117th DFHS Commencement: Finding Your Path

The following address was delivered at the 117th DFHS Commencement on June 16, 2018.

To the Board of Education, Superintendent Brady, Mr. Berry, Administration, Faculty members, Parents, Family members, Friends, Students, and Graduates: Good evening once again, and welcome to the Dobbs Ferry High School Commencement of 2018.

Tonight, we come together as a community for an event that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a member of Dobbs Ferry. The Village of Dobbs Ferry has a long and proud history dating back to the early 17th century. Named after Jeremiah Dobbs, whose family ran a ferry service along the Hudson River out of this very location, the hills that overlook this Waterfront were a site of prime strategic importance for General George Washington during the American Revolution. In 1861, at least 20 Dobbs Ferry residents enlisted to fight for the Union in the Civil War, and if you take a look at the flag pole in front of our high school, you will see the names of hundreds Dobbs Ferry residents who fought in the First World War. The residents of our village have always had great pride, and have looked to give back, just as Edwin Gould did in 1924 when he donated the land that is now Gould Park.

At the center of our amazing little village of course are our incredible schools. The first high school in Dobbs Ferry was formed in 1897, and the main campus of our current high school was built in 1934. Sitting before us today, we have the 117th graduating class of Dobbs Ferry High School. And this graduating class is now part of the long and proud history of this village. Many of the students sitting here attended all three of our schools since the age of five, and they had the opportunity to come full circle as they walked the halls of Springhurst for one last time earlier this week. In fact the grandfather Sal Giuliano, one of our graduating seniors, was a graduate of the DFHS Class of 1938, the first to attend our current school building for all four years. Our school and community have truly stood the test of time, and we are all part of a legacy of excellence that will continue long after all of us are gone.

117 classes of Dobbs Ferry graduates…and each was comprised of graduates who had hopes, dreams, and plans for a better tomorrow just as you do right now. And for some, the path that they had mapped out for themselves played out to the letter. For the majority, however, the path would ultimately need to be adjusted and modified time and again.

Your whole life you have been told that working hard, getting good grades, and getting into a good four year college will lead to success, happiness, and a fulfillment. That’s the way it was with so many past generations, and that thinking has been instilled into all of you. And while that path will certainly lead to success for some of you, the truth is that many of you will find yourselves on a path to success that is completely different from what you have in your mind right now.

A few months back I was scrolling through Facebook and I came across a video by Jay Shetty.  He launched his own YouTube channel in 2016, and has since produced hundreds of short videos clips that focus on finding fulfillment, success, balance, and perspective. He is also a perfect example of a person who is under the age of 30 and has already found himself featured in Forbes because of his out-of-the-box thinking and the non-traditional path that he has taken to achieve his personal goals. If you haven’t checked out his videos I definitely encourage you to do so.

In one of his videos, called “Before You Feel Pressure,” he provides the perfect message for all people, including high school graduates, to think about and to consider. As the video opens, we see a room full of eleventh grade students who are listening to their school principal speak about the very defined and certain path that they have before them. He explains that they will take their exams, will soon graduate from high school, and will then go on to study in universities all around the world. They will attend an advanced graduate school, get a job in one of the top institutions around the world, buy a house, get married, have children, and that their path and life will be forever set. Sound familiar? When he finishes, there is a quiet tension in the air as he says these last words, with a claustrophobic feeling among the students around the pressure of that one narrow path that is being set out for them. Then Jay Shetty steps up and says the following…

I’m sorry, but let me tell you why that approach may fail you. I know people who graduated college at 21 and didn’t get a job until they were 27. I know people who graduated college at 25 and they found work immediately. I know people who never went to college but found what they loved at 18. I know people who have found a job straight out of college making decent money but hate what they do. I know people who took gap years and found their purpose. I know people who are so sure about what they were going to do at 16 and changed their mind at 26. I know people who have children but are single, and I know people who are married but have had to wait 8 to 10 years to have children. I know people in relationships who love someone else. And I know people who love each other but aren’t together. So my point is that everything in life happens according to our time, our clock.

You may look at some of your friends and think that they’re ahead of you, or maybe you feel that some of them are behind, but everything happens at their own pace… they have their own time and clock, and so do you. Be patient. At age 25 Mark Cuban was a bartender in Dallas. It took until the age of 32 for JK Rowling to be published for Harry Potter after being rejected by 12 publishers.  Steve Carell only got his break after 40 years old. Morgan Freeman got his big break at the age of 52.

Getting your college degree after 25 is still an achievement. Not being married at 30 but still happy is beautiful. Starting a family after 35 is still possible. And buying a house after 40 is still great. Don’t let anyone rush you with their timelines because as Einstein said not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that’s counted truly counts.

I share this with you because it is important to remember that graduation is not an end. It is a beginning, and you are all just starting to forge a path in life that works for YOU. As a graduate of the Sewanhaka High School Class of 1992, I can distinctly remember sitting among my classmates, feeling directionless, and without a clear sense of what the future held for me. I had a class rank that was at the bottom third of the class, my only goal was to have a fun summer, and my plan was to make as much money as I could by working in the local deli, before starting at Nassau Community College in the fall. It took three years for me to find my way, transfer to Boston University, and begin my career as a middle school English teacher. And at the age of 43, I am still forging my path, and in some respects the future for me at this age is as wide open as it is for you right now.

In Dobbs, we have seen many others who have pursued alternative paths, We saw it with Eric Paschall, who we honored a few weeks back for his success on the national champion Villanova Wildcats, and we see it with this year’s valedictorian, who has courageously decided to take a gap year to gain real world experience before starting at Harvard University.  And in different ways, we will see it with all of you, as you search to find the path that is right for you.

And when you find that path, my best advice is to be tireless in the pursuit of your dreams, to commit yourself to a life of growth and improvement, and always seek to contribute beyond yourself. As graduates of Dobbs Ferry High School, I promise that you have the skills that you need to accomplish all that you set your mind to…so now the rest is left up to you. Always remember that you have a community who is behind you with family and friends who will always be there to support you. So go out there, find your path, and live a happy and fulfilled life. I wish you all the very best. Thank you.

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