Graduation Opening Remarks

This is the point in proceedings when the person holding my office is expected to offer some pearls of wisdom, especially perhaps for the graduating class to cherish in their bosoms as they brave the slings and arrows of the adult world that looms before them. I am going to try, as far as possible, to avoid that.

Interesting word-  Wisdom. The first half comes from the word “wise”, of course, whose root is the Proto- Indo European word, “Weid” meaning, “To see”.  We are taught that most of our English words come from Latin or Greek, but in actual fact very many have their origins in the pre-Sanskrit languages of the Middle and Far East. Why my English teachers decided to hide this fact from me, is beyond comprehension because so often, as here, knowing the full picture adds to and refines our understanding. Wisdom being about “seeing” makes so much sense to me now that I consider it. Wise people: see more; see things differently; see things sooner; see deeper; see things and people for what, and who, they really are; see further and wider into the future consequences of current decisions and actions.

And the suffix is interesting too….-dom. It is not all that common. It is used to turn the adjective “wise” into a noun and implies a sense of being in a particular state of being…in this case being wise. Other examples include “freedom”, “kingdom” and “martyrdom” but, as I said, they are relatively few in number. Why not “wiseness”? It might help to know that the origins of –dom are the same as those for “doom” having to do with a statute, law or judgement; in other words, something powerful, absolute- something beyond question and irrevocable. “Wiseness”, if the word existed, would suggest to me a quality that one may attain or exhibit from time to time but “wisdom” is a state of being- both powerful and lasting.

Like I said, I want to try to avoid attempting to shower you with so-called wisdom and advice (same word root, by the way) regarding the way forward for you but I do have a favorite quotation from the philosopher Bertrand Russell to share with you. He said:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

There is, if you will pardon the pun, much wisdom here. As you go on into life after KISU, to University and beyond, beware of people who seem very sure of themselves and even more so of those who are very sure of their beliefs, especially with regard to what is right and what is wrong. And beware of falling into the same trap yourselves. I trust and believe that your years at KISU will have prepared you well in this second regard.

In Russell’s aphorism, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking he means wiser people are at all weak or vacillating. What he means is that the wise woman or man, is constantly asking questions, inquiring into the reasons for things and weighing up the consequences of decisions and actions. I don’t want you to be paralyzed by this questioning; in the language of the IB learner profile, I want you to carry on being risk-takers but I also want you to be balanced, open-minded and principled.

Wisdom has been personified in many religious and philosophical texts, and you ladies will be delighted to hear, frequently as a righteous woman. In the Book of Proverbs for instance:

“Wisdom is radiant and unfading, she is easily discerned by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.

 She is quick to make herself known to those who desire her.

He who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for he will find her sitting at his gates.

To fix one's thought on her is perfect understanding, and he who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought.

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for learning, and concern for learning is love of her, “

This same image is alluded to in the poem “A Kindly Spirit, Radiant and Unfading”:

Her simple beauty’s guilelessly alluring,

Dressed modestly, she moves with artless grace,

Ephemeral, still radiant and unfading

As th’ Eternal Light reflected in her face.

“Simple”, “guileless”, “modest”, “graceful”- these are good attributes to aspire to, I think.

You know, I hope and trust that the IB Diploma results you achieve will carry us as a school yet further beyond the world average, building on our successes in previous years and, more importantly, carry you onwards to the dreams you have cherished these past two years especially. And they may well be a reflection of your intelligence, and I sincerely hope they will be a fair reflection of your diligence, even your resilience, as well as a testament to the skill, patience and dedication of your teachers. But they will not necessarily be an especially good measure of your wisdom.

Nevertheless, you are undoubtedly wiser than when you joined us. And we, in partnership with your parents, have worked hard at that. Some of the development has been through your classroom experiences, especially in English of course! But much of it has taken place elsewhere, on the sports field, for example, on an outdoor education trip or at a CAS experience; perhaps it was on this very stage. Perhaps it was the trouble someone took not just to sanction you for your mistakes but to help you learn from them and empathize with those they may have hurt. Perhaps it was through the values we choose to stand for and promote as a school and the language we use consistently and passionately to espouse them. Perhaps it was that many of those values are also shared by your parents, who have sacrificed so much over the years to ensure that you were surrounded by them.

It may be some years yet before you reach the state of wisdom; I, for one, am still trying, but it is a worthwhile journey, the only journey and I commend it to you; your time at KISU has prepared you well for it.

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