Friday, June 15, 2012

Dream big, work hard, be worthy of your advantages

My daughter graduated last week and I liked the fact that in his speech her high school principal stressed that success was not measured simply in academic achievement, but also in being an all-round, balanced student.  Recognition was given to playing on the sports teams, to students who had gained the international award and those who had been involved in service to others.  I sat in the theatre for over 2 hours listening to speeches and waiting to feel - something.  Inspired, proud, sad perhaps now that Rachel is leaving school and setting off for university.  I've sat through over 20 such graduations before including my son's - and this could well be my last one.  I wanted this to be special.  But actually it wasn't.  I felt incredibly sad when I heard some of the limited ambitions of the graduates and their future dreams ("I want to sit on a beach drinking cocktails",  "I want a job where I don't have to work hard but where I can earn lots of money." etc).  After 15 years of education I would have hoped for better from them.  There were a few that were inspiring (one student wanted to set up a rugby club in a developing country, one said he wanted to have a happy family, one aims to be a doctor, another a marine biologist and so on).  But in general I was uninspired.  So much was about what they could get, not what they could give.  I searched hard in the speech the students made to find any reference at all, no matter how small, to how they were exhibiting the attributes of the learner profile, of international mindedness - after all this is the aim of the IB programmes - but much of what I heard was trite and ironic and incredibly shallow.

Then on Twitter I found another commencement address, this one from Wellesley College where the students were told they were not "special", that the world didn't owe them a living - that a good life is an achievement and not something that just falls into your lap.  That the purpose of education is not for material advantage but for "the exhilaration of learning".  That you should do the things you do because you love them and know that they are important, not because you hope for material advance or status.  That you should not focus on what good things will come to you, but on what good you can do for others.  This speech was about character and about the need for action.  It was about not waiting for inspiration and passion to find you, but accepting the challenge and going out and finding it for yourself.

Having listened to a number of speeches over the past couple of years when we have been told we are "one of the best" international schools, it was refreshing to hear that this phrase defies logic.  There can only be one best - and this accolade is vague and unverifiable.  You are either the best or you are not.  It's not something that I am really interested in, either as a parent or as a teacher.  Our daughter  recognizes that she has benefitted tremendously from her international education - even though for her it has been hard to move around.  In particular her 4 years in Thailand have shaped the person that she is today.  I'm hoping that the time she will spend in India before going to university will be another such character-building experience for her.

I saw the above graphic on Facebook this week too - posted by one of my friends.  Another good reminder of what the true purpose of education is:  critical thinking, challenge, compassion, morality and wisdom.  You can't measure "the best" in these, you can't give out awards for them, but as a mother I'm hoping that she has developed these in full measure.  I have done my best to model for her that trying to be someone else is a waste of the person you are: you have to be true to your core values and not compromise yourself to fit in with the people around you, if others don't accept you that's ok, you are not trying to please everyone.  I want her to know that giving up doesn't mean you're weak - sometimes it means you are strong enough and smart enough to let go.  (Thanks to Marc and Angel for their inspirational thoughts and writing that led me to accept the truth of that one).

We're moving on, we're letting go.  The countdown is on.  Just one more week.  We're dreaming big, we're working hard, we hope we're worthy of all that life has bestowed on us.


  1. Hi Maggie,

    I stumbled across your site as I had my morning surf of the web. I was looking around and following inspirational quotes. I had clicked on Nelson Mandela's quote: 'There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living' and decided I wanted to use it on my FB page, but wanted a different background. I therefore clicked my way through to google images and lo and behold I found the quote by Chris Hedges you have used on your page. I was so intrigued by this quote, and it resonated with me so strongly, that I decided to follow it home. It brought me to your page and this blog.

    As someone who has been in the education system for last 18 years in the UK, I found myself nodding and agreeing with your sentiments. I am actually moving away from the system and moving towards working for myself. This isn't because I don't like teaching, actually I love it! However, the system of education is one I can no longer be a part of, and it is for the very reasons stated in Chris Hedges quote.

    I am now re-casting my stone and beginning a venture where I get to work with women, teaching personal development and skills towards an entrepreneurial life. Since beginning this new journey I have realised how much I had become affected by the education system I had been working in. I had led a life where I hid, where I kept small and where my voice was muted. And I don't think my experience is in the minority.

    While in a system, most find themselves playing by the rules, even when they have a strong sense that something is not right. It is hard to change from within. By leaving I have begun to release the chains that were tying me down. I also know that now I can work towards a future where the education system that exists currently can be reviewed and changed. My part in that journey is working with the women of today and giving them a voice and allowing them to live the life they are capable of. I do this by starting with me. I cast my stone into the pond and watch it's ripples.

    Thank you for your blog. I am now going to continue my morning's surf and adventure onwards. I like the look of your link to 'Marc and Angel Hack Life'. The water's are stirring from the new stones being thrown, and when the mud settles the pond (world) will look entirely different.

    1. Hi Jules,
      Thanks for taking the time today to respond to this post. I wrote this one week before I left the school where I was working in Switzerland, a deeply unsatisfying experience for me. I knew almost as soon as I started there that I needed to get out as soon as possible, but with a 16 year old daughter working towards her International Baccalaureate it took a couple of years to finally move on, as I couldn't drag her away in the middle of her courses. I have now spent the last 2 years working at a school in India which has been an experience that inspires me every single day. I am so glad I gave up the "safe but boring job and the pension" in a place where I was undervalued and deliberately held back from moving forward, and moved to a place where it seems the possibilities are endless and where the attitude is very much "can-do". I wish you luck in your new ventures - you are absolutely right not to settle for a life less than what you know you are truly capable of. Three years ago I would never have predicted that I would be living in India, but now here I am, the sun is shining and the colours are bright and it just took a little courage to say "No, I don't want, that" to my old life. The book that really helped to to make that jump was Linchpin by Seth Godin. If you haven't read it I would recommend it.