By Neal M. Brown, Ed.D., Head of School
The Class of 2017 holds a special place in my heart, as the graduates on this stage have grown a great deal as individuals and as a group since I first met some of them during their Kindergarten year. It has been an honor and a joy to take this nine-year journey alongside them and alongside their cohesive and involved parents—through the full trajectory of the Green Acres experience, from Kindergarten Songs to Graduation Day. Just watching this group represent their countries at last week’s Model UN simulation left me reflecting on how far they have come intellectually, socially, and as citizens of a world greater than Green Acres.
I mentioned at Friday’s Graduation Dinner how moved I was earlier this spring at the conclusion of the final performance of Alice in Wonderland when several of this year’s graduates took to the stage to express their heartfelt thanks to their teachers. This organic outpouring of gratitude exemplified qualities that have defined this class—school spirit, awareness of and respect for others, and the comfort and courage to be emotionally vulnerable.
I want to recognize at this pivotal moment that the development of these qualities and of our graduates’ successes have depended on many people.
Let us first direct our attention to our staff. The adults who work here are passionate about what they do. They work not only to develop authentic intellectual, artistic, and athletic challenges for students, but foremost to ensure that all students are known well, guided, and truly loved as individuals.
Our teachers and staff members create an environment where creativity and risk taking are encouraged, where awareness of the world and the feelings of others is heightened, and where students’ interests are valued in a way that is not typical in schools. This says so much about our talented and dedicated staff members who set a tone that is at the same time challenging and nurturing, serious and playful.
This is a proud day, but it is also a bittersweet moment for the parents of our graduates. Your unconditional love and devotion, and the many sacrifices you have made have all led to this day.
Now I want to address a few remarks directly to you, our graduates.
It may look seamless, but at Green Acres we think a lot not only about the specific skills that we want you to take with you, but also about the habits and qualities that we most wish to instill in you.
A year ago, we worked with a group of parents and past parents, as well as with the staff, to capture the key qualities of a Green Acres graduate. It is a robust list that we call our “Portrait of a Graduate.” I think it powerfully resonates with what I have seen in our students, in our graduates of all ages, and in each of you on this stage.
It reads… “Portrait of a Green Acres Graduate”
Green Acres graduates . . .
- Use their solid intellectual foundation, creativity, and strong ethical framework to pursue their passions;
- Know themselves as learners and are comfortable with themselves as people;
- Take a collaborative, team-oriented approach to leadership;
- Are optimistic agents of change who practice an exceptional commitment to making a difference;
- Embrace differences and celebrate the strengths of others;
- Are driven learners who embrace challenge; AND
- Emerge as leaders in their communities, achieving success in a wide variety of disciplines.
Now take in this list for a moment and think about all the experiences you have had here. Think also about the close relationships you have formed with your teachers, your advisor, other staff members, and with one another. Think about the Green Acres graduates that you know—some of them are your older siblings, so that’s easy—and think about how these qualities have come to define each of you and your class as a whole.
Absorbing these qualities starts very young here. One of our 1st graders was recently quoted this spring saying to his teacher, “When I first heard we were going to study oceans, I was like, ‘That’s kind of boring…I already know a lot about oceans…’ But now, I realize there’s so much to learn, and so many big questions still not answered! And now I think… that could be true for anything I study! You’re never done learning!” He definitely got that right—and, in doing so, he exemplified the “intrinsic love of learning” at the heart of our mission for each of you.
It occurs to me every day through these examples how much we value learning for learning’s sake here, how much we value genuine curiosity and service to others, and how deeply connected you and all of our students are to the adults who work here—and how all this unusual emphasis has set you, our graduates, up for so much success and joy. John Dewey argued that the primary purpose of schools was to ensure that students had the skills needed to pursue their passions. We believe that we have given you not only these skills, but that we also have fanned the flames of your passions along the way.
In addition to passion, though, I want to talk briefly about moral courage. The Portrait of a Graduate included references to having a strong ethical framework, being an agent of change, and embracing challenges. These are vital qualities and propensities; however, they rely on moral courage to have their full impact.
Moral courage comes often in seemingly small but very important moral choices made by ordinary people. Think of Rosa Parks. Or think about times when doing the “right thing” wasn’t convenient, or when it risked ridicule or social status. Would you still do it? It could be simply disagreeing with a friend, taking an unpopular stand, or pointing out something that everyone else seems to be accepting. I remember a few years ago when I received a call from a head of a local high school that our 9th graders had objected to a student-led skit that they felt had made fun at someone’s or some group’s expense. She said, “I don’t know what you and your colleagues are doing at Green Acres, but keep doing it!”
Author Irshad Manji and others have written about using our moral courage to become “upstanders,” rather than “bystanders.” We’ve used this term here as well. Manji argues that “most people who show moral courage do so because the voice of individual conscience drowns out groupthink passivity.”
So next year and beyond, use your moral courage to risk making mistakes.
Use your moral courage to be yourself.
Use your moral courage to accept yourself and allow yourself to be known by others.
Use your moral courage to look out for others.
Use your moral courage to be open to newness and change, to impact others positively, and to encourage others to use their courage, too. High school will be a change, no matter where you are going. Have the courage to embrace your discomfort, and it will help others to do so as well.
Remember, courage isn’t just for heroes. Anyone can have it and use it.
I am enormously fond of and proud of each of you. And it has been my privilege to watch each one of you grow up during the past nine years. I hope you will always feel that you have a home here at Green Acres.