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9 days to go: vote #oklaed

October 28, 2018 Comments off

Remember in November Rally image

Yesterday, on a beautiful October afternoon (during which both OU and OSU had homecoming parades), a group of public education advocates gathered at the Capitol to remember why we walked out in April and to focus on the education vote in the upcoming election.

I would agree with Oklahoma Watch’s assessment. Yes, it was a small crowd, but it was pretty vocal. Many of the speakers were dynamic. I was also there.

The Oklahoman had this to say about the rally:

Many teachers hope the election will result in more lawmakers who are willing to increase the state’s education budget.

“I’m here today because education is so important,” Kim Schooler, a fourth-grade teacher at Truman Elementary in Norman, said. “It is the key to everything. That’s why I’m a teacher.”

Amanda Jeffers, a candidate for House District 91 who teaches English at Crooked Oak High School in Oklahoma City, told the crowd she walked out in April because “giving teachers a moderate pay increase doesn’t fix the problems we face in the classroom.”

I was one of the speakers yesterday as well, and a couple of people have asked me to post my comments. Here’s what I had written in advance, though I probably ad libbed a bit:

So…what does that ideal, pro-education candidate, in the most generic sense possible look like? Since I can’t endorse anyone specifically today, let me paint you a picture.

A candidate who supports public education understands that health care, corrections, and addiction issues ARE public education issues.

A candidate who supports public education knows that you can’t increase teacher pay by giving us more flexibility with how we spend our building fund. Whether it’s a quarter or five nickels, it’s still 25 cents.

A candidate who supports public education reads, engages, and votes. And walks around the Capitol with teachers when they’re fighting for our profession.

By the way, a candidate who supports public education knows that the teacher walkout was about WAY more than teacher pay.

A candidate who supports public education is involved with – and ideally, leading the way – helping us all understand how adverse childhood experiences shape the gap between what is taught and what is learned.

A candidate who supports public education is someone who has been paying attention to the policy and funding issues that have been hurting our schools…for more than just the last few minutes.

A candidate who supports public education knows that public schools already have academic accountability and fiscal transparency, as required by more laws than I can count.

A candidate who supports public education also knows that vouchers would take public school dollars and send them to private schools that lack accountability and transparency.

Finally, a candidate who supports public education is someone who is more concerned with doing right by school children than with his or her political future.

So far, friends, 2018 has been a landmark year. Many of the legislators who have tried to cut this state into prosperity have changed their tune. Others decided they didn’t want to stick around. Some, well, some we have just fired. Keep voting for better candidates. Keep voting for public education. Keep voting for the future.

With that said, do you know who your candidates are? Do you know where your polling place is? Do you have a plan to take the time to vote on November 6th? Our state has come too far for any of us to stay on the sidelines and let other people make decisions.sheen vote.gif

 

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Why Trauma-Informed?

September 9, 2018 2 comments

In 2008, after my grandmother passed away, I was putting the contents of her dresser into a plastic bucket so that the movers could pack and move everything out of her room at her retirement community. I didn’t have much time, but I stopped and looked at many of the things she had kept. Old pictures of my mom and her brother. A birth certificate from one of her siblings who died in childhood. Veterans benefits notices. Booklets of Green Stamps.

And for some reason, my first grade report card.

At the end of the school year, my teacher commented that I had become angry and disagreeable during the fourth quarter. That makes sense to me. That’s about when my parents split up.

Please understand, I’m not looking for sympathy. Or empathy. What was hard for me at age six has turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened in my life. I was probably in my 20s before I really got that, but objectively, it couldn’t have worked out better. In short, I got to experience a step father who loved and appreciated my brother and me probably more than he really had to. And I loved him dearly up to his death five years ago.

And okeducationmom has never let me down.

My parents divorced in 1977. We lived in a small town. Certainly everyone knew about it, but that doesn’t mean they could relate to it. With 40 years of hindsight, it’s easy to see that I would have benefited from having a teacher who got it. I don’t mean that I needed a teacher who understood what I was going through; rather I could have used a teacher who at least understood that I was going through something. Clearly I was lashing out irrationally.

