Woog’s World / Congratulations, graduates: This is your day
Updated 2:19 pm, Monday, June 12, 2017
Blow up the balloons. Adjust the mortarboards. Cue “Pomp and Circumstance.”
In a couple of weeks, nearly 500 Staples High School seniors will come together one final time. Thirteen years of school; thousands of hours of class, recess — and almost as much time spent outside of school, on homework, practices, rehearsals, performances, games (and tutors) — culminates in one afternoon in a hot fieldhouse, with a scratchy sound system and bad sightlines.
Congratulations, graduates. This is your day!
Most will leave Westport for college. Some head off to jobs, the military or a gap year. A few have no clue at all about next steps.
Actually, the future is uncertain for all of them.
That’s always true at graduation time. It was true last year. It was true when you and I graduated. It probably was the theme of Plato’s speech, when he was the class speaker millennia ago in Athens.
But this year’s graduates face particularly unclear times. As we hand the world to them, we do so with some spectacularly contradictory messages.
As they carry bags for a week, accumulating all their trash in one place, they’re aghast at the amount of garbage just one person generates.
They study energy sources and carbon emissions, and consider their own footprint. In both the classroom and the real world, Westport teenagers come to understand the interrelationships of man and nature, human activity and climate, words and deeds, all over the globe.
Then they see their president flush everything they’ve learned down the toilet. They watch him give the finger to their future. And they see a small but influential group of senators and congressmen applaud this destructive, vindictive move.
In science classes — from the most basic elementary school experiments through complex physics, chemistry and research courses — Westport youngsters learn how to form a hypothesis, design a test, observe results and reach conclusions. They study cause and effect; they apply math; look for flaws, and then test again. After 13 years, they’re well versed in the “scientific method.”
Then they see their president treat science as if it were a contestant on a TV reality show: fluffed up here, reimagined there, tossed scornfully aside when it is not considered useful.
For more than a dozen years, Westport schools hone critical thinking skills. Whether looking at history, reading books or examining other cultures, our boys and girls learn to examine ideas from a variety of perspectives. They are encouraged to ask questions, applauded for recognizing different viewpoints and perhaps changing their own, stimulated to analyze and synthesize what they see and hear in order to make sense of a big, complex, wonderful world. Just as importantly, they are able to present the ideas they’ve formed clearly, coherently and completely.
Then they see a president who does not read; who exhibits little curiosity about how this world works, or came to be; who speaks haphazardly, in mangled, hyperbolic sentence fragments, and casts much of what he professes to know in simplistic, self-centered, black-and-white terms.
The Westport schools do much more than teach tangible facts and form analytical skills, of course. In the classroom, on the playground and through extracurricular areas like athletics, one cornerstone of our district is respect for others. It’s a long process, one that does not always go smoothly, but — thanks also our families, neighbors and congregations — by the time they graduate, most youngsters do not tease or taunt their peers.
They help those who need it. They are good, kind human beings.
Then they see a president who treats enormous swaths of the nation with contempt. He castigates entire religions. He mocks political opponents, disabled people, even prisoners of war. He abuses women. Then he brags about all of it, over and over and over again.
This is the world our graduates are about to inherit. After today, Class of 2017, its yours.
I’ve painted a bleak picture, I know. Every day since Jan. 20, it’s been one surprise after another. None of them are good.
But if there’s one thing a Westport education has taught its graduates — including me, back in the day — it’s hope.
And I hope — no, I know — the Class of 2017 is more than equal to the challenges ahead. They are ready to face the future, and make their mark on it.
They have their work cut out for them. The good news is: Westport has prepared them well.