Foivos Isakoglou, Valedictorian speech Commencement 2016
July 15, 2016
Dr. Giampapa, faculty and board members, fellow students, family, and friends,
“Every man worthy of being called a son of man bears his cross and mounts his Golgotha.” These were the words spoken by Nikos Kazantzakis in an attempt to encapsulate what gives essence to the human spirit. If school can be classed as such a Golgotha, then Pinewood Schools are an absolutely unique place. Because, despite its challenges, it was not a barren terrain, nor was it steep in its ascent. Instead, our Golgotha has been a wondrously diverse garden.
Each garden has its own building blocks. At the beginning of this school year, I came across the first and most important one: 23 happy full-blown flowers. They were proudly occupying their positions right here, on the cherished grounds of our school. Without these flowers, there could be no garden. Flowers exist to give each and every garden beauty and character. Not all flowers are the same, nonetheless. Each has its own distinctive properties, its own shape, color, and needs. The flowers were we, my dearest classmates. In spite of all our differences, we chose to respect each other, to embrace each other and to communicate with empathy and understanding. I will never forget that, from the very first moment I came to this school, I joined a community of not only learners, but also friends, who gave me the emotional strength to persevere and make it through these very critical years.
Of course, for the flowers in a garden to bud and blossom, there needs to be a gardener. The job of the gardener is to make the garden functional. They pay individualized attention to the needs of the flowers in order to ensure their continued growth. The gardener plows the land, enriches the soil with fertilizers and provides plant sticks for whatever flower needs further support. The gardeners were you, our precious parents. We are sorry if there were times when we overgrew the space you gave us, when we were too heavy for your sticks to bear. Dazzled by the sunshine, we overestimated how close we were to the sun and tried to reach for it. We couldn’t realize how scalding its surface was and how vigorously you tried to protect us from its flames. Whatever we are commended for tonight we achieved with your unabated love and support. You showed us that education is a long-term investment. You taught us the principles of life and dignity at a time of intense experimentation. Thank you. You did the undoable.
What is, though, that sort of garden that operates and thrives without the presence of bees? The job of the bees is to make the garden sustainable. Bees can often be intimidating and produce a constant buzzing noise, but they play a vital role in flower pollination. The bees were you, our beloved teachers. We produced and reproduced knowledge with you every single day. You found the nectar that lay in each one of us and had us benefit from the pollen of others. Your thoroughness and consistency shall deservingly be marked by our eternal thankfulness. But, most of all, thank you for teaching us that our flaws and imperfections are not a weakness, but a stepping stone for progress and self-discovery.
Tonight, at the end of this school year, after nine months, I no longer see any flowers. Our blossoms have cast their pollen, our petals have withered, what has been left is the fruit borne by our relentless work. It is only a short time frame indeed that separates blooming flowers from becoming ripe crops, but the harvest day has come and it is time to say goodbye. Nine months, just nine months, succeeded by an eternity of nostalgia for those fine moments we shared, but also enthusiasm for the unexplored paths that lie ahead of us. Now it is high time for a new Golgotha, time for new flowers to grow and flourish, for new seeds – our seeds – to be sown. Our readiness for the real world has been meticulously tested. And we are glad to extend our branches in all directions, to open up to all new experiences that compose life.
As we are weaned from whatever keeps us close to our nests and become artists, scientists and scholars, I would like to remind my classmates of the following quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” Humans have an inquisitive nature. They constantly want to make new discoveries, new friendships, new relationships. I dare you, as you connect to new people and places, to assume responsibility for what you tame, but also stay loyal to what you have already tamed.
Congratulations, my fellow graduates. I wish you to prosper where there is water to help you grow and light to make you glow.
Thank you all very much.