Craig Mustard, who is retiring this year as an English teacher at Wellesley High School (though continues as a sports radio talk host), delivered the faculty speech at the Class of 2018 graduation this past Friday. Here’s the transcript of that talk.
Every time I get behind a microphone, I feel this overwhelming urge to give out the phone number: So if you don’t mind me getting it out my system, here goes: 617-779-7937. Thanks, I feel better now. Sorry, no calls now. Save those for tomorrow morning at nine.
Dr. Lussier, Dr. Chisum, Mrs. Novogrosky, Mr. Kelton, Mr. Bender, and faculty, students, parents, and Class of 2018.
Class of 2018: that has such a nice ring to it–more on that later.
What an honor it is to stand before you with your undivided attention for the last time. Perhaps for the first time. Unlike Room 226, here, there are no Socratic Seminars, no Lord of the Flies survivor challenges, not even a rousing round of Four Square to get between us. Tonight it’s just you and I — and a few thousand of your closest friends and families.
44 years ago I was sitting where you are now… I know what you’re thinking: “How could anyone so youthful looking have possibly gone to high school over four decades ago?” You’ll just have to suspend your sense of disbelief for the next few minutes. I remember Graduation night like it was yesterday; sadly, I remember it better than yesterday. Don’t worry–it’ll happen to you someday, too. We waited for well over an hour that night for the Superintendent to arrive–he never did. So Dr. Lussier, I, for one, am really happy to see you this afternoon.
If that weren’t bad enough, our class president accidentally skipped several pages of his speech, so no one could quite figure out what the heck he was talking about.
And to complete this scene right out of a Vonnegut short story, there was one member of the graduating class of 1974 who had no idea about what he was going to do next. Anybody want to take a guess who that was? Ah, that Wellesley education once again on display. That’s right, on my graduation night as I marched into the gymnasium to the bittersweet strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” I hadn’t a single clue about my future. College? Let’s put it this way: my enthusiasm for several prominent institutions of higher learning was not exactly reciprocated, so no admission on that front. A job? Nothing doing there, either. So while my classmates were accelerating toward the next phase of their lives, I was stuck in neutral.
Flash forward a few years later, and let me tell you another story about my first visit to Wellesley after landing the new job.
We would meet at the school. But that school was not Wellesley High, but Babson College. And my new employers were not WHS but WEEI. We were getting together at Celtics rookie camp there to close the deal on a contract that would make me a week night sports talk show host.
Up to that fateful moment, I had devoted most of my life to the media. Even when I was a Cub Scout, broadcasting appeared to be my destiny. One project had each member of the Pack create a model of one of the buildings in my hometown, so naturally I constructed a cardboard replica of my local radio station — WILI. By college, I spent many hours — according to my GPA, way too many hours — at the student station playing the Beatles, Stones, and Bruce —that’s for Hailey and Mr. Fantini. For a decade and a half after graduation, my radio career would take me from Willimantic, Connecticut to Montgomery Alabama — and plenty of stops in between. And now everything I had worked for was culminating in this one dream job in Boston, Massachusetts. But then, like Mr. Smith and his silk blue wings at the beginning of Song of Solomon , my career went “splatt.” I get it: Not the prettiest of metaphors, but you gotta love the onomatopoeia.
You think you know what you want to do for the rest of your life? The research says you’ll not only have multiple jobs, but multiple careers, as many as 5-7 during your working life. And it’s a solid bet you will have had 10 jobs by the time you’re 42. Even before you hit the workforce, there’s an 80 percent chance that you’ll change your college major at least once.
There’s an old Yiddish saying. Since my Yiddish is a little rusty, I’ll give you the translation: Man plans, God laughs.
We live in a world where the only certainty is uncertainty. But in every new moment, even those fraught with failure, the universe provides us with unexpected gifts–especially when we fail. If it weren’t for failure, I wouldn’t be standing here now. I failed to get into the colleges I initially applied to, but I eventually managed to find ONE college that would accept me, and now I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else. That bright radio future that I thought I had secured at Babson never quite sustained itself — I failed.
But little did I know then that a few short years later, I would find my true calling — my salvation — not in a radio booth but in a classroom right down the road. 50 Rice St.
What distinguishes us from other mammals is the ability to adapt. The good news is that no matter what lies ahead you will not be helpless, hapless victims because each and every one of you has the capacity to thrive in a world that demands constant adaptation.
So, if life is just one big chaotic existential mess ruled by random, arbitrary forces, with failure lurking around every bend, how do you achieve any semblance of “agency,” in this crazy world? To start, always do the right thing when you could just as easily do the wrong thing — or nothing at all. Kudos to ABC this week for canceling the Roseanne sitcom after the star’s repugnant, racist comments on Twitter, even though the show has made a huge profit for the network.
On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4th, Dr. Chisum commemorated that tragic day in 1968 by reading a moving, eloquent tribute to the great man written by my English department colleague Ms. Anderson.
It was a powerful moment, but let’s not leave it there. It is critical that we honor Dr. King’s memory not just on April 4th or on his birthday weekend in January, but every day. And now more than ever. In his famous letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote of the ties that bind us all:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
If he were alive today he’d no doubt be heartened by the progress we’ve made in a half century since his death, but he’d also be discouraged about how much more needs to be done. There are still a lot of Roseannes out there.
