Class of 2017 Commencement Speech

Neil Abramson, Current HVWS Parent
Christina Dixcy
I am honored and humbled to be able to address you as one of the parents of the graduating class of 2017. Last night, as I was thinking about what I might share with you today, I saw a picture of these graduates at their first Rose Ceremony getting their roses from their Eighth Grade buddies. And I recalled the initial decision to send our children for a Waldorf Education.

My wife, Amy, was a Waldorf graduate. I, on the other hand, was the product of a New York City public school education. Creativity in my public school consisted of drawing an outline of your hand on a paper plate around Thanksgiving, putting two eyes and a mouth on the thumb and calling it a turkey. We learned to read very early, learned a lot of dates for things through rote repetition and mnemonic devices. We took lots of standardized tests to spit back what we had memorized. We never really learned how to learn. We didn’t particularly like school, but then again we were told that the police would come and take our parents away if we didn’t go. So we went. And this was what I thought education was supposed to be.

When we were deciding where to send our children, Amy and I had the kind of equal and open discussion about the subject filled with the usual sharing of ideas as you would want in a marriage. She said, “Our kids are going to a Waldorf school.” I said, “But,” and she said, “But our kids are going to a Waldorf school.” She told me about this place called HVWS. She said, “Our kids are going to HVWS.” I looked on the map and said, “But damn that’s far.” And she said, “But our kids are going to HVWS.”

I looked up Waldorf Education on the internet and found a huge amount of misinformation and also some very interesting thoughts about the spiritual development of children and the process of education. But the one thing that really struck my curiosity was from an ignorant father just like me. He wrote a note called the “Five things every father must know about Waldorf.”

This is what he wrote:
  • #5 Beeswax.
  • #4 Gnomes. Learn to love them.
  • #3 Hug. It’s ok. Really. And you will feel better for it.
  • #2 Suspend your preconceived notions of learning. How you learned didn’t make you happy anyway.
And the last item, the number one thing on his list, the item that intrigued me the most was one word, five little letters: L-I-G-H-T. The word “light.” And now it is eight years later and I realize that this father with his list of five things was absolutely correct. I look at you all and all I can see is your light. Your beautiful light is made up of three interwoven components and today we honor all three.

First, the parents and loved ones here today. They were the fuel for the light. Each of you out there gave until you were exhausted. And when you thought you had nothing left to give and you just wanted the day to end, you gave even more of yourselves. You are the most caring and unselfish group of people I have ever had the joy to meet. And not a day goes by when I don’t consider myself blessed to have met you. I could go through each and every one of you and call out something you have done to make all the people in this tent better, but I am forced by time to confine myself to a few:
  • Miss Carrie who kept us in soup and good food.
  • The Blynn family who opened their farm to us and taught us to love the earth—and for me at least, where carrots come from—and gave so selflessly the product of their toil.
  • Jeff James, who gave his time and wisdom on the farm trip, the 8th grade trip, and so many days in between.
  • And finally, Jo Hurley, who has been our class parent for eight years. Think about that—eight years of dealing with all of us and our requests and wants, and that was in addition to the farm and 8th grade trip. Jo, we would not have gotten here without you.
The second component of your light is the teachers. Ms. De Grande and the 8th grade faculty, you were the spark, the spark that ignited their flame that made them light-bringers. You all, and Ms. Pretel Gray and Ms. Drews before you, moved these young men and women along a path of curiosity, wonder, and knowledge. When I thought of the gift you have bestowed upon this class, Marleen, it drew me to a passage in the book The Once and Future King, by T.H. White about Merlin and King Arthur. In this particular passage Merlin is trying to explain to a young Arthur about the importance of knowledge.

“The best thing,” said Merlin, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, and you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
 
And indeed, Ms. De Grande, what a lot of things you have taught them. You were the spark. And you and the HVWS faculty and staff have altered these lives for the better.

And finally, we get to the last part of the light, the burning flame itself. How far you have journeyed from the first Rose Ceremony. Today you have closed softly doors to beautiful rooms that you will not be coming back to—rooms that you have made beautiful with your grace, your movement…with your light. You have said goodbye to chairs and desks and blackboards that will soon know other small hands. And there is a sadness that comes with that goodbye. But you will soon open new doors to new rooms. Those rooms will initially appear dark. And many others will walk by those rooms, thinking them empty or unworthy, unable to see past the shadows. But not you. You who have learned to face your fears; you who have learned that you are forces of nature; you who have learned that you bring the flame of creative thought: you will enter those rooms and force back the shadows revealing the beauty that lies within this life. And because of the light you will share, I promise you…I swear to you on all that is holy, others will be able to see when otherwise, but for your presence, they might not.

Please keep that promise with you when you have your doubts, when you begin to feel your light flicker, when you get tired, and fearful and confused, please remember your time here and know that you have raised us all a little higher, made us all a little better, helped tip the balance a little further to the good, and made it a little easier for the next generation of light bringers to find their way.

And for that, you have our thanks and our love.

Neil Abramson is the father of Isabelle (HVWS Class of 2017) and Maddy (HVWS Class of 2019) and is the author of two novels, Just Life and Unsaid.  He is also a partner is a large Manhattan Law firm and recognized for his work on the Board of Directors of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

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