incredible day!

– especially for my family because our daughter, Mattie, is graduating today, too. I’m really proud of her and I’m flooded with memories of her childhood.

The other night I was standing in our kitchen, just staring at the refrigerator. Now, the refrigerator door in our house probably looks a lot like your refrigerator door.

It has pictures of our kids when they were little, especially an adorable photo of Mattie crying! It has frequent buyer cards to Redbones. It has funny refrigerator magnets and a bottle opener.

Back ten years ago the refrigerator had crumpled reminders that we fished out of the kids’ backpacks when they came home from the Healey School -- permission slips for the science museum, reminders about little league. In 7th and 8th grades there were notices about history day and field day and science projects.

High school saw forms to sign so they could play sports and attend proms – lots and lots of proms - reminders about multicultural day and the faculty Christmas show--two of THE best things Somerville High does; (Did you know the male teachers could dance like the Backstreet Boys? And Mr. Q. does a dead-on impression of Mr. Cicciarello?)

And then this year… all these signs on our refrigerator that my little girl is on her way out into the world: drivers ed schedules and college application deadlines.

I also note with real gratitude that there are some very kind notes on the refrigerator from teachers and her housemaster congratulating her on a particular achievement and wishing her well during an illness.

I am so grateful that Somerville High is the type of place where my kids felt personally cared for - not just by one or two special teachers and coaches and staff - but by many - many. There‘s a lot of love at your school, and with my youngest now graduating, I want to thank Tony Ciccariello and the staff for having given my kids and all of the graduating seniors a caring, respectful, and often fun home base from which to launch.

But, more importantly, you graduating seniors have love for one another. You take care of each other, through good times and some really hard times. You see, it is your relationships with your teachers and, especially, with each other that will endure into the future. You may forget Mr. Buckley’s math problem sets or Ms. Brewster’s summer homework, but you won’t forget your teachers or each other. You may never recall an amino acid or computer code – but you will never forget Ms. Woods or Nav – or Berto, or Arianna, or Fabio, or Jason Corey.

There's something else on my refrigerator that's probably not on yours: obituaries cut out of the newspaper. I'm not talking about notices of tragic deaths of people in their prime: our community has had way too many of these recently and my heart goes out to those of you who have lost loved ones.

No, I'm talking about obituaries of people who have lived long lives with odd twists. There's the guy who survived the atom bomb blast in Hiroshima and escaped to be with his brother who lived in...Nagasaki where he survived a second blast and lived to the ripe old age of 93.

The guy who created Gumby, the guy who invented Spaghetti-Os, the one who started Tupperware (makes you wonder what his coffin was made of).

I like obituaries because in a few paragraphs you learn the shape of a life: how it began, how the dots connect, how it turned out.

I read obituaries every day for the life’s story they reveal. Now, you are setting out to shape your own lives. You all worked hard to get here. Your school helped, many of you had parents or other adults help, some of you made it largely on your own – and I admire you the most of all.

And now, you are prepared for your next adventure! It probably won’t be clear how to shape your life over the next few years.

But remember, and this I learned from reading all those obituaries, interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives. There are twists and turns along the way. And sometimes, you just have to stop and start over.

Class of 2012, you are an amazing community of people from all over the world, all walks of life, dozens of languages, rich, poor and in between. From this culturally rich, wildly diverse background, you stand ready to take your place in a very complicated world. Take pride that you already know so much about the world because Somerville High, unlike most other schools, is a lot like the world.

Come back to tell us how you are doing or to explain new things to us, and if you temporarily lose your way, please come back to ask advice.

Oh, advice! I forgot, I’m supposed to give you some advice. Two things I heard recently I thought were good. First, when you walk into a room, act like you belong there – even if it is your first day in college or on the job. Because you do! And, second, if you have the choice between a handshake and a hug – go for the hug!

Have fun! Be bold!"

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