Monday, June 16, 2014

Graduation Speech - 2014 - Union Middle School

Below is my graduation speech for the Union Middle School class of 2014. To say it was a challenge to write would be an understatement. The speech itself went through multiple renditions and reviews over the span of no less than three weeks. I really liked last year's speech, so I wanted to do something a bit different for the class of 2014. In looking back, this was an amazing group of students, perhaps the most accepting, tolerable, inclusive group we've had yet. It will be hard to replace them.


Good evening everyone once more to our 8th grade promotion ceremony. My name is Todd Feinberg, and I have been privileged to have been your assistant principal during your students' 6th grade days and now, for the past two years, honored to serve as your principal of Union Middle School.

To be perfectly honest, I have struggled a good bit over the past month in writing tonight's speech. I seemed to have a bit of trouble finding the words to accurately share just how I feel about the class of 2014. It was just a few days ago when I remembered that I had previously prepared a speech... a speech that would perfectly communicate everything I wanted to share here tonight. Thank you for your indulgence and allowing me to read that speech, one I wrote 14 years ago as I was beginning my own journey in the field of education. It begins...


Good evening students,

My name is Todd Feinberg and, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be delivering this speech at your 8th grade promotion at Union Middle School in just a short 14 years. I realize that many of you have either just been born or are within that nine month waiting period that you learned about last year in 7th grade science – it’s hard to believe that in what will be a blink of an eye for your parents, teachers, and family members, you’ll be gathered here in the year 2014, ready to graduate on to high school.

But first, I would like to share some predictions of what your life will be like in the year 2014 as I sit here at my Macintosh Computer on AOL Dial-Up.

I’m pleased to share that technology has just recently made a comeback after the Y2K fiasco, an event that shut down personal computing for an entire decade. Now, we all have the ability to download music on our desktop computers through Napster, can walk down the street with amazing cell reception on our RAZR Flip Phones, and can even post oh-so-important, life changing pictures on a magical sharing platform called MySpace. It will truly be an amazing time in the year 2014.

The year 2000 was not without its failures.  A novel by J.L. Rowlings about an eleven year old orphan who discovered he’s a wizard, living within the ordinary world of non-magical people known as Muggles never seemed to catch on. A new show called The Bachelor only had a 95% success rate in finding true love and was abruptly cancelled. I even have some financial advice from the year 2000: do. not. buy. stock. in. Apple. At 12 dollars a share, it is grossly overpriced. I just can’t see how this company will ever rebound. I encourage the graduating class to consult their Encyclopedia Britannica’s for additional information.

While there have been so many drastic changes over the course of your lives, let me share three things that have not altered and should remain at your core:

1) Family

Your family will forever be your link in your life. They will carry you during your worst moments, even though it may feel otherwise at the time. Your family will be your cheerleaders as you find your path in life. Don’t bypass any avenue to tell them you love them, to tell them that you care, or that you’re thankful for their continued support. Often, we miss these moments. Next time you’re dashing to class after being dropped off in the morning by your parents, take an extra pause and give them a hug. There will be a time you’ll look back at these seemingly innocuous interactions and wish you had. You will. They are here on this lovely non-windy June evening to admire your journey and dazzle in your growth. They are beaming with pride, even if they too don’t always find the words to share how they feel.

2) Education

I think that we often lose ourselves within our daily luxuries, many of which we take for granted. Meanwhile, halfway across the world, 300 teenage girls were abducted from their schools; their crime was seeking an education.

Incidents such as these provide a very real world reminder how overly blessed we are to have the support of our parents and our teachers, to be able to attend Union Middle School, and blossom into the amazing young adults we see you becoming. Please do not lose sight of this opportunity, of this gift. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

And as you promote to high school, you will have new temptations, increased distractions, and additional responsibilities. It may become challenging to balance your studies and social activities. Seek help from your teachers and other trusted adults for support. Don’t forget to challenge yourself during your high school years and beyond. Take classes that interest you and will help you grow as a learner. Also, there is no substitution for hard work, there are no short cuts that get you to where you truly want to be – you'll just be lead astray.

Perhaps most important is the reminder to stay balanced in life.  Always schedule “down time” into your days.  Just like you schedule in time to study, make sure you schedule in enough time to sleep so you can explore and dream. 

3) Human Connection

Brene Brown will one day write: “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

In the year 2014, this will all prove very challenging.

Chances are you’ll be an overbooked 14 year old with hours of homework, soccer matches in the afternoon followed by piano practice in the evening. Your free time will be spent watching aimless YouTube videos. Many of you will lose out on your sleep for pointless, juvenile snapchats and drama-inducing evenings on Friday night sleepovers with your best friends instead turn into a limited Facetime sessions for a few regretful minutes as you can’t get your schedules to intersect.

My advice is as follows:

Unplug. Go outside. Play. 

And here’s why: You’re only going to be a kid for so long. Once these days are gone, they are gone forever, never to return.

Your questionable obsessions with all things social media will one day turn your cheeks red and prompt regret in how you spent your adolescent moments. Instead, I implore you to seek out opportunities of true friendship and be open to differences; remember that every new person you meet is a potential life-long friend.

After all, when things get hard -- and mark my words, for each and every one of our promoting 8th graders, you will face these challenging times -- it will be your relationships with your friends, family, teachers, counselors, former middle school principals… – your human connections – who will pick you up and walk alongside you during these difficult, dark days. Take a moment now and begin to build these relationships.


Your family… Your education… Your opportunities for Human Connection… These are the three things that will be ever-present in 2014 as they are here in the year 2000.

2014 graduates. Thank you for being a part of my life over the past three years. To truly sum up how I feel, I'd like to share a quote from the amazing Maya Angelou: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Class of 2014, you have made me feel very, very proud. I expect great things for you all – go forth and ignite your discoveries.

Thank you and Congratulations.

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