Tear down some more walls – Graduation 2008

Giving a diploma to my daughter Alicia, a member of the class of 2008.

Fellow school committee members, Mr. Ogden, Ms. Gould, members of the faculty, graduates, parents, and honored guests:

It gives me great pleasure to be here as a School Committee member.  Today, I have the added treat of being here also as a parent of a graduate.  On behalf of the School Committee, I first want to thank you all for your continued commitment to, faith in, and support for, the public school system in this town.

On behalf of the parents, grandparents and friends in the room, I want to tell you graduates how proud we are to be here.  And to you Alicia, I still remember the first day I saw you and how I dreamed of a day like this.  Your mother and I are blessed.  And I don’t think there is a parent in the room that feels any different about their graduate.

Now I was born in 1961, which I bet is around the same time most of the parents here were born.  My mother likes to remind me that i came into the world at 12:35 in the afternoon during the “I Love Lucy” show.  And that show happens to be my comfortable context for entering the world.

What my mother didn’t tell me, however, was that at that same time, on the other side of the world, communists had begun erecting a wall in Berlin, dividing a city east and west.

We didn’t have CNN back then, so perhaps she didn’t know.  Or maybe she didn’t think it was prudent information for a coddling infant.

Nonethless, for the first time in the history of mankind a political system had to construct a barrier to keep people in.  It stood as an iconic symbol of oppression.  And it squashed the freedom of those captured within its confines.

That wall stood for a long time.  It divided families, a city, a nation, and a world.  But the more work, ingenuity, money and steel the communists allocated to the further development of that wall, the clearer it became that even impenetrable obstructions could not last.

That wall attracted no-one. It simply repelled.

Let’s fast forward to the year when you graduates were born.  That same Berlin Wall, some 28 years after it was first erected, came tumbling down, and ushered in a new world order.

That wall went down, and you came up.

And along with the crumbling of that wall, the world flattened, global economies grew, and we faced new and complex problems.  But in the process we understood that no wall is too high; not with the tools we have.

You will face walls every day, but you have the historical context for tearing them down.  There are walls between young and old, black & white, rich & poor, right and left, east & west, north & south.  But like the Berlin Wall, those too can crumble.  The vision that brought the Berlin Wall down started with a concept of unification.  As one grafitti artist wrote on it:  “This wall is only a manifestation of what our societies have built… Will we ever tear down all our walls?”

Don’t get me wrong.  There are some good walls.  Indeed, if it rains today, we will all be greatful for the walls that support this roof that keeps us dry.

But it’s a paradox in human nature. On the one hand we want a wall as a barrier to protect ourselves. But we need that wall to permit entry so we can interact with others.

As Robert Frost reminded us in his poem mending a wall, there is great irony in the way men are brought together by the task of fixing the wall that will keep them apart.

Through your 13 years of schooling here in Franklin, you’ve been provided with a vast array of tools – some that can mend, some that can break.  It’s your job now to select the right tool for the task.

When you face a wall, you can climb it, be repelled by it, or tear it down.  Whatever you do, don’t be afraid of tumbling.  You not only have great tools, but you’ve got a lot of people to help along the way — your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, teachers, principals, custodians, secretaries and coaches.  Your books and your minds will also help navigate.

With that in mind, I am not encouraging grafitti, malicious destruction of property, or trespassing.  But I am urging you to continue on your path of making the world a better place by continuing the deconstruction of the walls that divide us.

And on that note, I have one last question for you before you get your diplomas.  It wasn’t on MCAS, but it’s far more important.  Class of 2008, will you take your tools and tear down some more walls?

Again, class of 2008, will you take your tools and tear down some more walls?

Good luck class of 2008 and keep in touch.

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