The following is a transcript of the speech given to the Class of 2019 at graduation June 21.
Good evening. We would like to extend our deep appreciation to all parents, grandparents, families and friends of the graduates. Thank you for surrounding these remarkable graduates with love today. We welcome other esteemed guests including past and present Board of Education members, administrators, teachers and staff. Additionally, we recognize Mayor Dave Fried, Township Business Administrator Joy Tozzi, Chief of Police Chris Nitti, Assemblyman Daniel Benson, and council member Dan Schuberth. We are grateful to our strong and supportive community.
Tonight, we celebrate the culmination of your childhood. Following this graduation ceremony, each of you will take the initial steps on the next phase of your life’s journey. Many in the Class of 2019 will be attending colleges and universities. Some will travel a few miles down the road to Mercer County College and others will set out for schools across the country. Still others will enroll in trade schools, apprenticeship programs, or go on to bravely serve our country.
Regardless of the destination, each of you are about to embark on a journey that is uniquely personal and uniquely yours.
Yet, sometimes, when we hear about another person’s path, our inner critic emerges and we begin to compare our own life to theirs. Why is this? Everywhere we turn, our culture dictates who we should be and how we should live. Exposure to this type of conditioning begins when we are young and assaults us day after day with a barrage of messages from TV, the internet, print and social media. Without knowing a thing about us, “experts” from all walks of life are happy to provide unsolicited advice on pursuing the right degree, choosing the most lucrative career path, or how best to invest our time and our money. Commercials and reality TV convince us that there is a perfect car to help to maintain our image. They tout perfect products to ensure that we fit into a narrowly defined standard of beauty. They tell us what foods to eat and even what medications we should take to maintain our health. All in an effort to help us create the “perfect” life.
Education, too, has its own narrowly defined measuring stick for success. Although student report cards have been redesigned to reflect a more standards-based grading system, parents can’t help but wonder how their child’s progress compares to their peers. The college admissions process still relies on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT, which tend to measure discipline-based knowledge rather than essential life skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication, and resilience—all components of our Robbinsville Ready initiative.
But our implementation of Robbinsville Ready is just one small step in combating a countless array of unhealthy external messages, those little seeds of doubt, that cause us to second guess ourselves and our choices. It is this insidious type of uncertainty that can show up when we least expect it and prevent us from taking risks, trying new things, and making mistakes.
In Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Lucio captures this sentiment when he exclaims, “Our doubts are traitors/and make us lose the good we oft might win/by fearing to attempt.”
This doubt, or fear as Lucio points out, often blocks us from embracing our imperfections, those qualities that make us uniquely us.
Bestselling author and research professor at the University of Houston Brene Brown writes extensively about the emotional armor we wear to protect us against hurt. Brown professes that rather than shielding us—this armor actually prevents us from “growing into our gifts and ourselves.” She challenges us to shed this armor “by examining the need to be perfect and please others at the expense of our own life.”
If I could offer you one takeaway from this evening’s celebration, it would be this. Embrace the imperfection in others. For by embracing the imperfection in others, you will actually learn to be more compassionate with yourself. Self-doubt is a habit, an endless loop of negative self-talk that serves no one well, but most of all ourselves. When we become conscious of it, we realize that if we choose to, we can let it go.
Graduates, I have a secret to tell you tonight. Shhhhhh! Remember, this is between you and me. Are you ready?
Your parents, families and teachers are not perfect.
Now, I realize that this revelation might come as a big shock to you, but it is true. I encourage all of the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles here tonight to talk with these amazing young adults about your own struggles, disappointments, hurts, and failures and how they have shaped and strengthened who you are. By sharing your own vulnerabilities, you ultimately offer your graduate the gift of self-compassion, self-acceptance and the recognition that if perfection is the goal we will always fall short.
Life is precious. As you go from here tonight, rightfully proud of all you’ve accomplished and hopeful for a bright future, try to envision yourself in the year ahead. There will be times that test you, experiences that challenge who you think you are and who you want to be. Remember in those moments to be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as you would a close friend, with compassion and heart. Embrace your imperfect self and measure yourself not in terms of how flawless your performance but by how authentic your life.
As Brene Brown writes, “You’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
We love you. You will always belong here in Robbinsville.
Congratulations and Godspeed.
Kathie Foster is superintendent of Robbinsville Schools.