Thank you all again for joining us this afternoon in celebrating the Class of 2018. I would be remiss if I did not first take the necessary time to acknowledge a number of important people who have contributed in making this special day possible. Please join me in acknowledging these individuals and groups with applause for their efforts. For the beautiful musical accompaniment, we thank the RMHS Symphonic Band conducted by Mr. Joe Mulligan and the RMHS Singers under the direction of Ms. Kristin Killian.
For the coordination of today’s graduation ceremony, we thank RMHS teacher, Mr. Chuck Strout and Secretaries, Ms. Carmen O’Rourke, Ms. Stacy Scouten, Ms. Ileana Napoli, Ms. Lynne Cerretani-Clarke, and Ms. Kathleen Drummey. For the preparation of our facility and school grounds, we thank Head Custodian, Moe Hillis and his custodial team, and Facilities director Joe Huggins and his team. Lastly, for their generous donation of bottled water for staff and the graduates, we thank Reading Cooperative Bank.
Next, I would like to also acknowledge and thank several groups of people who have helped shape the educational experience of today’s graduates. For their leadership, we thank and recognize School Committee Members, Mr. Charles Robinson-Chair, Ms. Elaine Webb –Vice Chair, Ms. Jeanne Borawski, Ms. Linda Snow-Dockser, Mr. Nick Boivin, and Ms. Sherri VandenAkker.
For their support and vision, we thank our district leadership team, Superintendent Dr. John Doherty, Director of Finance, Ms. Gail Dowd, Director of Student Services, Ms. Carolyn Wilson and Director of Human Resources, Ms. Jennifer Bovee. For their leadership and guidance throughout our graduates’ younger formative years, we thank our elementary and middle school principals, Ms. Kelly Bostwick, Ms. Sarah Leveque, Ms. Heather Leonard, Ms. Julia Hendrix, Ms. Lisa Marie Ippolito, Ms. Joanne King, Ms. Sarah Marchant, and Ms. Richelle Shankland, as well as their dedicated staff.
For their dedication and commitment to the achievement of the class of 2018 over the last four years here at RMHS, we thank the educators, counselors, administrators, and staff of Reading Memorial High School. Their tireless efforts-day in and day out-working alongside you seniors has helped you to reach personal and academic levels that you may have previously thought unattainable. For her diligence and dedication in helping to guide each of you to this special day, we thank Senior Class Assistant Principal, Ms. Jessica Theriault. For their dedication to coordinating the many successful senior activities for the Class of 2018, we thank our hard-working Senior Class Advisors, Ms. Jennifer Hagopian, and Ms. Jennifer Cambra. And Finally, we would like to honor and recognize the many families, friends, and mentors here today, who have been such an integral part of these outstanding graduates’ lives day in and day out over the past 18 years. Without the constant commitment to your children’s lives and to the excellence of Reading as a community, the collective achievement we see today would not have been possible.
Class of 2018 ….. You are ALMOST there!!! In less than an hour or so (depending upon how quickly this speech goes and how quickly I read all of your names-(no pressure!) you will forever be the Class of 2018 GRADUATES, and we are all so proud of each and every one of you!!! What is always so very special about being an educator who works alongside of young adults is that we get the chance to see so many personal stories-filled with dreams, accomplishments-a few inevitable disappointments-and many proud moments-unfold before our very eyes. Every year, we see the final act of a 12+ year school play-come to a triumphant end in front of all of your friends, mentors, and family with fanfare and of course our very own victory bell! This is the day that all of you have been working for. .. but as Mathias said earlier, it can often be a day of mixed emotions because of the unknown that lies ahead.
Although each of you will almost certainly create different stories in the years to come ….. ALL of you will face the unsettling times of change, adversity, failure, and loss at one point or another in your personal and professional lives.
Now, many of you might be thinking, Mr. Bakr… it’s graduation… what’s with the doom and gloom speech on our big day? But my message to you today is quite the opposite of doom and gloom. My message to you today is one that I hope inspires courage and confidence, humility and grace, strength and clarity.
You see, today is not just the celebration of all that you have accomplished over the past 12 years…it is also the acknowledgment that in SPITE of failure, in SPITE of adversity, in SPITE even of people who may have doubted you or who have criticized you … YOU class of 2018-collectively and individually have had the courage, the strength, and the confidence to PERSEVERE… to look defiantly–even in those sometimes terrifying, overwhelming moments …..AND PRESS ON.
