8th Grade Graduation in Rochester: Our Leaders of Tomorrow

What a thrill to be the graduation speaker June 2 for the 8th grade class of 2014 at Rochester Math and Science Academy charter school in Rochester, MN. Twenty-six graduates filed in with Pomp and Circumstance, as their proud families and elementary and middle school peers looked on. Several student speakers like this young woman shared their dreams for the future, with principal Adbulkadir Abdalla (right) at their side.  Several Somali elders also shared their message. At program end, the largest 8th grade class in school history proudly held diplomas and received the vigorous applause they richly deserved.

Every year the second graders lead the pledge of allegiance at the graduation. I so enjoyed meeting this class of second graders before the ceremony with Mr. Abdalla and their teacher.

The graduation program featured this quote by Booker T. Washington: “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has overcome while trying to succeed.” That definition of success could not describe better the journey that parents and teachers take together to create charter schools. There were plenty of obstacles when Mr. Abdalla and his colleagues founded this charter school to serve the Somali community in Rochester. Yet next year, the school will celebrate its tenth anniversary!

My message for the graduates was similar. There is an old Chinese proverb: “Learning is like rowing upstream; not to advance is to drop back.” Learning is life-long–we are always rowing upstream, setting new goals, and achieving them. And sometimes there are obstacles and we drop back. The great Walt Disney was once let go from a newspaper job because he wasn’t creative enough. The great composer Ludwig Van Beethoven was once told by a teacher, “as a composer, you are hopeless.” But both achieved greatness because they didn’t give up, they took risks, and they believed in themselves.

As I said to the graduates, “If you believe in yourselves, you can make your dreams happen, just like your school founders realized their dream when they opened this charter school back in 2005. So graduates, celebrate today–and keep on rowing!”

You can watch the graduation festivities here.  My portion starts 18 minutes into the video and ends at 30 minutes.  The student speeches follow—and they will inspire you!