Preparing for an Option B

The following is the address that was delivered to the Class of 2017 during the 116th DFHS Commencement. 

Good evening once again, and welcome to the Dobbs Ferry High School Commencement of 2017.

Before we begin, there are a few others who deserve thanks that I didn’t mention in my initial opening. First, I would like to thank the administration and faculty of Dobbs Ferry High School. I know that I say it time and again that it’s a true honor and a privilege to serve as the principal of this amazing high school, it’s a dream job really, and part of the reason for that is our faculty and staff. I have the good fortune of working alongside a team of professionals who are tireless in their drive to ensure that every student maximizes his or her potential. There is no greater or more rewarding profession than teaching, and our teachers can see the result of their hard work in the exceptional graduates that are sitting before us today. I know that a number of our teachers and staff are here tonight, so I will ask that they please rise and join me in giving them a big round of applause.

Next, a special thank you goes to the parents and families of our graduating class. As a parent of three children myself, I know that there is no greater gift for a parent than watching your children grow up. And today, that gift is a point of pride for all of you, as parents, for it has been through your guidance, your love and support, and your cheerleading that your children have met and exceeded the requirements to graduate from Dobbs Ferry High School. So this day, and this milestone, is as much about you as it is the students who are sitting before us. So congratulations to all of you…and at this time, I ask that that our graduates rise, face your parents, and give them a big round of applause. They are certainly deserving of it!

And finally, I would like to recognize an invaluable member of our school community who has just completed his tenth year of dedicated service. You have all heard the phrase “it takes a village,” and in Dobbs Ferry that is certainly the case…as so many individuals not only have a hand in educating our students, but also keeping them safe. One individual who does this daily is Joseph Kevilhan, our school crossing guard. Joseph is out there every day, rain or shine, in the coldest and warmest of temperatures, making sure that our students are safe as they cross a busy Broadway. And he has been doing it for ten years now. Please join me in a round of applause for Joseph Kevilhan.

Writing my remarks for this year’s graduating class provided me of course with the opportunity to relive many of the great accomplishments of our graduating seniors. While our current school was built in 1934, this is now the 116th commencement of DFHS, and each of our graduating classes leaves behind a legacy that adds to a long and storied history of both our high school and this proud community. This year’s graduates are no different, and are an exceptional group of students who fully embody our school’s mantra of IB for All, and excellence in all areas. Sitting before us today…

  • We have 29 students who have pursued a full IB Diploma with 100% of our students having taken at least two IB classes. In fact, this is the first class where we have had every student successfully take, and complete, IB English.

 

  • We have 9 students who were named National Merit Scholars, with one semi-finalist and one National Merit Scholarship Winner.

 

  • We have a Siemens Finalist, a senior who participated in the prestigious ISEF science research competition, as well as fifteen science research students who competed at WESEF this year.

 

  • We have the fifth class of seniors who have taken the Blue Star Financial Literacy exam and have helped to give our school a Blue Star distinction.

 

  • We have the first group of seniors who participated in our one-to-one Chromebook for all four years,and learned alongside our teachers as we continued to find new ways to use technology as a tool for enhancing teaching and learning.

 

  • We have exceptional artists, filmmakers, and musicians who continue to not only bring culture to our school community, but also recognition and awards, to0 many to list, to our school for their exceptional work.  

 

  • And of course we have a senior class that will be attending some of the premier schools in the nation, including Amherst College, Bucknell, Cornell, Dartmouth, NYU, Stanford, Tufts, UCLA, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, GW, and West Point…to name a few.   

The accomplishments of our graduates never cease to amaze me, and as you know, there is no greater joy that I get than sharing those accomplishments with our community through our school Facebook page, Twitter, emails, and basically whenever anyone wants to talk about it.  To me, there is no place better than Dobbs Ferry and, in my opinion, it’s the absolute the best town to raise children. In Dobbs we’re like one big family, and we see time and again how our students and community members rally around causes to help others in need, and how they truly support and get behind one another, despite the fact that we may not always agree on all issues. To me, this is typical in any loving family. Many of our seniors have known each other since kindergarten, and they share a bond that was probably captured best when they paraded through the halls of Springhurst just the other day for one last time to the cheers of their former teachers,  and our current Springhurst students. There really is no place like Dobbs Ferry.

