Headmaster’s Thoughts – June 2017: Graduation Speech!

Congratulations to all of you. An engaging class! Never, ever boring! You were always lively and entertaining! From the survivors, those 11 young 6th graders back in 2010; Spencer, Isabella, Aidan, Louis, Lucas, Jade, James, Eloise, Emily, Ian and Hayden, you have grown in number to over 70, the largest graduating class since we moved into our new building. Today is a York Prep community event and so as well as you, I want to congratulate your families all of whom are here, and thank them for entrusting their child’s formal education to us.

This is a really joyful occasion. I looked through the back pages of your yearbook where your parents wrote messages to you, and every one of them says how proud they are of you. And they are right to be proud. Getting to this point is an accomplishment. For some of you it was easier than others, but today all of us in this room are proud of you, the class of 2017. And I noticed at your prom, which may have been in the rain but had great spirit, that your teachers were looking at you with nostalgia. We will miss you.

Graduating from High School represents, I hope, a new level of independence for you. You are no longer children but now are poised to become contributing, responsible, and voting (yes, you must vote; we need your vote) members of your community. Lately, we seem to be extending adolescence in America. As parents, we mourn our children going off to college and call ourselves “empty nesters.” But I want you to rejoice in leaving the nest and rejoice in the freedom that you will have. Your parents may be nervous and they will always be there as your parents, always, but until you desperately need them, I would suggest you see this day as the first day of a time where you will look after yourself much more than before. Such independence is wonderful and empowering.

I had bad models. My parents, refugees from Nazi Germany, were never involved in my all-boys school after 6th grade. That year my father came to see me play a part in the school play, “Hamlet.” As a new student, I played Ophelia. My father was so shocked that I was playing a girl that he never came to my school again. My parents could not speak English well, and so they were too embarrassed to meet my teachers, watch me play rugby (badly,) or even read my grade reports. In truth, they set a terrible example, and yet it was very empowering. My school, my choice, my responsibility!

Your parents are far, far better. They are rightfully involved in your education. They are here! For you, their nest is always going to be open. I never went home after I went to college. In my summers I was a counsellor at a girl’s camp where I met Jayme and encountered another type of parent, her parents, people who really cared for and watched out for their daughter. They were appalled that she was marrying an Englishman and going to live in England. I met Jayme when I was 19 and she was 18. We got married in our early twenties. That is not something I would suggest you copy. Frankly the odds were against us, and I think her mother knew that because she cried all through the wedding and was supported by her friends, one of whom said rather loudly: “Don’t worry, Ruth, this marriage will never last more than a year.” Ironically, comments like those enormously strengthened our marriage. It was the opposite of an arranged marriage. It was our responsibility, not anyone else’s.

This is now your life, your responsibility. Let me emphasize that independence without responsibility is a myth. Someone has to be responsible for you; hopefully you and not your parents.

I urge you, therefore, to make this ceremony a marker for the beginning of your adulthood. You can have fun, retain your youthful exuberance (which you certainly have a lot of) AND be responsible and successful. I hope when you face your future doubting mother in laws, and trust me they will be doubting, that you will win them over. My guess is that you will and, eventually, they will consider themselves blessed.

Enjoy college…and be like a homing pigeon; fly free but come home, occasionally. Fly well, in the company of your peers, with joy and happiness, and with pride and new-found independence. You are a great group, and I wish you, the Class of 2017, on behalf of your school, every success.


Ronald Stewart