I probably didn’t do that again until about 2012, when I started blogging.

I wouldn’t have really framed it this way then, of course, but I was suffering, as a six-year-old, from trauma. This was the defining event of my childhood. Parents divorcing is that event for many of our students in Oklahoma. For others, it’s abject poverty. Or living in a home with someone suffering from addiction. Or losing a parent or sibling. Or a parent being incarcerated. Or a debilitating illness – whether you can see it from the outside or not.

We must accept this reality, and understand that we, as educators, are incapable of understanding all of the different traumas that our students experience. Fortunately, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and many school districts in Oklahoma (including Mid-Del) have started focusing on this.

In May, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister announced that this would be a point of emphasis for her and her staff:

It Starts Here: Trauma-Informed Instruction will be held at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, Oct. 2, and feature experts in childhood trauma and healing. In partnership with state agencies, tribal nations and nonprofits that serve children and families, the OSDE’s in-depth event will target educators who are often the first to encounter trauma in individual children.

“A recent National Survey of Children’s Health revealed that Oklahoma’s youngest, most vulnerable children suffer more trauma than those in any other state in the nation, and additional trauma rankings among our children of all ages are alarmingly high,” Hofmeister said.

“We must come together to understand the complex issues surrounding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in order to serve the hundreds of thousands of affected children in our classrooms and provide a path forward that is infused with resilience and hope. When we think of the importance of giving all Oklahoma children access to a high-quality education, there may be no more critical work than to ensure a foundation of safety and caring. We cannot allow these frightening statistics to remain unchecked.”

In our district, we’ve given a ten-question ACE quiz to our administrators and the teachers at many of our schools. It’s a good activity because participants can (if they choose to) share their score without discussing any specific trauma if they choose not to.

My score was a six. I’ve shared with you one reason why, and that’s all you get. It’s my story. It’s my childhood. And that’s the one part of it that I’m comfortable sharing.

Someone else’s score of a six might be different than mine. Another person’s three might have given them more trauma in childhood. Or maybe someone’s score of one. The point isn’t the number. The point is the child.

As educators, most of us can’t relate to the experience of a child who has an incarcerated parent. What we can do, however, is get to know that child and learn what that child needs from us. It’s not enough for us to teach reading, math, science, history, music, or anything else. Recognizing that we have students who need more than curriculum is the point of developing trauma-informed schools.

It’s not to stereotype different traumas and generalize their results on kids. It’s not so that we can manage our expectations.

Trauma doesn’t change the fact that a student’s starting point is not the sole determinant in who he or she becomes as an adult.

Here’s more from the OSDE press release:

Research indicates that the impact of childhood trauma can be mitigated through trauma-informed educational instruction practices that focus on relationship-building, resilience, hope and positive interactions. Addressing students experiencing trauma is part of Oklahoma Edge, the OSDE’s 8-year strategic plan for strengthening public education in the state.

In Oklahoma, nearly half of school-aged children have an ACE score of 3 or higher, which is strongly associated with negative long-term health outcomes including disproportionate rates of divorce, depression and violence.

“Hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma children are academically at risk and on a path to shorter, more difficult lives as a result of childhood trauma,” said Hofmeister. “Seeing our teachers stand up for kids is not news, but at the It Starts Here summit, we will equip them with the tools specific to childhood trauma that will enable them to be even fiercer champions of their students.”

Maybe this means having more counseling supports in place for children. Maybe it indicates a need for mentors or better mental health services. For years, we’ve known that there are students in our schools who lack positive adult interactions outside of our buildings.

We also have known for years that there are some amazing single parents, foster parents, and grandparents out there raising children.

That doesn’t mean that the trauma ceases to exist, though.

As with any good movement in education, I fear that this will turn into a collection of buzzwords and generalizations. I hope to God it doesn’t, though. We need to understand our kids, even the ones with experiences that we can’t relate to.

