Wellesley High math teacher asks Class of 2016: Now What?

Craig Brown, Wellesley High commencement speech
Wellesley High math teacher Craig Brown: “When faced with a situation that is unfamiliar and needs resolution do you avoid it or embrace it?”


Wellesley High math teacher Craig Brown has been teaching the subject for 21 years, covering everything from Pre-Algebra to BC Calculus. This current school year Brown did something new: he taught math as part of the interdisciplinary team working with students in Wellesley High’s new collaborative Evolutions program. Adding to that, Brown also was selected by students to give the annual faculty speech at the WHS Class of 2016 commencement ceremonies. Here’s what he had to say:


Dr. Lussier, Dr. Chisum, members of the school committee, faculty, parents and friends, good evening.

And to the class of 2016, thank you. I know you had many outstanding faculty members to choose from to speak tonight and I’m honored that you chose me. That’s why it is especially hard for me to share this news with you.  Apparently there was some kind of mix up with your MCAS scores and due to a clerical error some of you are not graduating tonight…

Isn’t that right Dr. Chisum?

Naaah, that’s not right, everyone will graduate tonight. But suppose that wasn’t the case. What next?

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

When faced with a situation that is unfamiliar and needs resolution do you avoid it or embrace it? Either you have already dealt with something like this, or you haven’t, but you wish you did.

For the last four years you have been acquiring knowledge at Wellesley High School. You know to stay away from the center stairs, because they are often crowded,  lockers are rarely used, and you should get to school early for a parking spot or face that long walk from Washington Street, which really stinks in the winter.

You also probably figured out some teachers too. Some give pop quizzes every Day One while others rarely check homework. I’m sure you learned a lot of content too and all of these things were important, but hopefully, above all else, we gave you experiences to help you get better at new situations. It would be impossible for high school to prepare each of you for every unknown event that you will encounter. Instead, we teachers gave you a variety of challenges to overcome.

But what if it were true you weren’t graduating tonight? What the heck would you do? All these people here who traveled from far away looking to you for an explanation. There’s no easy answer and no quick solution. You wouldn’t have prepared for this problem. How would you move forward if it couldn’t be fixed? I know my students never discussed this in class and it probably wasn’t a question on MCAS. Are you ready for something that unpredictable?

Picture yourself at a crossroads, with a hundred different options, no street signs, no recognizable landmarks in sight and you don’t know what to do.  Now what?

Solving an Algebraic problem or writing a five paragraph essay were excellent skills to learn but they were only a glimpse of what’s ahead. Teachers created obstacles with clear outcomes in a safe environment that they knew you could manage. They encouraged you to get comfortable being uncomfortable so that you could develop the skills to take on new problems. That’s what I would like to celebrate today. Not that you actually passed MCAS, or earned a particular grade in a class, but instead that each day you came to school, found your classrooms, assessed the needs of the day and adapted in a manner to make your way through. It may not have seemed all that special at the time, but it did give you some valuable experience.

Before tonight I have never given a speech, especially at a graduation. I wasn’t concerned about speaking in front of a crowd, but rather not meeting everyone’s expectations. My friends and family said “Don’t worry, you’ll be great” and, of course, that would make me even more nervous. Preparing for tonight caused me great turmoil and angst, but I’m grateful to be here and share my thoughts with you …and relish all of it. I know that in some way I will be stronger because although I didn’t know how to write, edit and deliver a speech, I did it, and it feels good.

Now, it is time for YOU to go out and face life’s unpredictability without the shelter of Wellesley High School. Your prior accomplishments should help but it won’t be easy. Don’t shy away from things that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Recognize them as chances to gain something new. I don’t mean to say you should be reckless or engage in activities that are unsafe, (don’t pick a fight with Superman), but instead be aware of the opportunity brought on by unexpected circumstances. There’s no guarantee that embracing these opportunities will turn out well.

Sometimes you may fail with miserable, disastrous, consequences and sometimes you may be overwhelmed with happiness. Most likely, it will be something in the middle, but no matter what, you will have new events to look back on and they will shape who you are.

Often we look for help in these situations from those around us, or the internet, or at last resort …our parents. When you were born, the hospital didn’t send home an owners manual explaining what every cry meant or how best to keep you happy, but parents endured, struggled through some difficult times, and have arrived here tonight overjoyed. In fact, they probably have learned many valuable lessons in life that will be useful to you in the very near future. Keep them close!

Nobody will ALWAYS know what to do with those scary, uneasy, moments that leave a pit in your stomach, but embrace them, and learn from them.

Stay curious! Gather experience! And always learn from it!

Good Luck Class of 2016

MORE: Class of 2016 Valedictorian’s speech: On 7-foot babysitters, “Luap” & the fallibility of authority