Today, I am here to tell you …YOU…ARE…READY. You are ready not just as a result of your successes and accomplishments throughout your years of schooling–but even more because of the countless instances of mistakes, failures, rejections, and loss you have faced-and have overcome–in sports, school, performing arts, activities, social life and in your personal life. In many ways, with 12+ years of school, and 18 or so years of life filled with failing and overcoming ……you might even consider yourself an expert in mistake-making… but ALSO in mistake-CONQUERING! Like any skill in life, it takes practice and repetition to improve the skill of trying …failing …. and trying again; and here’s the exciting news Class of 2018 ….. those of you who are most willing to swing and miss …. again and again and again until you finally get it in all aspects of your life? You will obviously have the most failures …… but the successes.. ..the accomplishments …. personally and professionally …. will be EXTRAORDINARY.
Unfortunately, sometimes in education, we don’t always emphasize the process and haven’t quite figured out the best way to grade “effort and overcoming failure”. Sure, we give comments and pats on the back for having “grit” and not giving up. Some subjects like math even find a way to numerically ensure that effort is valued, requiring students “to show their work”. Effort and overcoming failure is also considered when determining scholarships and awards, and most recently, our efforts to develop core value awards at RMHS have been designed to do that as well. Overall, however, our school society at large does a great job of telling kids to give their best and that mistakes and risk-taking are a part of the process and are important, but that message does not always translate into “success” in the form of college admissions, which still emphasizes performance and results more than anything.
The truth is, both matter. It does matter how you perform and what you accomplish …. results count. The bottom line in almost any field that any of you end up in is important …. what you produce will determine your success, whether that be sales that you make, patients that you’ve cured, students who have been successful under your watch, designs that you have created whatever your field, results do count. However, you cannot get to those results in ANY of those fields or in any personal goal if you do not make mistakes, to learn from and to improve upon, or if you become crippled by the fear of failure. You see, every one of you was once fearless …. defiant in the face of failure. In those pictures displayed in the senior slideshow on Friday, you saw your younger, most likely more fearless selves as innocent, oblivious dreamers …. ready to take on anything that life threw at you …. or at least the ability to more quickly forget about the tears and try again.
Then, unfortunately, as the mistakes pile up, the rejections accumulate, and the losses hurt …we become more and more self-conscious, less and less likely to swing daringly for the fences-back like when we were empowered by the innocence of our youthfulness. We start to hear the voices of skeptics sometimes critics who are jealous of our potential greatness …sometimes critics who are afraid of the changes that we represent …sometimes critics who are the very ones who love us the most but are afraid to see us fall down and try to shelter us from our dreams…but most of all the critic that lies between our own ears …that one that has heard it all and is engaged in an internal battle to be the four year old who reached for the moon, and the 18 year old that needs to come to terms with realistic goals because “that’s what you do when you’re a grown up”. And while of course, self-awareness is an important quality …. to honestly know who you are and what you want to do … but most importantly, WHAT you ACTUALLY need to do to get there and whether or not you are WILLING to put the effort in and overcome a great deal to reach this goal… Of equal importance is the dream itself …. the vision that excites and motivates you to be fearless or to conquer your fears and overcome your mistakes, so that you will happily persevere because you are so clear, so invigorated by your aspiration.
Famous psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Dr. Victor Frankl once said …… if you have a strong enough WHY you will figure out HOW. If you have a strong enough why, you will figure out how! In another story of perseverance and risk-taking, famous inventor Thomas Edison was attempting to develop his latest invention but was running into failure after failure, setback after setback, and was interviewed by a young reporter. The reporter inquisitively said, Mr. Edison, you have hundreds of successful inventions that have made you rich and famous, why do you continue to waste your time on this one when you have failed almost a hundred times?
Edison smiled at the young and innocent reporter and said, young man, I haven’t failed a hundred times ….. l am a hundred times closer to the answer. You see it’s truly a combination of having dreams that excite and motivate you through the tough times, the dull and difficult moments-coupled with a grit, a perseverance, and a fearlessness to try over and over and over again-learning from each past mistake to help you find the success and happiness each of you deserve. Have the courage and the humility to be reflective and listen to others around you-realizing everyone has something valuable to offer.
However, stay true to who you are and what you believe most because your moral compass and your dreams will at some point come under fire-especially when your principles and visions may affect others’ comfort zones. The noise will eventually fade away but your decision to listen and then act in accordance with what is right and who you aspire to be will remain forever. But most importantly, RMHS Class of 2018, remember that in your ups and downs, as you take on great challenges, face difficult losses, encounter immense change, and throw yourself purposefully into exciting and frightening unknowns, realize that you have years of invaluable experience that has prepared you, and that you have an entire community of family, friends, and mentors who will always be here to help you back up when you are most down. Hopefully, as you realize the strength of that support, you can even more confidently pursue that which makes you most happy, most excited, most alive with the fearlessness of your younger self and with the skill, insight, and experience of who you are today. Congratulations Class of 2018 …. thank you for everything.