From the talented, lovely and wise Mrs. Yardsale, this year’s graduation speech. (edited slightly, to remove a couple personal references and clean up some not-meant-for-the-final-copy bits – this survives only as a late draft. Anne-Martine goes off script as a matter of course, so she rarely makes a final draft.) 5 graduates out of 48 or so students – a big class at Diablo Valley School.
Thank you for asking me to speak at your graduation. It is an honor to be asked to speak, but for me, the greater honor has been the opportunity to get to know each of you a bit. Welcome to all your admiring friends and families – I hope they will forgive me if I address my remarks chiefly to you, the graduating class of 2016. A graduating class of five, not very big. Right before our camping trip I attended a high school graduation at the Concord Pavilion of somewhere between 400 and 500 students. Something that was true there, and everywhere, is more easily seen here, in the smaller, more intimate picture.
The five of you are so different. I count each of you a friend, and what different friends! What different conversations we have. We must all resist the temptation when we are with larger groups of people to lose the truth of how different each one is, that if “unique” is an over-used word, it is a word that got that way by conveying an important truth.
Among many quotable things, Aristotle said, “the only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law.” And equal no where else, I might add. You are not equal in height; you are not equal in the number of times you have colored your hair; you are not equal in what music you listen to, or play, what makes you smile, what drives you crazy, what you like to eat, what you like to wear; in the skills you have developed and the things that excite you. But, unlike that larger graduating class, I would venture, you have had hands on experience of working in a community striving to treat all its members equally before the law, the law that you have also had a hand in making and refining.
You have all served on the Judicial Committee. You have all experienced being written up. Some of you have been JC Clerks – whether for many or very few sessions. You shared in the work of addressing unequal people equally before the law. These experiences of how different you are from your fellow graduates and also how the same in some ways, how different it is to handle mess complaints with five-year-olds, and how the same, illustrate a point I want to make this morning. The world is complex; don’t allow yourselves to be tricked into flattening our very three-dimensional beautiful world into a two-dimensional boring landscape. Don’t start to see the world as populated by good and bad people – especially if the criteria for being “good people” is agreeing with your own particular values/criteria at the moment. Good, interesting, complex, people can do things that are not great things to do. That does not turn them into bad people. Resist the pressure you will feel to flatten your moral landscape.
Daniel Greenberg, one of the founders of Sudbury Valley School, after which our school is patterned said it can be so hard to describe Sudbury schooling and how it works because it is much like a tapestry. Different colored threads are woven together and it is in their interplay that one can see from a distance a picture emerge. Up close, one sees bits of color, but not always what those bits of color are doing to contribute to the whole picture. One can tease a single thread out of a tapestry. It is then easier to see the thread, but it does not at all help you see or understand the tapestry. As a matter of fact, it is harder to see the picture of the tapestry with that thread pulled out of the whole.
Your lives have been woven together with the lives of others here. As you go on now, your lives will be interwoven with more people, places, things. Hold on to something you have been learning in JC – to judge the action, not the person. C2, mess, and B11, inappropriate response, these are names of actions we want those we share space with to give up because these actions make it harder to have a peaceful community, not because the people taking those actions are bad people.
I have been reading a speech of Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, in which he addresses teachers to whom he gives the job of sorting a class of persons who are to forego the privileges of a liberal education in order to be fitted to perform specific difficult manual tasks. Wilson says this is of necessity the much larger class of people. The implication that the teachers have themselves been sorted into a group trusted to sort and train those “below” them while serving the purposes of the elite is left unsaid and I doubt that the teachers to whom he spoke picked up on his contempt for them as tools.
This is the education system you are avoiding in attending this Sudbury school. Do not be sucked back into its judgments once you leave here. Judgment is a necessary and valuable function of human brains. But like many good tools, it can cause a lot of damage if misused. Use your judgment to decide a course of action, to evaluate and choose between options, to find the true and the good from among a lot of chaff that will get blown your way. Do not use your judgment to diminish other people, to think that because you disagree on something another person is a two-dimensional bad guy instead of another wonderful, complex, unrepeatable gift to the world.
When it comes to dealing with other people, our job may sometime be to judge their actions, as it is in the Judicial Committee, but it is above all to love them as persons because that is the only way we can truly see others, that is the only lens that brings people into better focus. It is also the real power that makes any change possible.