From an academic perspective, our high school distinguishes itself from most public schools due to the fact that we are a full IB World School, featuring both the IB Diploma Program and now the IB Middle Years Program. In fact, we were the first school in Westchester to be authorized as an IB School, earning this distinction all the way back in 1998. Dobbs Ferry has always led the way.

And as graduates of an IB World School, you have been prepared with the necessary skills for success in any endeavor that you choose to pursue, whether in the classroom or in the workforce. In the year 2017, we call these 21st century skills, but your parents can certainly tell you that skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, initiative, and probably the most important skill of all, adaptability, are age old skills that all individuals from past generations needed for success. And while the context and the career paths that you will choose to pursue in your lifetime may certainly differ from, say 1982, when many of your parents were just entering the workforce, the types of skills that you will need are pretty much the same, just as they were when this great nation was formed, all the way back to our forefathers.

So in past years I probably would have focused the remainder of this talk on the importance of working hard, developing the 21st century skills that I just spoke about, setting goals, and going on to a lifetime of wonderful accomplishments. And those things are certainly critical, and please don’t lose sight of their importance. But today, I am going to focus on something a little different, and perhaps a bit more personal to some of you. Because no matter how hard you work, how often you do the right thing, how many goals you set and reach, how well you plan, and how much success you ultimately enjoy, one thing that is certain is that you will, at some point in your life, endure a form of personal adversity, or worse, a real personal crisis. For some of you, this may have already happened, and for others you might be in the midst of one right now.

Now, I’m not talking about the kind of adversity that comes from feeling overwhelmed with papers in school, or the stress that can come from having a high pressured job. If you are doing the right things and have success as a result, you will face a degree of adversity on a daily basis.  

Instead, the type of adversity that I’m talking about is the life altering kind, the kind that forever changes the course of your life. These are the moments that when they happen, we know that life as we had known it will never be the same. Whether it is a death, an illness, a job loss, or something else, these moments typically come when we least expect them, they don’t discriminate, and are often immune to our best efforts to prevent them from occurring in the first place. And for all of us, they are inevitable.

In her book “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy,” Sheryl Sandberg points out that “Option A is not available. Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B.” On a personal note, I can point to several moments of adversity, and even crisis, that I have led me down the road of Option B. And while achieving some professional success, along with a dream job, and possessing those 21st century skills I talked about earlier certainly helped, the truth is that what was ultimately needed to come out stronger couldn’t be found in books, in a classroom, or even in that dream job. Instead, it was found in people. It was found in having strong personal relationships with others. So before you go off to what will be an awesome life with limitless possibilities, here’s some final advice, or perhaps one last lesson, that I’ll leave you with on how to prepare for the certainty of an Option B at some point in your life…

First, Stay Connected to Your Home. When we hear the word home, we often think of our town, our physical home, our bedrooms, and everything in between. But that’s not the home that I’m talking about. Home represents the people who we care most about, and who care most about us. It can be a mother, a father, siblings, other family members, close friends or for some of you in a few years, a future husband or wife. In his 1970s song “You’re My Home,” American songwriter Billy Joel uses the lyric “home is just another word for you” to characterize home as being beyond the physical space, and more about the person or people who matter most. Personal strength in the face of adversity, then, comes from our relationships with others. It comes when we are selfless, and give and receive without reservation, and without asking for something in return. It’s the individuals who we go out of our way for daily, and enjoy doing it when we do. So stay connected to your home. Always.

Second, choose Option A when it comes to love. Or more specifically, Choose Option A when it comes to pursuing what you love in terms of your passion, or who you love for the rest of your life, or ideally both. While an Option B (or C or D) might be inevitable in other areas, choosing Option A with regard to love will give you the greatest strength in the face of adversity. And when you choose love, or your passion, or both, you are choosing an honest life that gives the strength to endure any challenge that life will throw your way. You will also live with no regret, no matter what degree of adversity you face down the line, and you will rise to immeasurable heights of personal fulfillment and strength so that you can tackle whatever obstacles that come your way. So never, ever, settle in this area.

And finally, remember that you are part of a team. Each of you is now prepared to leave us to pursue goals and dreams that go beyond the streets of Dobbs Ferry. But always remember that no matter where you go, and what heights you soar to, you will always be part of the Dobbs Ferry team. And as members of that team, you have an eternal network of people who will support you, cheer you on, and look on with pride. So go out there, trust your talent, do your thing, and have a wonderful life. Thank you for an amazing four years that were fun, and always too fast. It has been a privilege. I will miss you all. Thank you.

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