A few weeks ago I wrote about the over-trophied child. Kids who get awarded for participating, even when they don’t do their best. As a parent of two boys (with numerous participation awards), I don’t subscribe to praising for mediocre work – and I’m hearing a lot of graduation speeches saying something similar.
Recently, Wellesley, MA high school English teacher David McCullough, Jr. created buzz when he told grads "You’re not special." He said, "You’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped…. we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not."
Then he continued with "If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning. I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning. It’s where you go from here that matters."
And at the Princeton University 2012 commencement ceremony, comedian Steve Carrel told graduates to "suffer" from self-loathing and humiliation…because he had to.
I want to take a little from Mr. Carrel and Mr. McCullough and talk to the 2012 preschool graduates heading off to Kindergarten in the fall. I’ve seen a lot of you in big ceremonial cap and gowns (and to that I say "Really?"), and I have a 10 tips as you head into the world of "Big Kids." So here it goes:
- Know how loved you are. As your parents, we are your biggest fans. Always remember our hugs when you are scared, shy, embarrassed or wrong. We will always love you. You know the "Little Engine that Could" book? Whenever you are faced with a big, scary hill, we think you can. And, we know you can do it.
- Always play fair. Look at how you treat your friends, as well as those who aren’t your friends. Sometimes being fair means making someone else happy, instead of yourself. It’s not always fun to be a good person. But it’s more important to be good.
- Spend time with friends without using technology. We know you can use our iPhones and iPads better than we can. To you, screens are everywhere. And when kids your age grow up, they will invent even cooler ones. But when it comes to getting to know other people, make sure to look from your screen and talk to them. Learn how to look teachers, friends and parents in the eye. Ask others how their day was. And when they ask you in return, don’t just say "good." Tell them a story, and listen to theirs.
- Keep reading. Learn to love books. Read every day and find more stories that you love. And when you do, share them with your friends. You’ll not only make your friends happy, but you’ll feel good about sharing something you love.
- Learn to love math. To all the girls out there, I have a special message for you: Math is your friend. What’s math you say? It’s even better than counting. It’ll help you when you grow up and when you want to run things at home and at work.
- Write actual letters. And cards. Don’t just FB post Happy Birthday to your mom and closest friends. Don’t just text. When you start writing full sentences, you can write letters to your friends, Grandma and Grandpa, aunts and uncles, and cousins. And thank you notes are always nicer when they are handwritten and with drawings.
- Learn from your friends. Right now, someone might run faster, draw better or cut paper closer to the line. That’s okay. It’s not a competition. If you think about each person you meet as someone you can learn from, you might end up the smartest person in the room. Think of your friends as being on your team. If they aren’t making you a better person, they’re not a great friend.
- Laugh. Laugh at yourself, when you make mistakes. Laugh with friends over something silly.
- Don’t do things just to get credit – do them to enjoy the work. Your parents and teachers are full of praise. Later, when you get that Facebook and Twitter account, the world will send you simple "Likes" when you walk into a restaurant or have a funny thought. But don’t just do good things for praise. Do good things to make yourself happy or to help others. It’s only your praise that counts.
- Put kindness back into the world. You are starting to develop who you are and what you are putting back into this world. It’s not just about taking. It’s about giving. So make a practice of doing something kind every day. It can start as early as Kindergarten.
And until you have your first day in your very exciting new elementary school, I wish you a wonderful summer of playtime and laughter. I wish you a life that is always as fun and thrilling as Kindergarten.
Tell me parents, what words of wisdom to you have for today’s graduates – college or preschool?