Sunday, June 21, 2009

Graduation speech by David de Hart

This speech was speech given by Dr. Carlos Muñoz's granddaughter's government teacher, David de Hart who teaches at Albany High in California. Inspiring.


Good evening.

I had a lot of requests this week, but I decided to speak tonight anyway.

Before I get started, the counselors have asked me to take care of a serious problem that came to their attention just hours ago. Evidently, some serious errors were made in calculating some units and grades. Will the following students please remove their gowns and mortarboards and see your counselors in the lobby immediately: Travis Kirby, Fernando Todd-Vilela, Roy Johnson, Luc Newell, Hannah Krammer, Clifton Brown, Peter Hruska, Anish Pal, Tim Jowono, Parker Š the list goes on and on. Oh no, it looks like my 5th Period Economics class. It must be some kind of conspiracy. Schoolloop? Who would have thought? I believe they call this payback.

Stop crying Kirby and Roy, I was just kidding.

Seriously, I cannot think of a greater honor than to be chosen by the Senior Class of 2009 to speak at your graduation. What makes this event even more special for me tonight is that my twin-step daughters are among you. Thank you 09!

Honestly, I wish I could stand before you and say the Class of 2009 is the best group of students to have attended Albany High, or the best that I have taught. But I cannot. You see, at my age, after having taught roughly 3,000 students over 26 plus years, it is all a blur. I have trouble remembering the daily bell schedule. I can say your class has some of the kindest, smartest, industrious, talented, funny and interesting individuals one could ever hope to teach.

So, it is only fitting to take a moment to recognize some of the people instrumental in your development. Parents and guardians, you have made our difficult and challenging jobs as teachers fun and rewarding by raising wonderful and respectful kids, and by getting them to school every day on time, well most days on time. Your blood, sweat and tears along with your financial contributions to our schools have made this all possible. You are deeply appreciated, so let's give a round of applause to the supporters.

Parents, how little you knew at the time, but I would be remiss, if I did not congratulate you on the impeccable timing you had in the conception of your child who sits here tonight. With this deep and serious economic recession, there could be no better time to enter college, if one can still afford it. In four years the economy should be ripe for the hiring of young college graduates eager to fill the multitude of new job openings.

Graduation time often reminds me of that famous scene in the classic 1967 movie, The Graduate, where Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, is given advice by a family friend about future jobs.

Mr. McGuire says to Benjamin: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Are you listening Benjamin? Plastics.

Are you listening, Seniors? I want to say six words to you: Public service, education, health care, energy.

Although going to college next year may very well be timely, you might regret leaving Albany High this year. Because of our dysfunctional state government and the deep spending cuts in education next year, if you have not yet heard, classes will begin at 10:00 am and school will end at 2:00 pm while students will still earn all their units to graduate on time. Sadly, Principal Barone will be laid off along with Vice-principals Charlip and Benau. Superintendent Stephenson continues to insist that the incoming student body president will be in charge. I am sorry, Jessica, you just missed out on exercising real power.

Seniors, you are sitting here tonight, poised for graduation because of your hard work and commitment. In addition you had the support of a dedicated, competent, professional and hard-working faculty, which I am so proud to teach with. Teachers please stand, along with our counselors, administrators and staff, so we can show our gratitude and appreciation to those who help make Albany one of the top schools in the country.

The day you entered Albany High in the fall of 2005, your concerns focused on finding your next classroom among the throng of students in the hallways while avoiding any senior who might haze you on that first Friday. For many of us, our concerns centered on the recent victims of Hurricane Katrina, an unprecedented natural disaster which reconfirmed our concerns about the political disaster in the White House.

During your fours years at Albany High, we learned just how fragile our democracy is.
If we educators have done our job, then you know better than the previous Congress and Administration the necessity of protecting our fundamental rights and liberties at all times. Embodied in our revolutionary founding documents are: our inalienable right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;" the right to abolish or alter our existing government; the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus; the power that only Congress has to declare war on other nations; the due process clauses, the equal protection clause, and those essential rights included in the First Amendment.

Ben Franklin had it right when he said: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

We as educators have done our job if you have learned to think critically about the choices that are yours to make. Do you want:

a government that tortures, or a government that protects the rights of all human beings;

a government that wages wars of choice, or a government that wages peace around the world;

a government that locks up its citizens and foreigners for years at time without being charged with a crime, or a government that respects the writ of habeas corpus and due process;

a government that interferes in the private decisions of its citizens, or a government that recognizes that women have the fundamental right to choose as do spouses with partners on life support?

We have done our job if you have learned to think critically about wanting:

a Congress that gives up its responsibility to declare war to the President, or a Congress that soberly and thoughtfully debates such a deep and consequential action;

a Congress that allows the access to resources to be determined by the color of one's skin, gender and economic class, or a Congress that truly promotes the equality of opportunity.

We have done our job if you have learned to think critically about wanting:

a society where health care and education are privileges, or a society that ensures education and health care as inalienable rights for all its citizens;

a society that favors the rich over the poor, or a society that lends a helping hand to those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder;

a society that denies to too many the right to marry, or a society that recognizes that all citizens have equal protection under our Constitution.

These are not decisions for anyone to make lightly. My challenge to you tonight is to not avoid these issues, but to confront them head on.

Hope alone will not bring change, nor necessarily will our new president or Congress. We must all take up the President's insistence to serve our country in any way we can.

Whether you are going off to college, to a job, or perhaps to the armed forces, you can most certainly make a difference if you arm yourself with knowledge and get involved. I can think of no better endeavor than working for social justice and getting involved in public service. The viability of a true democracy is only as strong as the participation and inclusion of all its citizens.

It is only appropriate that we celebrate your graduation with a hopefulness and mindfulness for the future. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: We must become the change we want to see in the world.

I wish each of you in the Class of 2009 an honest, healthy, happy and productive life. Good luck and thank you for making this one of my best teaching years at Albany High.

No comments:

Post a Comment