I’m thankful that the OSDE and Superintendent Hofmeister are taking a visible lead in this important work. I’m thankful for those in our district adding to the effort.

I will continue to learn everything I can about childhood trauma. More importantly, I will continue to learn how I can help the students I serve.

 

 

Countdown: One Day

April 1, 2018 Comments off

This week, the Legislature passed a series of bills that raised taxes, increased the state education budget by 19 percent, and modified the state salary schedule to provide significant raises for teachers. They also passed legislation to mandate raises for support staff and restore some of our operational costs. Finally, Thursday, they amended the original package to remove one of the sources of revenue: A hotel/motel tax. The governor then signed most of these bills.

Between the passage of the education package in the senate Wednesday night and the repeal of the hotel/motel tax Thursday afternoon, I had already polled my district. Including teachers, support staff, and administrators, the survey had 969 responses. Of those, 93% still wanted to walkout on Monday, with 83% wanting to stay out multiple days. As a superintendent, I appreciate the clarity. Making the decision to be out of school Monday was easy. I can’t imagine what might happen Monday at the Capitol that would make the 83% change their minds, but I’m a real never say never kind of guy.

Never tell me the odds.gif

This walkout, if you ask many teachers, is long overdue. Ten years of budget cuts, unfunded mandates, and stagnant salaries have taken a toll on the profession. I don’t think anybody expected the Legislature to fix a decade of neglect in one sweeping motion. Faith isn’t restored that easily.

I happen to think they made good progress. They passed a tax increase for the first time in 28 years and raised salaries significantly. Still, there are good reasons for thinking this isn’t enough.

  1. While an average increase of about $6,100 in salaries will improve Oklahoma’s place in regional and national rankings, we also know that those are moving targets. Other states don’t wait ten years to raise salaries.
  2. In 1992, Oklahomans passed State Question 640, which requires that the Legislature reach a 75% majority in each chamber in order to pass a tax increase. A tax cut, on the other hand, only takes 50%. We saw this dynamic play out perfectly in about 24 hours this week. This is no way to fund core state services.
  3. I saw reports last week that the Democrats think funding for this package is about $150 million short and that Republicans think (after repealing the hotel/motel tax) that it’s about $20 million short. It’s very possible that one group is overstating the gap and that another group is understating the gap. It’s politics. And it’s the dynamic that concerns me more than the gap itself. The Legislature builds a budget based on estimates. They could estimate high on one revenue stream and then low on another. The immediate gamesmanship that followed a brief period of bipartisanship is a threat to any future progress.
  4. Support employees received raises as well, but far less than what they deserve. These are the lowest-paid employees in our schools. They feed our kids, drive our buses, run our offices, and repair our buildings. When we can’t find enough teachers, they help us manage large classes. The Legislature really needs to revisit this piece of the puzzle.
  5. Retired teachers deserve cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). My mom, who was a special education teacher for 29 years, retired in 2001 and hasn’t had a COLA in a decade either. Meanwhile, her HealthChoice premiums continue to increase. She sees less of her retirement every year. (FYI – I’ll run a guest blog from her in the morning.)
  6. This week’s budget restored $50 million (outside of the raises) to the overall funding of public schools. While that’s a start in the right direction, let me explain why that doesn’t go very far.
    1. Of the $50 million, textbooks get $33 million. To put this number in context, that was the amount allocated to textbooks in 2008, the year I became Director of Curriculum in Moore. Since then, school enrollment has increased by 60,000, and the cost of textbooks has significantly increased.
    2. That leaves about $17 million restored to the formula to put back into classrooms. By our estimates in Mid-Del, our portion of this amount would be enough to bring back about seven of the 60+ teaching positions (100 positions overall) that we cut two years ago. It helps. It really does – but not enough to make significant dents in class sizes throughout our district or the state.
  7. Future Legislatures could roll back some or all of this progress. They could also add to it. We have no way of knowing, but that’s how government works. I would say that overall, the 56th Oklahoma Legislature has been the most education-friendly body of lawmakers we’ve had in a decade. The group that took office in 2017 included the biggest group of new members since the state adopted term limits. The best way to ensure that the momentum continues – once the walkout ends – is to vote for candidates who will continue chipping away at policies that threaten the stability of our state’s budget.

