What Sets Us Apart
Dear Class of 2018,
Congratulations on reaching this important milestone in your education! At this graduation ceremony, I'd like to reflect briefly with you in three directions: Looking Backward, Looking Inward, and Looking Forward.
Looking backward: This unique place contains so many memories, so many firsts. Do you remember your first day at TASIS Dorado, your first field trip, joining clubs, playing sports, going to Space Camp, your first performance in the PAC, and so much more? You have undergone a rigorous, college preparatory course of study--three languages, Membean and projects, essays, lab reports, and lots of reading--and you survived and thrived. This school is not for the faint of heart!
You also survived the worst hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 100 years. The first thing many people said after September 20 was, "That was awful, but we're alive!" We suddenly became "woke" to what was really important about being human. For weeks and then months, the devastating storm broke down social barriers and brought out the best in people. Neighbors helped one another. Many of you reached out to help the storm-ravaged communities of our island weekend after weekend. Without telecommunications and reliable water and electricity, many students matured quickly.
We could clearly see that happening in you, graduates. By the end of the year, you showed wisdom beyond your years. For instance, your dance at Spirit Week was profound. It thoughtfully painted a picture of your love for the island, its history, and its people and your desire to see it rebuilt. Another example: Your "legacy" speeches at the Junior-Senior lunch were deep and moving. Looking backward, it's clear you grew in empathy and matured in wisdom during this very difficult year.
Now, you have a new start. No more disciplinary 3 X 5's--They're past history! Which brings me to "looking inward." You are still in the process of "becoming." Not everyone at college is going to have the same level of maturity, purpose, or focus as you have. Some of them will waste their freshman year looking for something in the party scene or unable to mange their time and freedom well. On the other hand, others will discover that there are so many interesting clubs and activities to get involved with at college. Please, take advantage of them!
As a freshman, I tried out for the crew team, sang in the concert choir, and joined the Big Brothers organization. Every Saturday, I traveled a mile or so from campus and into the heart of Harlem to hang out with a 10-year-old kid. We played basketball, hung out with his friends and family, and went to the movies together. That experience and those cross-cultural relationships really changed me. I started caring about new things too. Walking the vibrant streets of New York City, I was amazed by the delis and specialty shops. As a result, I joined a mail-order cheese club. Every month, three different cheeses from around the world were mailed to my dorm room. My roommate thought it was crazy--but he liked the free samples. Now that's what I call "cheesy." But I was incredibly excited to be absorbing life in college, in New York City, and the larger world.
You too can surround yourself with caring, good, focused people. At TASIS Dorado, some of you have been friends and classmates for 15 years. That is extraordinary and a gift to be treasured. Saying farewell to the safety and security of this close-knit circle of friends is not easy. Soon, many of you will meet new friends from all over the world. They have a story to tell and you have one to share too. Your life will be enriched as you interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Learn from them as well as from your professors.
Find out about best practices in the arts, engineering, medicine, law, education, science, and business. What insights do they have as a result of growing up in Singapore, Chile, France, Ghana, or Japan? Ask good questions of them and you may become a change agent in a world that needs your gifts and passion. My point is, as you embark on this adventure, look inward, find what you love, make great friends, and tend to the life of your spirit and core values, so that you have discernment and remain steady in times of duress.
There is no place like home, to be sure, but you will also see that the world does not end at the shores of Puerto Rico or of the United States. We have taught you to be intellectually curious and to be caring, kind, and courageous. Now, you will be applying those habits of mind and character as you learn more about the world and seek what will bring you satisfaction and make the world a better place.
The class of 2018 has done amazing things this year in academics, in sports, and in extracurricular activities. The colleges and universities to which you have been accepted would make any school proud and you have brought honor to yourselves, your families, and your teachers.
Lastly, looking forward: Most graduation speeches put pressure on graduates at this point. Dare to dream big, be a change agent, find creative solutions to the world's problems, including world peace. I prefer to remember Mother Teresa's perspective. She said, "I can do no great things; only small things with great love." And love is the most important thing! More than a feeling, love is an act of the will to seek the well-being of others, without expecting a reward. As Oprah says, "Do everything with your whole heart and with courage!"
During our years in Boston, my wife and I made friendships with quite a few people from Harvard Medical School. I could tell you many stories. For example, our friends Caleb and Louise, met at Duke, got married and attended Harvard Medical School together. After getting his M.D. degree at Harvard, Caleb also got a Ph.D. at MIT in civil engineering. Caleb and Louise moved to Rwanda in Africa with their four children in 2003 to join a team to help rebuild the country after the war. They later adopted an abandoned boy from Rwanda.
In addition to opening a hospital and dozens of clinics, Caleb designed and oversaw the construction of a hydroelectric generator that brought electricity to a part of the country that had never, ever had power. (More than 50% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa still has no access to electricity.) Caleb and Louise have been in Rwanda for 15 years and we were able to visit them a couple of years ago to see their work with our own eyes. I even made a video of Louise's work as a doctor if you'd like to see it! Motivated by love and entrusted with great educations, Caleb and Louise are making a huge difference in the lives of thousands of people.
Our visit in 2012 was not our first trip to Africa. Many years ago, soon after college, Meg and I volunteered for two months in a rural area in Kenya. We saw children with huge, distended bellies. We learned that they could not afford the medicine that would cure them. That medicine cost only 25 cents! We also learned that the government only provided free education up to the 5th grade; many students were forced to end their studies at that point. We saw many people suffering from malaria, which kills more people around the world each year than any other disease. Meg and I were hospitalized with bad cases of malaria ourselves and it was no fun. Yet that summer experience showed me I wanted to be a teacher and shaped my work as an educator among immigrant students and their families in Boston for 20 years.
Class of 2018, your TASIS Dorado education has given you power and opened doors. Do not take your education for granted. Perhaps YOU will be part of the solution in finding a cure for cancer or malaria, for bringing electricity to people who need it, or a strong education to students who desperately want it. Look backward, look inward, look forward!
As Hamilton said, in the words of Lin Manuel Miranda,
"I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I'm just like my country
I'm young, scrappy and hungry,
And I'm not throwing away my shot!"
We are so proud of you, Class of 2018! Congratulations, and all the best!