Graduation Speech: What is Your Responsibility to the World?

2019 Baker Graduates

Baker graduates, parents, grandparents, teachers, staff, alumni and friends,

Welcome to Baker Demonstration School’s 2019 Eighth Grade Graduation. It is an auspicious year for this annual ceremony. Graduates, your graduation occurs within Baker’s Centennial Year. You are a part of a school that began one-hundred years ago. Baker Demonstration School was a radical departure from traditional schooling at the time – a school that believed that children learned by doing rather than sitting in rows and memorizing from readers.

What has been “normal” to you is still pretty different from your 8th grade peers in our city – you’ve been learning physics and geometry by designing  and racing boats, building models to demonstrate quadratics and parabolas, debating with schools around the city, visiting farms, aquaponics plants, physics labs, and forests. You have engaged actively and passionately in your own education. Running 5Ks, racing chariots, dancing to 70s disco. And here you are at the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

At the end of such an education, I want to ask you, what is your responsibility to the world? What have you learned that you plan to take with you? Or, as the poet Mary Oliver asks, What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

We are each shaped by the socio-political and historical forces of the time in which we live. Each of us is a part of a generational group, broadly defined. And though the general traits associated with each are certainly not true for all, they do provide a broad commonality amongst a group of people. So, the answer to the question: “What is your responsibility to the world?”needs to be answered by YOU. But, I’d like to consider a few possible answers from the generations present here tonight at this ceremony.

The oldest generation represented here tonight are known by a few names-the silent generation, the builders, the traditionalists. Anyone here who was born before 1945, please stand for a moment. Their parents lived through the Great Depression, and they knew a thing or two about feast and famine, saving and losing, roses and thorns.

They didn’t have cell phones or high-speed internet, so they did a fair amount of face-to-face talking and letter writing, which are still pretty cool ways to communicate if your cell phone is out of batteries or if you need to resolve a conflict.

They lived through a World War and in the midst of that conflagration they brought something joyful to the world – the Charleston. Remember the first graders demonstrating it at our last assembly? Many were also a part of the mass migrations from the rural south to the cities of the north, like Pittsburg, Detroit and Chicago. During that time, they birthed one of the greatest musical forms of all time, one of America’s great gifts to the world, Jazz.

So, perhaps the generation born before 1945 might answer the question, What is your responsibility to the world, with this: Create a new art form.

If you were born between 1946-1964 please stand up for a moment. The Baby Boomer generation was born after World War II. The Baby Boomers were younger children or teenagers at a time in our country’s history when the wounds of racial segregation were deep and the experiences between black and white people were dramatically unequal; and, furthermore, sanctioned by the laws of our country. They observed their parents engagement in the Civil Rights Movement, watched as they used their voices to enact legislative, political, educational and social change.

Then they used their own voices. The Baby Boomers gave us Title IX, which prevents federally funded educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of gender and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects the rights of persons with disabilities in the workplace.

So, perhaps the Baby Boomer’s answer to the question, what is your responsibility to the world, could be summed up as such: Speak up, stand up, for another’s human rights.

Please stand up if you were born between 1965 and 1980. I see a lot of the parents in the room. Generation X is a generation that still can’t believe they are as old as they are. They didn’t have cell phones or high-speed internet either, but they had MTV, which scared a lot of their parents. Many didn’t have computers in their schools; and, if they did, they were very, very big and required a language as antiquarian as Latin, called MS Dos.

However, there were a lot of technological changes that occurred in their lifetimes – the evolution of personal computers and the cell phone, to name a few. And as a result, Gen Xers are a pretty adaptable and entrepreneurial group as a whole. Now, graduates, you may point out that they ask a lot of tech questions that seem completely obvious, and you may be right. Graduates, you could all have saved a lot of money, if you charged your Gen X parents for your tech services.

Going back to their entrepreneurship, Gen Xers were one of the first generations to have multiple careers and jobs – averaging 7 career changes in their lifetime. They were one of the first generations in a while that needed to be adaptable, to continue learning as the pace of change increased and the jobs of the past became the jobs of the future.

Perhaps their answer to the question, what is your responsibility to the world, could be summed up as such: Adapt, change, find a new way.

If you were born between 1981 and 2000, please take a moment to stand. Graduates, your older cousins or younger aunts and uncles may have been a part of the Millennial generation, even some of your teachers. Because they are the most recent generation to enter the workforce – they get a bad rap. Older generations love to complain about them: they change jobs too quickly and since they were the first generation to grow up with cell phones and high speed internet, they want everything now. On the bright side, they are quick, savvy communicators and they want to find passion and meaning in their work. Millennials are bringing back the ethos of volunteerism to our cities, and the idea that work and passion can coexist.

Perhaps their answer to the question, what is your responsibility to the world, could be summed up as such: Care for something bigger than yourself – an organization, cause or purpose that is making a difference in the world.

Graduates, you will most likely be a part of what is being called Generation Z. It is the end of the alphabet. There is not a lot written about you yet. But here are a few early characteristics.

  1. Despite the fact that you have been born into a world of cell phones and high-speed internet, you remind everyone else about the limits of technology. “Mom, put your phone away,” is said by a lot of Gen Zers.
  2. Your world and your communities are diverse and you are accepting of the fluidity of how people identify – in terms of race, gender, and sexual orientation. You are empathetic and kind. This is what the world needs.

As you think about what your responsibility is to the world, listen to the voices of your grandparents, parents, teachers, coaches, older siblings, cousins and friends:

-Create new art forms.

-Speak up, stand up for another’s human rights.

-Adapt, change, find a new way.

-and help your own generation – Gen Z- make the world a better place.

In closing, we – your Baker community – will miss you. We want you to stop by from time to time to let us know how you are doing. And, most importantly, we are rooting for you…