A toast to the class of 2013

RSS vice principal Mike Vanness gave his speech to the graduates as the last school graduation class.

Good afternoon, graduates, parents, and guests.

Grads, let’s start by talking about you. Right now, you are all teenagers; you’re 17 or 18, and being a teenager is glorified in our culture, and for good reason.

You’ve got youth, you move fast, and you are fairly intense about everything you do. Some of the best movies ever made are about teenagers doing things they probably shouldn’t be, and most of that revolves around teenagers thinking they can take on the world, and sometimes being right about it.

You, as a graduating class, present yourselves differently than most. I’ve watched how you interact with each other, and the ways you resolve your differences. You are perhaps best described as a group of individuals that travels in ever-changing tribes.

You don’t seem to have defined peer groups. The groups of you I see through my office window arriving late for school with coffees in hand changes daily, yet I know from experience that when an issue affects your class as a whole, you have each other’s backs. This can also be seen in the ways you work together in the school, on sports teams, and as you socialize.

I admire that you are not afraid to point out what’s wrong, or when you disagree, with adults, and with each other. Most generations start by questioning the answers, but I hope that yours is the one with the guts and creativity to come up with some answers, and viable solutions to old problems.

In a few days you’ll finish your final high school class or your last provincial exam, and in effect, you will be handed the most freedom you have ever had in your life.

You will soon be free to live where, and with who, you want. Many of you will experience the next few years with multiple roommates, high rent, superhuman schedules, and not enough sleep. Somehow, this won’t be a problem for you.

In car racing, they say that “If your foot isn’t firmly on the gas or on the brakes, you aren’t racing.” This quote is significant right now, because that’s what the next period of your life is going to feel like.

We often focus on goals and success, while downplaying mistakes we make. This, in itself, is a mistake because when we don’t get it right—when we make mistakes—it means we are learning. So take advantage of that. At your age, and into your twenties, you can screw up spectacularly, and still look good doing it. Frankly, if you don’t make mistakes along the way you’re either (A) lying, or (B) a little bit boring.

Right now, you are probably as open minded as you will ever be. As you move towards your twenties, your interests will focus and narrow, and you will tend to surround yourself with people of similar interests.

This is natural, but be careful, because it can also be the start of a closing mind. When you feel this happening, I encourage you to fight it with everything you have. Seek diversity, change, and situations where you are not entirely comfortable because this will keep you younger than anything you can buy or anything that’s marketed to you.

A word we hear often in schools is “passion.” We use phrases like “finding your passion,” and “following your passion.” Here’s the thing: you can find almost anything online. You can enrol in school, you can find a job, and you could probably even find a prom date for later tonight if it came down to it.

But your passion is something you can’t search for, so don’t look for it. It will choose you and it will choose when to find you.

When you do figure out what you want to do, you need to go for it, and you’ll need to go harder at it than you ever have in your life.

In closing, grads, I need to thank you. Thank you for being a huge part of why I love working in this building. Now that you’re leaving, I can let you in on something: Even during those times when some of you have sat in my office and we’ve discussed those things you probably shouldn’t have been doing … I still think you’re a great bunch, you’re a lot of fun, and you kept things interesting. So please keep doing that.

Grads, it’s been an honour to spend the past few years with you, and also to speak for you this afternoon.

Goodbye, good luck, and have a fantastic evening. Thank you.

— Mike Vanness, RSS vice principal

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