By the way, when you go to the Capitol tomorrow, you should understand that #oklaed has allies in both parties. Look for the ones who consistently engage with educators, even especially when avoiding them would be easier.

Marcus McEntire

That’s Marcus McEntire from Duncan – one of the freshman legislators who takes the time to listen to his constituents. At this historic moment, we have a chance to help our legislators understand that we’re not just talking about teacher raises.

One thing I plan to do this week is to ask the House members I know to hear SB 1086, which passed in the Senate on March 15th with a 30-9 vote (with nine senators not voting). According to the fiscal impact statement provided by the Oklahoma Tax Commission, this measure could provide an additional $120 million in revenue as early as the 2020 fiscal year. They did not estimate how it would impact the budget they’re planning right now, but there’s nothing wrong with planning ahead. Cynthia Rogers, an economics professor at the University of Oklahoma, wrote this for the Oklahoman:

The capital gains tax deduction primarily serves as a tax loophole for the wealthiest individuals in the state. Based on Oklahoma Tax Commission data, 17,274 taxpayers claimed the deduction in 2014. Of these, 824 had a federal adjusted gross income of $1 million or more. This group claimed 64 percent of the total capital gains tax deduction. Individuals with a federal adjusted income of $50,000 or less claimed only 2.4 percent of the total deduction.

As a member of the Incentive Evaluation Commission, I voted to eliminate the capital gains tax deduction. We simply have no evidence that the program provides a positive net benefit to the state. Only 10 other states treat capital gains tax deduction is a similar manner as Oklahoma does. Of these, only five allow real property to qualify for the deduction. PFM could find no examples of state-level evaluations of capital gains tax deductions.

I’m thankful for the progress we’ve seen this session. I hope it continues. We should never be satisfied that we’ve done enough to help school districts recruit and retain teachers or to fully fund what happens in the classroom.

Don’t just go to the Capitol tomorrow. Go inside. Find your representative and senator. Make a new friend.

See you there.

Countdown: 8 Days

March 25, 2018 Comments off

Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they seek jobs, land, dignity, and a future.
-John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Tomorrow, all across Oklahoma, we will have school. Buses will drive through neighborhoods and collect children. Cafeterias will prepare and serve breakfasts and lunches. Teachers will teach. Nurses will treat scrapes. Secretaries will answer parents’ questions.

Hopefully, a week from tomorrow, the same thing will happen.

I copied the tweet at the top of this post because I like literature. For that matter, I also like history. Oh, and I like patterns. Events that repeat themselves, even in unfamiliar iterations, string together all of human existence.

Grapes of Wrath

It’s pretty easy to see why the quote works as a proxy for the current condition of public schools in Oklahoma. Many of the young people we educate in our public schools and train to become teachers in our universities know that leaving the state to start a teaching career makes much more sense than staying here. Over 35 years, if teachers in Texas make $20,000 more than teachers in Oklahoma…well, do the math.

When I started writing this, I googled the quote at the top for accuracy. Once I verified it, the first article in my search caught my attention. It was a 1990 New York Times piece titled, “Why Steinbeck’s Okies Speak to Us Today.” I clicked on it, expecting to find an article about the last mass teacher walkout, which was also in 1990.

Times.png

Instead, the article is a riveting analysis of the novel. Here’s an excerpt:

The true lesson of the times, he now suggested, was the importance of community – not community defined in traditional, geographical terms; not the community of a neighborhood, or a town, or a region; but a community of the human spirit, for which the only real model was the family.

