by Doug Sept
The following remarks were given at 8th Grade Graduation on June 5, 2017.
My name is Doug Sept, and as the Upper School Director at Elgin Academy is my pleasure to welcome you to the Upper School tonight.
Elgin Academy Class of 2021, it has been an honor for me to join you and those around you tonight in applauding all of your significant accomplishments. We are excited to welcome you to the Upper School in August. We know that among you are artists, intellectuals, athletes, community servants, and good friends. You will fit right into our Upper School, which is filled with students ready to welcome you to their community and faculty who are looking forward to guiding you in the next four years.
All throughout this year, Mrs. Revak and Ms. Dugan have had glowing compliments to say about your class – your academic abilities, your extracurricular accomplishments, and most importantly, the way that you respect and care for each other.
I know that you will have many successes in the next four years to come, and we look forward to celebrating those with you. But, at this risk of raining on this wonderful parade, I would like to focus more on the mistakes that you have ahead of you the next four years. I recognize that it may seem odd to predict and celebrate these tough times, but true learning is born out of risk-taking, and taking risks will lead to mistakes. Therefore, while I spend the next few moments discussing the poor choices that lie ahead in your future, I hope that you can take comfort that we don't expect you to be perfect, and in fact welcome these situations that lead to "teachable moments."
So, let's remember now that there will be times when you do not study properly for a quiz or a test, and there will be times when you procrastinate on a long-term project or paper and find yourself submitting work that is less than your best after staying up late the night before it is due. You will make the wrong move on the athletic fields, and perhaps worse of all, you will make a negative comment about a close friend in the heat of an argument.
At times like these, the worst thing that you can do is to ignore your mistake, hope it goes away, try to take the easy way out, and lie about whether it even happened. Those who choose this path are doomed to repeat their failures. Instead, we are here to support you as you admit to making a poor choice and look for ways to make improvements the next time. Now, doing so will not save you from the consequences – the low grade, the lack of sleep, the lost game, the need to mend a friendship. Instead, we encourage you to embrace these consequences and remember how they make you feel so that you make amends in order to avoid them the next time.Parents, I understand that this approach will require a lot of patience on your part. The natural instinct will be to intervene in order to save your child from an uncomfortable situation. I know this all too well as the father of two children. Several years ago, retired English teacher Stephanie Merrill shared some thoughts with our seniors at their Baccalaureate Dinner. She grew up in rural Kansas, where her father was a farmer. She recalled for our graduates how when she planted her first garden of cucumbers, she enjoyed watering the plants. However, her father explained to her that it is bad to overwater them; in fact, he said, plants that are allowed to get a little stressed dig their roots deeper into the ground in order to gain the nutrients necessary to survive.
The same will be true for your children. They must fully experience the highs and lows of adolescence in order to grow properly and be prepared for the day that they leave home. If we "overwater" them during their Upper School experience, then they will not be self-sufficient in college and beyond. This sentiment does not mean, however, that we ignore their concerns and throw them into the deep end on their own. Instead, when tough times arise, I propose that we work together as a team. My door is always open for three-way conversations: the student, who seeks advice on how to work through a difficult situation (some which are self-created, and some into which they have been thrust); the parents, who have wonderful insights into their child and can provide a lot of love and support; and me (along with the Upper School faculty, with years of experience helping numerous teenagers through this stage in their life. Together, we can support your child in creating a plan that they can put into action.
As we progress through the next four years, it will be wise for us to ensure that your child is at the forefront in planning and executing all of these decisions. After all, they will be in charge of creating their own plans and support systems when entering college. I do not take credit for coining this phrase, but it is one that I think about often: It is best to prepare the child for the path, not to prepare the path for the child. Please know that we plan to work with you as a team to do the former – preparing your child for working through the natural highs and lows of life – and to avoid the latter – of making things easier simply so that your child can achieve uninterrupted success and "good feelings."
Thank you for indulging me as I took us down this potentially uncomfortable but necessary path. Now back to the present. You have successfully completed another stage in your life, and you have made a wise choice to enter the Upper School, where you will actively engage in top-notch academic discourse with expert faculty who respect you and care for you, forge a path using innovative resources, participate in a variety of co-curricular activities as you discover your passions, and benefit from the best college counseling program in the region. Be proud of your accomplishments, and enjoy a well-earned fun and relaxing summer. If you have any questions about what your Upper School experience will be like, please contact me. The Upper School faculty and I eagerly await your entrance to our school in August, and I thank you again for inviting me to celebrate your graduation this evening.