Dr. King’s unwavering challenge to the social order must be a model for all of us. You’ve already begun to carry out his work: When you joined Parkland High and thousands of other students around the country in the March for Our Lives, you literally demonstrated the power of peaceful activism. On that blustery morning in early Spring, your impassioned, articulate pleas for stricter gun laws sent a clear message to lawmakers and lobbyists that you will not be bystanders in the fight to end the senseless carnage that has ripped though our schools. Two weeks ago in Texas, gun violence reared its ugly head again, a sobering reminder that there’s a long way to go.
Dr. King was gunned down in Memphis, and two months later Bobby Kennedy was slain in Los Angeles. We mark the anniversary of that tragedy next week. Now fifty years later, firearms have destroyed the lives of dozens of innocent children and their families in far too many communities in this country. Some of those students were looking forward to graduating along with you…… (pause)
You owe it to them and to Dr. King and Senator Kennedy to carry on the fight. The first step toward that end is to get thee to a polling booth. In the 2016 Presidential election, roughly 43 percent of the electorate could not even be bothered to fill out a ballot. That’s 100 million voters who opted to stay home.
The winner two Novembers ago was not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but a third party candidate named Apathy. Apathy must not win another term. Make a claim as a stakeholder in your own life. Register to vote: It is not only your obligation as a citizen in a democratic society; it’s the best graduation present you can give yourself.
But first, let’s not forget those individuals in your lives who have guided you to this time and place. I was fortunate to have the ultimate role model in a woman, who was not only a demanding but loving and nurturing mother, but also the best teacher I ever had. You heard that correctly: I was indeed a student in my own mother’s class. French 4, sophomore year. Despite a never-ending struggle over what to call her — Mrs. Mustard, Madame Moutarde, Mom, Hey You — I watched in awe as a passionate, dedicated educator plied her profession with the kind of elan and joie de vivre (see what I did there?) very few have matched.
I’ve always recognized that whatever modest success I’ve achieved in life has been made possible by her belief in me — even when I didn’t believe in me. Today, it’s worth remembering that none of us comes into this world as fully formed individuals. We are the sum of our experiences and a product of those relationships with our parents and other adults who have selflessly devoted themselves to your success.
In 1818, 200 years ago, Mary Shelley wrote the first and greatest of all science fiction novels called Frankenstein. In response to those who were incredulous that a nineteen-year-old woman was capable of such an unprecedented feat, Mary credited not her own vivid, fertile imagination but the fact she was born to parents of “distinguished literary celebrity” who encouraged her to write stories from an early age. Here’s the final assignment I’ll ever give you: I want you to channel your own inner Mary Shelley and give credit to whom credit is due. Seniors please stand up and give it up for those people in the bleachers who helped create your stories.
Parents if I could talk to you as well for a second as well. You see, I’m here not only as a teacher, but also as a fellow parent whose own son — my oldest — also graduates next week. For the first time, I truly understand on a purely visceral level what a momentous day this is for you. That was a quick eighteen years, wasn’t it? Tempus Fugit as the inimitable Mr. Esposito might observe in his Latin class. I will never forget the day when we drove our son home from the hospital, a fragile, vulnerable creature, strapped tenuously into a car seat facing backwards — as if he couldn’t bear to watch his father drive. Me wondering how any legitimate medical staff could possibly entrust me with this seven pound miracle of nature, as I nervously negotiated those tortuous roads on the most harrowing thirty minute drive of my life. What were they thinking? Somehow we all made it home that day, and somehow we all made it here. And now our sons and daughters are driving their own cars as they set out on new roads that will take them to….. who knows where. And try though we might, we can’t buckle them into their car seats any more. Class of 2018….back to you.
Humor me for a minute and close your eyes and think all the way back to your first day at the High School — you a lowly, wide-eyed rookie navigating your way through the maze of hallways, trying to steer clear of those big, bad intimidating juniors and seniors who were all surely so much wiser, so much tougher, so much cooler than you could ever possibly be. Now open your eyes and look around you. You made it! Embrace this moment. Live in this moment.
I know that you’d much rather be texting, posting, swiping, liking, tweeting, buying, browsing, refreshing, and/or fortnighting rather than listening to this speech. Who wouldn’t? But try to persevere, dig down deep, and be present without the aid of that warm and cuddly electronic security blanket nestled in your pocket. If you listen to the usual critics and luddites, new technologies have been rotting human brains and destroying civilizations forever, but there’s a compelling case to be made that this time there is reason for alarm. Experts argue that our smartphones aren’t necessarily making us stupid but they are sabotaging the lost art of conversation. You remember that quaint dynamic: two or more people engaging in face to face dialogue. To compound the problem, our attachment to phones and de-tachment from actual human beings diminishes our capacity for empathy, which, if you watch cable news, is also a lost art. In a few moments we all want to memorialize this special event, but later at dinner with our family, or at the all-night party, resist the urge, put away that “binkie with a microchip”, and gulp, have a genuine human interaction. Savor it. Revel in it. Bask in it. But don’t post it.
Like so many others, I deeply appreciate your passion, commitment, energy, engagement, ambition, generosity, and most of all, sense of humor. Why else would you have invited me to speak? This afternoon, along with Miss Levine, I had the privilege of leading you into this ceremony and in a few minutes I’ll walking out with you, as the curtain goes down on your hour upon the stage–and mine, as well. Together, we commence new phases in our lives. It is altogether fitting and proper that I, too, wear a gown because in a real sense, I’m graduating right along with you. And I couldn’t ask for better classmates. Class of 2018, it has been a profound honor to share this moment with you. The way I look at it, it’s not the end, but the beginning of a beautiful friendship.