Graduation Speech


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When I first began considering a graduation speech, my initial impulse was to spend this time discussing the advent of college preparation at Ridgemont, and the rise of empty values. I thought it would be a good chance to point out the fact that the quest for college admission has ground some of the best people I know into pulp, and that for the most part it seems as though both their parents, and to a large extent the school, seem afraid to confront that system for what it is. I wanted to speak to the changes happening here at Ridgemont, that the focus of the school is being shifted from educating for character to trying to improve the efficiency with which Ridgemont can heard students into the Ivy League. It seemed to me that my entire fourteen years here had led to the final understanding that a lot of what we have been told to strive for amounts to little more than bowing down before Mammon.

But, upon reflection, I realized that I would not be doing justice to the school and the class I love if I spent my time up here attacking the parents and the school in that manner. I really owe the school and my peers a lot more than that. If it were not for my Ridgemont education, I probably would never have seen the system for what it is. Ridgemont taught me to despise that system by showing me a better way to do things; by showing me that education, success, and happiness do not have to come at the expense of others, that I could go further if I learned to help, and to be helped, by those around me, rather than compete against them. Ridgemont's emphasis on process versus product will stay with me for the rest of my life.

So when I sat down and tried to pull together what it was about Ridgemont that made it an interesting and wonderful place to attend school, I remembered that my friend Larry had once pointed out to me the distinction between the two types of people that you can associate with. There are those that care about your soul, and those that don't. I think that the Ridgemont education, for many in my class, was one that cared for our souls, and this is what distinguishes it from other schools, and this is why it is so unlike the real world in here.

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Much of it comes down to a question of faculty. Some of the finest individuals I have ever met are teachers at Ridgemont. Actually, a few of them used to be on the Ridgemont faculty. Unfortunately, they have since been fired, or have sought employment elsewhere, much to the detriment of the school. Nevertheless, what makes the faculty special at Ridgemont is their commitment to us students and our souls. I have watched teachers and students here enjoy close relationships that extend far beyond the classroom. In addition to this closeness though, the teachers at Ridgemont have a strong sense of passion for their respective subjects and profession. The teachers here are prepared to teach us to think in ways that most other teachers seem to think is above high schoolers. Since I have never attended another school, it is hard for me to compare, but I am constantly amazed at the depth to which Ridgemont students can express themselves or analyze something.

Which brings me to my classmates. I have seen some strange behaviour here, and I have also seen some truly moral, thoughtful, conscientious action, action performed by people with a profound sense of responsibility to something larger than themselves. Ridgemont is either filled with an uncanny number of these people, or it somehow manages to breed this sense of responsibility and commitment in many of its students. Perhaps it is both. Nevertheless, I count myself fortunate to have spent fourteen years surrounded by such exceptional, rare creativity and brilliance. People say that Ridgemont lets its students get away with too much, but now I look at my classmates, and I see people who have learned to use that freedom to make an impression, to do something more productive and interesting with their lives than to simply produce wealth. These are people who have learned how to think.

That is why it pains me to see so much negative pressure placed on students by what should be a life-enriching education. I have seen some of the most brilliant, creative, sensitive and profound individuals I have ever known reduced to nothing because they were not able to properly participate in the competitive academic process. That should not happen, here least of all. And while I watched this, I have talked to parents and listened to them ask me, "Why doesn't Ridgemont have SAT prep classes? Ridgemont is really doing my child a disservice because s/he is not scoring as high on the SATs as they could be." And a student the other day turned to me and actually said, "I feel like all the work I've been doing in school has been for nothing because my [SAT] scores were so low." If this is a feeling generated by standardized testing and the college admission process, then the parents and the school should be doing as much as they can to reject that system and reduce its negative effects on the students' self-esteem. Instead, the trend seems to be towards increasing Ridgemont's participation and acquiescence to this destructive process.

Ridgemont is, and could be, so much more that just a college prep school. The tension over this issue has become more and more obvious to me as I have spent my fourteen years here. The students come to this wonderful school, filled with wonderful, caring faculty and staff, and begin to learn about character. But along with these years of character education comes the realization that grades, prestige, society, competition, and money amount to nothing more than false idols.

The students have been more vocal than usual on these and other issues this year, making for some interesting times. And let me tell you, there is no time like the present here at Ridgemont. This school now stands at a major crossroads. The centennial is quickly approaching, and Ridgemont will soon have to chart a new course for its second century. A new permanent principal is being chosen, the educational council is being reevaluated and reconstituted. Now is the time to affirm Ridgemont's progressivism. It is what makes us great. The advent of the eighties and the change in the neighborhood has lead to a different clientele seeking out the education with different priorities and backgrounds. We must not allow those who with to make a $10,000 a year deposit towards their children's prestigious education to run the school solely as a college preparatory factory. If that is what people want, we should encourage them to enroll down the street. Ridgemont is not about preparing kids for college, it is about preparing them for life. And I think this class is testament to the fact that students educated thus are a hell of a lot more interesting and impressive than those who are forced to spend eighteen years drooling on themselves while being educated primarily for standardized testing.


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