Obviously, this post – just like every conversation I’ve had with anyone over the last couple of weeks – is about the threat promise of teachers walking off the job April 2nd if the Legislature doesn’t find a way to fund raises for teachers and support staff, along with operational costs. It’s a simple request with a nine-digit price tag – a HIGH nine-digit price tag.

The need requires little explanation at this point. Just in case you need a refresher, though, watch this Moore High School student tell us what we need to hear:

I’m losing count of the articulate, passionate Facebook posts I’ve seen from teachers about this current situation – not to mention posts from politicians expressing frustration over the lack of movement in the Legislature.

I’ve seen several plans, but no bills. We’ll know something is happening when we see bills. After the failure of two separate revenue plans in the two extraordinary sessions the governor has called, I don’t think we’ll see a bill until the House leadership thinks they have the votes to pass it.

From what I’ve been told, the Legislature has three days to avoid the teacher walkout. Someone needs to author a bill. It needs to pass the House and then the Senate. That’s the short version; everything our government does is always a little more complicated than that.

With that, I’ll close with another quote from the book:

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

We’re a week away, stronger, resolved, and hopefully relentless.

Countdown: 14 Days

March 19, 2018 2 comments

After a months-long blogging hiatus, I wrote a little piece last night about the looming work-stoppage. I gave it a simplistic title, Countdown: 15 Days. The nomenclature is catchy, I see.

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Please understand, friends, that this doesn’t mean I’ll be writing a daily post until this is over.

Tonight, I don’t want to focus on the money. That’s important, but it’s only a part of the conversation. I want to go back about exactly six years.

The State Board of Education was to hold an open meeting to hear public comments on the proposed rules for the first round of A-F Report Cards. The date was Monday, March 19, 2012.

I wasn’t there, but then again, neither was the State Board of Education. Counsel for the State Board of Education was there in their place. Fortunately, Claudia Swisher wrote about the day in one of her first blog posts:

The Board Room was packed. Lisa Enders, the General Council, chaired the meeting. No Board members were present, but Enders assured us the Board will get the video and all the written responses before their next meeting…NEXT week.

This was typical of how educators were treated during the administration of the previous state superintendent. Somebody would make a perfunctory effort to gather input from stakeholders, even some actual educators. Then, from what I have gathered, that input was shoved into a file cabinet, lit aflame, and hurtled from the top of Mt. Scott.

This isn’t smart people. We’re pretty much in a perpetual burn ban. It would be better to hide those good ideas and meaningful concerns in a warehouse, ala Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Raiders Warehouse

Claudia went on to note concerns expressed by legislators, community leaders, educators, and parents. While all of those concerns were ignored, this moment was the impetus for several years of effective – if often disorganized – activism in the #oklaed community.

Inspired by Claudia’s writing, I started blogging. So did Rob Miller, and countless other pro-public education advocates. Over the next few years, we had moments. We had victories. Some were in the legislative process. Some were at the ballot box.

Policy-wise, we still have to deal with some reforms that don’t make sense to educators and that keep us from truly focusing on children. I shudder to think of all the state testing pep rallies that will have to be rescheduled because of the work-stoppage.

Still, other than with funding, we’re in a better place than we were in 2012. I’ll point to two specific moments that mattered. For both, I’ll point to blog posts I wrote in 2014 and then explain how they’re relevant now.

In May 2014, the biggest battle we were facing was to let parents have a say in whether or not their third graders would be retained because of one test on a single day. The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World chimed in on it frequently. Here’s what happened:

The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed HB 2625, adding parents to the retention/promotion committees. Fallin vetoed it. The House and Senate took about three seconds to override her veto. They didn’t even debate it.

This afternoon, both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature voted to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625, which amends the Reading Sufficiency Act.  The vote in the House was 79-17. In the Senate it was 45-2.

