WAYNE, NJ – As part of the two Wayne graduations this past week, one teacher at each high school was selected to give the traditional farewell remarks. The two teachers selected, Hills English teacher Scott Summers and Valley Government teacher Dennis Carroll, gave two completely different speeches, both with important messages. They have been transcribed for you here.
Principal of Wayne Hills High School, Michael Rewick gave the introduction: “The Wayne Hills administration team believes strongly that teachers have a lasting and profound effect on their students. The senior class has chosen this faculty member to address them in a final farewell. This faculty member has taught at Wayne Hills for 27 years. His passion for writing, philosophy and role-playing games is legendary. He is a ‘Super English Teacher.’ Please join me in welcoming Mr. Scott Summers.”
With applause and shouts from the Hills class of 2020, Mr. Summers stepped up to the podium and delivered this speech:
“Driving down here today I was thinking about how, despite the craziness of this year, how positive it has been for me.
I reached some milestones this year. About 30 years ago, I was Mateo's father's English teacher. And Isaiah, we determined that I was also your mother's English teacher. That’s kind of a big thing for me as a teacher. The second milestone is that this class elected me and Mr. Dillolo to be the teacher Dad for the class of 2020. And, lastly, I was elected to give this speech, and I'm the only one that's ever given the speech that's got to do it twice.
So, I want to talk to you today about two very important people to me: my dogs.
About Seven years ago my wife and I decided to adopt a new dog. One of the reasons why we always have a dog is that in Sussex County it's almost a daily occurrence to see a bear. If you have a dog in the yard, bears usually stay away. So, we chose a German Shepherd; a big dog, noble-looking; elegant when it walked.
We brought that dog home, and the first time I was in the yard and a bear walked in, I was quite pleased because I knew I would be safe. As I looked around for my German Shepherd Lily, she was gone. She had run to the other side of the house and left me there with the bear. I started waving my arms and clapping my hands and eventually the bear ran away.
We've had that dog for the past eight years, and she's an older Shepherd now.
For Father's Day, my family determined to get me another dog; which basically means my wife gave me permission to get one. We adopted a Pitbull. It's not as elegant as a German Shepherd; it's not as noble, but there's a power to that dog. We named her Penny.
Soon after we got her, sure enough a bear came into the yard. Penny didn't run away. Penny stood in the gap between me and the bear and growled and defended me. I had only known her a week or two but already she was looking out for me, and that really touched me.
I think we could learn a lesson from Penny. To stand in the gap for each other.
It’s a crazy time right now, and I think that if we're just able to show each other a little bit of kindness, that could change a lot.
Now, I'm not advocating that any of you, unless you're with me, to save someone from a bear.
What I would like you to do, and encourage you to do, is just do simple acts of kindness each day. If someone drops their keys, pick them up for them. Say hello. If you're in a Starbucks and it's crowded, give someone your chair.
Those little acts can change the world.
Now, it's funny. The time that the bear came into my yard and Penny, my Pitbull, was there, well so was my German Shepherd. Initially, the Shepherd ran away, but when Penny got in front of me, the Shepherd came back and stood next to Penny in the gap for me.
I take that as: if you do kindness, then that can spread. Other people will follow your example and be kind to each other.
I'm going to quote one of my favorite characters in literature: Gandalf. He said: 'Some believe that it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I have found that it is small, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.'
I hope, particularly to my students, that you feel that I stood in the gap for you this year.
I can promise you, that the way you've handled this year, the courage you showed and by your determination, you have stood in the gap for me, and I very much appreciate that.
I wish you a lot of luck. Thank you very much.”
Kenneth Palczewski, the Valley Principal provided the introduction for Carroll: “Every year our students select a staff member who they want to hear a closing message from. This year it is my pleasure to introduce to you Mr. Carroll with our faculty farewell.”
Mr. Carroll, dressed in a suit and tie stood in the oppressive heat and said:
“Graduates. Well, who in the world would have guessed that this is the way we would be saying good-bye?
