“Graduation” Speech – 2019

Often times after I give my fifth grade “graduation” speech at the end of the school year, some parents and others ask for a copy of my words.  In addition to sharing me speech with them, I figured that I would also share them here.


Moving Up Ceremony 2019

And so we come to the end…  I don’t like this moment, because I don’t like to say goodbye. 

A number of parents, moms mostly, but a few dads as well, have asked that I don’t make them cry today.  I can’t promise that because I might cry myself. 

So, let’s not make it goodbye. 


This is a great class of students – dear to my heart.  I have spent a lot of time with these students, especially this year, talking with them about so much. 

I want you know something very important at the start.  This is a special, a super special, group of students.  This class has been complimented time and again for their kindness, respect, calmness, understanding and more.  They’ve been praised more than most – maybe more than any other class. 

These are really good kids. 

I am very proud of them. 

I know you are as well.

As parents, you did well.  Very well.  (Apples, most often, don’t fall far from trees.)

And, I’d like to think that as educators, we also did well.

I’d like to share some big ideas that we all talked about over the years, one last time, with the hopes that the students will remember these ideas always – to find success in life.

First – Success isn’t what we get or end up with.  Success is something deeper, something that comes from hard work, perseverance, and kindness.

We become successful when we focus first on being good people – supportive, loving, and understanding. 

When we know how to appreciate and empathize and care, we find success.

That’s what success is.  Success is making a difference – a positive difference in our own lives, sure, but more, and much more importantly, in the lives of the people around us, those who we know and those who we don’t know.

Success is not defined by the size of a person’s house.  Success isn’t defined by a car brand or a fancy watch or by powerful clothes.  Those all might be great things to have, but they aren’t success.

Success comes from being one’s best – and by sharing the goodness of life with others. 

We talk a lot about kindness and respect and positivity and unconditional love…because we should.

There have been many times in my life when people have laughed at (or with) me about my positive outlook.  I’ve had people tell me that I’m not realistic.

I gave a book talk a few weeks ago and had a critical audience member question my positive approach.  She said, “It’s easy to be positive when things are good, but what if they aren’t?”

I replied, it is then when it is even more important. 

The history of the world is filled with stories of people who were positive not because of their circumstances, but in spite of their circumstances.  The key to life is being positive when things are the hardest.  We have all heard stories of the famous (and not so famous) who have survived life’s hardest hardships by simply staying strong, being focused on the moment, remaining positive, and doing everything in their power to say that tomorrow will be a better day.

Tomorrow can always be a better day.

Hope and optimism and belief are very powerful motivators.

What some people don’t understand, in all walks of life, including many in education (but not here) is that teaching kindness and joy and empathy and caring is teaching the academics.  It is actually part of setting the highest bar for academic excellence.  These attributes are the framework, the building blocks, for what society recognizes as success.

It is this mindset, the caring approach (that some don’t recognize as what success really is) that sets the stage for that other “success” – the one that is more tangible. 

This school is a happy place, but it’s also a school that sets the highest of standards for academic excellence.  We always score very well on standardized tests.  By every academic measure, we do extremely well. This is not an accident.  It’s a by-product of the attributes that we believe lead to success – those attributes I have been talking about.

Kindness and empathy and hard work lead directly to academic success.  It’s not one or the other – these attributes go hand-in-hand. 

Just two days ago, the graduating high school seniors from this school returned here.  They were proudly wearing their college shirts.  I think at least four are going to Ivy League schools.  The other schools the kids are attending are just as impressive.  That was also a great class. 

Do you know what defined them when they were here and still defines them today?


Those kids are going to great schools, they have bright futures, but you know what proves that they will be successful?  It is the fact that they all came back to take a photograph together.  That’s success. 

Their smiles, their appreciation, their joy…

The respect they show for each other and for the school and the teachers… that’s success. 

Or said differently, because they are respectful and kind and understanding and empathetic… they are successful.


I’d like to think that Harvard, and the other schools should start selling T-shirts with our school’s name in their gift shops. 


The teachers here exemplify the reality that when you are positive and kind and love what you do…

And when see the value in hard work,

And when you invest in other people, and dare I say that you love them…

you succeed. 

True achievement, if that’s what we call it, is built first upon goodness. 


Parents, as these kids grow, I encourage you all to seize the moments, however small they might seem to be.

Seize every single moment with your children…

Make the time to be together with yours – today and always. 

Make memories.  Simple memories.  Happy memories.

Those memories also don’t have to come at Disney World or on a cruise or on a mountain hike…

Like success, we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture for the things that seem more impressive. 

Just being together…that’s the memory you need to create and capture.

As many of you know, last week I spent upwards of 16 hours on the road with my oldest son just driving.  Driving him home from Georgia where he was attending school.  It was Ryan, Dad, and asphalt.  We didn’t do anything special.  The only exciting stops we made were to go through drive-thrus to get cheap food.

But it was awesome. 

Make the time to be with your kids, in every way, because that’s the time that really matters. 

Just being together matters.

Our 16-hour ride went far too quickly.  I now wish Ryan had originally been in Bolivia or Peru just so that we’d still be driving…


Cherish the moments.


We have to make the most of today, but we also have to live for tomorrow.  We need to live each day with tomorrow in mind and make the decisions today that we’ll be proud of tomorrow. 

But when we don’t. 

And when we falter,

As we will…

We just have to get up, brush ourselves off, and try again, a little harder and a little better.  Maybe we have to work a little smarter.

We can never let failure define us.  Never.

So stay positive.

And don’t let the critics be the ones who define you.  There will always be those who say you can’t. 

Show them you can. 


Oh, and don’t ever say goodbye…as I won’t.

Because even though you are graduating from this great school, even though you are moving on,

even though we’re now giving you wings, remember – you have roots here.

We’re always here for you.


You’ll always be in my heart. 

Now go and make us all proud.


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