June 22, 2010
It is absolutely wonderful to be here. Many of you don’t remember
me, but I worked here for twelve years. I’ve now been away
for six living in the Midwest and soon to return to this part of the
In fact, the last time I wore a jacket and tie on this campus was when
I interviewed 18 years ago, in 1992. Back then, I wore a tie because
I wanted a job, and wearing a tie is one of the things you do to get
a job. Today I wear a tie out of respect for the students here and
fantastic program where you have all lived and gone to school.
Can I say more about that? If there is one thing that I’ve learned
about Bennington School, it’s that the kids that have spent so
much time here are worthy of respect. I’ll repeat that. The kids
that have spent so much time here are worthy of respect. Anyone that’s
ever tried to make changes to their life can tell you that it isn’t
easy. It takes guts. It takes courage. It takes the ability to stand
up for one’s self and say that no matter what the whole rest of
the world wants, you’re going to be your own person. Each one of
you is making that journey, and I’m sure that some days are much
easier than others.
I am a proud Bennington School graduate. I didn’t go to school
here, but I learned a lifetime of important lessons working with and
working for the people that you see here. I learned about how to take
the right kinds of chances from Jeff Labonte. Sometimes it’s okay
to take a risk here and there to make your life better. It sure has worked
for me. I learned about compassion and dignity from Fran Moriarty. I
learned about forming deep connections with other people from Lee Gallagher.
I learned about always keeping a sense of humor and working hard from
Pete Serino. I’ve learned about learning from watching folks like
Ralph Bennett, Scott Goetz, and Jack Racette. These guys have all challenged
themselves and worked on themselves more than you might know. Of course,
as long as I live I will never forget Dwaine Wilwol’s patience
and common sense. And I learned about how life is about making memories
from Shelley Rolf. She was the first person I knew who made books for
some of her students about their time here.
Speaking of books, I want to thank Shelley for making sure that each
of the graduates got one. Hey, just for a moment, look at these nice
books. And maybe when you’re done taking a look at them, you can
close your eyes and just kind of run your fingers along them. You can
feel the binding and the cover and the pages. There’s nothing
like a book on a summer day.
Now look at the pages. They’re blank right now, but you can imagine
that this is a book about your entire life. And as you imagine that this
book is your story – a story about your life – you can wonder
to yourself how far into your life’s story you are. What page of
your life’s story are you living right now? Who are some of the
most important players in your story? What kind of book is it? An action/adventure?
A romance? Who knows, maybe it’s a self-help book? That’s
for you to decide.
I told you before about the things I’ve learned from the people
at Bennington School. I think about these people every day, even
after all these years. Some are here, some have moved away. Some are
some are far. Some I can only remember the faces, and others I can
only remember the names. I am so grateful to have known them all.
So as you look at the pages of this book, how will the things you’ve
done here and learned, how will all that hard work re-appear in your
future? What parts of Bennington School are you longing to hang onto.
When things are going well in your life and you look back on the good
times here, you might find yourself thinking of calling and thanking
someone. Who will that be? And on the other hand, when things aren’t
going well and you think back on the lessons you learned here, whose
face – whose voice – will come to your mind? What parts
of Bennington School will go with you?
Now don’t think that’s a death sentence. There really is
life after Bennington School! For some of you that begins in a few minutes.
There are many, many chapters in your book. If I can make one suggestion,
I hope you’ll remember the activities. Here’s why.
There is a funny thing about programs like this. A lot of the kids
that come through them feel like they’re doomed not to have a
good future. Well all the studies say that’s not true. Life can
be hard; there’s
no doubt about that. People do all kinds of things with their lives.
In the past few years, I’ve had the honor to interview a lot
of people who lived in programs like Bennington School. Every one of
told me that programs like Bennington that let them be a kid, gave
them access to outdoor activities, canoe trips and camping, etc. made
difference. A lot of the people that I’ve talked to – and there
have been hundreds – look back on those experiences as being important
parts of their lives.
So now many of you are leaving. That is as it should be. Let me just
show you one more thing. This is a glass of water. I couldn’t bring
enough water to share with everyone, but we’ll have some in a few
minutes. Take a look. Now that you’ve been through Pete Serino’s
education, how many molecules do you think there may be in here? Pete?
I’m going to guess that there are as many molecules in here as
there are people on earth.
As you look at this water, what do you notice? I see that when all
the molecules are together, they form something essential. We might
about this every day, but this water is like our planet and its people.
Now if I took a dropper with some mud or hair goo or something else
gross, would you still want to drink it? Me neither. I guess the question
for me is that sooner or later, you’re going to be like the dropper
full of water that adds to this big bottle of water. What’s your
contribution going to be like? How can you make it a better drink of
water? How can you make it a better planet?
We’ll be done in a moment. Can I ask you a few questions to think
about? You can keep the answers to yourself. It’s just for you
to think about:
- What’s been the best thing about Bennington School? I know
we could all complain, but what’s been the BEST thing?
- What’s been the most fun thing about Bennington School? I know
the times haven’t been all fun. What have been the most fun
- And if you had just quit and said forget it, what would have happened?
What would your life be like in the later chapters of your book?
- We’re almost done. Why would others want you to take the things
you’ve learned at Bennington School and apply them to the
rest of your life? Why would others want you to take good care
- Last question. What’s the NUMBER ONE thing you can take
away from your days and nights at Bennington School?
And when you have an answer to that, in your own mind, draw a circle
around it, because that’s your own special motivation.
The one thing you can always have with you.
Thank you and congratulations!