Many parents and educators lobbied for today’s action, even after Fallin waited until nearly midnight to officially notify the House of the veto she had announced hours earlier at a press conference. In the end, only a few changed their votes. Before the veto, the combined tally had been 132-7 in favor of the bill. Today, it was 124-19. Maybe the governor, the state superintendent, and their friends at the Oklahoman and OCPA can take solace in the fact that they nearly tripled their vote count from before.

The state superintendent also called the veto override “a pathetic and outrageous step back.” We’ll get to her in a minute.

Passing this bill took courage from quite a few legislators – none more than Rep. Katie Henke. It also took relentless contact from educators and parents who wanted to see the bill passed. This was the first time (in my career) that we have seen the impact we can have when the pro-public education voices of Oklahoma unite.

A month later, we sweetened the pot, when voters relegated the state superintendent to a third-place finish in her own primary. Here’s my closing thought from the night that happened.

It started when we just couldn’t contain ourselves. Our murmurs grew into an eruption. We would not be silenced. We demanded respect.

I would say that was the highlight, so far, of how we can use our collective voices to change the narrative. Sure, there were some legislative seats flipped in 2016, but nothing that has come close to these two moments.

My question to you is what are you willing to do to make sure we’re not ignored this time? Are you willing to call, email, and text your legislators? Are you willing to point out that a plan to plan really isn’t a plan? Are you willing to storm the Capitol, relentlessly, from April 2 onward, and indefinitely?

There are some in the Legislature, as well as many in the cheap seats who doubt your resolve. Policies come and go. We don’t have to fight corporate interests to lobby for sensible change in that arena. Money is a different beast altogether.

As far as I can tell, two things are still true:

  1. Oklahoma’s educators will do anything for their students.
  2. We can all band together when we need to.

I hope I’m right.

Countdown: 15 Days

March 18, 2018 9 comments

Brace yourselves, friends. I think we’re in for a rough one.

In 15 days, we may witness history if teachers across the state walk off the job in protest of years of ineptitude at the Oklahoma Capitol. I know no one who wants this to happen. I’ve been in meeting after meeting with leaders in my district and meeting after meeting with leaders from across the state trying to figure out all of our contingency plans.

What about feeding kids?

What about support employees?

What about the testing window?

What about activities and student trips?

What if it lasts 5 days? 10? 20? More?

What about graduation?

Can we still have prom?

That’s a sample of the issues that we have to consider. Just the same, our board – along with many, many other school boards – has passed a resolution supporting teachers. This is their movement. While many of my superintendent friends wanted a different deadline for the looming walkout, nearly all I know were in agreement that we needed to fall in line behind what our teachers demanded.

Explaining how we got here is pretty simple. The last time the Legislature funded teacher raises was in 2008. Per-pupil funding from that time is significantly higher than it is now. Teacher and support salaries are stagnant. Class sizes are high. Textbooks are in terrible shape.

Ratchet textbooks

Courtesy: @bosticteacher

To their credit, every legislator I know understands that all of these problems are real. Most have voted in favor of one or more proposals to help. Also to be fair, many of those who have voted yes on recent revenue bills voted in favor of last year’s budget that the State Supreme Court unanimously voted to be unconstitutional. And many of the same recent education funding supporters opposed SQ 779 in 2016.

My point is that nobody passes a purity test when it comes to the quest to properly fund public education. Some of the people who voted YES on the step up plan have consistently voted for vouchers and tried to get school consolidation bills heard in the House and Senate. If you pay attention long enough, everyone will make you mad eventually.

Nor is the push for a walkout simply about pay. Over the last several weeks, I’ve heard many legislators and candidates for public office say that they’d like to see additional funding tied to reforms. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to pin any of them down on what reforms they’d like to see. I did see one survey on Facebook, sent out by a group I’d rather not name.

POE survey

Nearly every item on the survey was an insult to the professional educators I know across the state. All make nice distractions and ignore the fact that public education faced a mélange of reforms earlier this decade. A-F Report Cards. Retaining 3rd Graders. Adopting and then eliminating Common Core. Adopting new standards – again.

