I had the distinct honor to deliver the commencement address at my alma mater, Dwight Morrow High School, earlier this week. I remember sitting right where those students were, proud and hopeful for the future. They inspire and motivate me every day:
"I stand up here today because of the teachers and the lifelong friends that I made in the Englewood Public Schools. 6 years at Lincoln Elementary School, 3 years at Englewood Middle School (you know it as the Janice E. Dismus Middle School named after one of the great champions of Englewood, a former President of the Board of Education and the mother of my classmate Cynthia Dismus), and my 4 years here at Dwight Morrow.
It was at Lincoln Elementary that Mrs. Sullivan taught me how to read. Where Mr. Jones the gym teacher watched me read while moving my head back and forth, and took my head in his two giant hands and held it tight and told me to move my eyes and not my head when I read (I was so scared of Mr. Jones that I never moved my head again.) It was at Englewood Middle School that Dr. Pruitt the principal emphasized every day that learning takes hard word and discipline and where Mr. Daly first taught me to play the clarinet. And here at Dwight Morrow, it was Monsieur Rigon, the over 50 Mr. Universe with arms as big as my legs who taught me French, Ms. Kallman who loved history, Mr. Signorelli taught me Chemistry (he just retired a few years ago) and Mr. McCarthy who was my favorite and taught me math. These amazing people, pushed me, inspired me, helped me in ways I never fully appreciated when I was your age. Think about your teachers. They have shaped your lives in such a powerful way. And like me, you will truly understand that one day.
As you move forward in your lives there will be other mentors, other teachers. Surround yourself with them. Grab that opportunity when they present themselves.
Not just when you are in school. But every day. For the rest of your lives.
These teachers may be at your job or in your community. It might be a grandparent, an uncle or an aunt, a friend. But they are wise. And they have something to teach you if you are willing to be open to learning it.
The saying goes that we were given two ears and one mouth so that we would spend twice as much time listening as we would speaking. So listen. Listen to their wisdom, feel their passion, let it transform you.
And then ask lots of questions. Be curious. Just because you are graduating doesn’t mean you have to stop asking the question that little kids ask all the time…...WHY?
The second thing that I will never forget about DMHS is my friends. All these years later, I’m still friends with people I first met right here. We’ve gone lots of different places in life but we all have one thing in common - this school. Think about your friends right now. Some of them will drift away and that’s ok. But others are your friends for life. Cherish those friendships. They’ve got your back no matter what.
This school has always been a rainbow of colors, just like today, an incredible diversity of people all together under one roof. New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in America and is strong because we come from different countries, we speak different languages, we have different faiths and we are free to worship or not worship whichever way we choose.
To love one another is the most wonderful thing we do, it is what makes us human and fills our hearts with joy. To love is to be strong. Yet we live in a society that is more and more consumed by hate and by fear. Fear of the other. Fear of people that are different. Who look different. Who sound different. Who love different.
Each of you are about to go out into the world and I urge you to go out into the world and live a life full of love. Love for yourself. Love for your family. Love for your friends. And love for your neighbors."