The first thing that I need to say is that you all mean more to your teachers than you can possibly imagine. It’s a very interesting dynamic that we have as high school teachers. We get to know you for a few years, and then…you leave. It doesn’t seem quite right. We develop this relationship and then all of a sudden, you’re gone. Today is one of those happy and sad moments for us.
You fulfill a dream of ours – to make a difference that hopefully transcends generations. We all have a small place in this world, and we are attempting to make it just a bit better. You are our legacy and the measure by which we will be judged.
2020 is the eighth decade in which I have lived. I have studied American history, government and politics for 50 years now. And the more I thought about it – the more I thought – what have I learned? What do I know for sure? So, I made a list of the most important things I have learned or figured out by studying this most important subject. So here it is- the top ten things I know for sure – well at least I think I know.
- We get the government we deserve- we always have. Our government will be as good at governing as we are as being active citizens. And we are rarely and scarcely active. It will be up to you to insure honest, competent and democratic government. It simply doesn’t happen by itself.
- If we all educate ourselves on what the Constitution does and doesn’t say, we could probably get along much better. Most people that talk about the Constitution, have never read the Constitution. It’s an interesting read and I encourage you to give it a read.
- Consumers drive our economy. Capitalism is the only system with a real record of success in this world and, even then, only when it is properly applied. Capitalism must be encouraged in a way to support all of our citizens, not a select few. Our current inequality and imbalance threaten both our capitalist system and our democratic institutions and is not sustainable.
- The changes in the labor market will be greater in your early work years than any generation has ever experienced before. You face a future that will see Artificial Intelligence minimize or eliminate the need for occupations that we thought would always be with us. And this spans all segments of the job market. For example, ten years from now, trucks will be mostly self-driven. Uber or Lyft drivers, a thing of the past. Just as quickly, medicine will be automated. Surgeons will be able to operate on a patient remotely from anywhere around the world and then will ultimately be replaced by machines far less prone to error. Your yearly physical will likely be an automated experience. Similarly, lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, and most bureaucratic and administrative personnel will find themselves increasingly unnecessary. The work will instead be done by machines that will never call in sick, ask for a raise or engage in office gossip Right now, in rooms in Silicon Valley, the best minds are focused on how to make your future career less in need of you. You need to be forward thinking as you pick your career. You will either be riding the top of this wave or you will be swept up be it. A lot depend on the choices that you are about to make.
- Immigration has always advanced America despite our best attempts to halt it. Those new to our shores have traditionally done the work Americans won’t do, kept businesses in America, and kept the cost of our food supply reasonable. Xenophobia has also damaged our country. Welcome those new arrival as you wish your ancestors had been welcomed.
- History demonstrates that science is clearly undefeated when challenged by its vocal opponents. Knowledge was, is and always will be undefeated over magical thinking. We can no longer afford to promote willful ignorance in the application of our governmental institutions because of superstition or cultural history. Our framers were clear on this point. We should take heed.
- The road to racial, social and economic justice is essential for our country to survive. It is up to all of you to engage in this discussion. If we can’t admit our past mistakes our moral compass will be so disabled, that we won’t be able to find the right way forward
- The change we have been the proudest of and successful at is when we expand the rights of others. People will abuse your rights and try to take away your freedoms if you let them. Don’t let them.
- Patriotism is indeed the last refuge of a scandal. How loud one chants USA or how one wears our nation’s colors and symbols is a poor measure of their devotion to our nation and its principles. Measure people by their actions more than their words.
- We need to start judging people on their entire body of work, not just on their worst moment. We often cannot measure up to the own standards that we set for others. All people are wired differently. Let them be who they are.
Well that’s it. I don’t know the meaning of life – I’m still trying to figure that one out. Just don’t let anyone make you commit to theirs. But I think it might have to do with accomplishment – that or jelly donuts. But it’s up to you to decide- no one else.
I wish you all great success, a long and meaningful life.