Going back to 2001 at the federal level, we’ve had No Child Left Behind, Achieving Classroom Excellence, tightly-constructed waivers for NCLB, and the Every Student Succeeds Act.

As education advocates, we’ve fought against full-on voucher programs and for allowing parents to participate on committees that decide whether 3rd graders are retained.

The first half of this decade taught us that the Legislature includes people who will never trust educators, people who give us the credit we deserve, and a group in the middle that could lean either way. All three of these groups will always be in the Capitol. The width of each band varies after each election cycle.

During the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, public education was probably more on the defensive than at any point in the previous 20 years. Since then, more education-friendly legislators have been elected. I try not to give a legislator too much credit for one “good vote.” Or two or three. The opposite is also true. Some of the lawmakers I consider to be strong public school advocates make me want to bang my head against a desk sometimes.

Over the next few weeks, as we’re all closely watching what happens at the Capitol, I’ll dust off this blog and add a few thoughts, highlight some relevant data points, and generally try to make sense of the evolving political landscape. As always, when I’m writing here, I speak for myself. I may use an experience from my district to illustrate a point, but any opinion expressed on this blog is mine, period.

Class of 2017: When you see a chance…

May 27, 2017 Comments off

Taking a break from politics and budgets with my message to our three senior classes graduating today:

DCHS Jumping Gif 1

Teachers, principals, family, and friends, it’s good to see all of you. Without your support it’s hard to imagine all of these graduates being here today with all they’ve accomplished.

This graduating class will cross the country to go to college. It will cross the world as members of the military. It will impact the future of our community too.

Today, graduates, we celebrate your accomplishments. We stop to remember your first days of school, your awkward phase, the moments when you were figuring out what you want to do with your life, the times you’ve changed your mind about what you want to do with your life, all the friends you’ve made, and even a few heartbreaks along the way.

MCHS 4 90

Over the last thirteen years, you’ve had some amazing experiences that you will always remember. You’ve had some you’d rather forget too, I’m sure. Let’s not focus on that. The accumulation of these moments brings you here today, to a ceremony we call Commencement.

Commencement means beginning, and that’s what this is. As trite as it is to say, this is the beginning of the rest of your life. And I hope it’s a long and successful life, filled with excellence. You’ll have ups and downs; we all do. You – and only you – get to choose which experiences and which qualities define you.

The poet, William Blake, wrote, “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.”

What does this mean?

Well, “pestilence” is a pretty tough word to unwrap. At its most literal level, it means an epidemic or widely-spreading disease. It can also be used to describe something morally corrupting. That’s what he means here.

CAHS 3 100

“He who desires…” We all have desires. We all have hopes and dreams. And while patience is certainly a virtue, you can’t wait forever for the things that you want. Sometimes in life, you have to press the start button yourself. Sometimes you have to pause and re-start. Nobody else is going to hit the button for you.

The price to pay for never acting on the things you want out of life can be heavy. You miss opportunities. You wonder what might have been. Regretting inaction can weigh on you just as heavily as regret for the things you actually have done.

Regret, by the way, is one of the prices we pay for living life. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’d rather live with a mistake than spend a lifetime wishing.

Just remember that where you are today, and the opportunities you have in front of you right now are the end result of your own hard work and the support you’ve had around you. Make choices that mirror your passions.

If you haven’t figured out what your passions are, here’s a hint. They’re the things that make you hear a drumming noise inside your head – so loudly that you can’t ignore it. When you’re around certain people or doing the things you truly enjoy, that’s really just your heart pounding and trying to guide you. Listen to it once in a while. I know I’m supposed to tell you to think and plan – and you should – but leave room for what feeds your soul, too.

Cherish your family and friends. Seek mentors who seem happy and figure out what makes them tick. Be that mentor for others. Most of all, seize opportunities to be kind, especially when it brings you no recognition at all.

Ahead of you is your future. Nobody else gets to dictate it for you. Nobody else can navigate it for you. Own it.

Congratulations, and good luck, Class of ’17!

 

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