Here's Trudi's graduation speech, addressing graduates
of the American School Of Grenoble - Summer 2009
Rites of passage
We have too few rites of passage ! Too few ways of honouring and celebrating - too few ways of expressing movement and change - awareness of what has been, pride for what is now and hope for what will be.
Perhaps the most important, most prevalent rite of passage retained across the cultures and continents of our times - whatever the ritual, whatever the ceremony, whatever the means of honouring and celebrating - would be that which marks the transition to adulthood.
These young adults are celebrated today - each very different from the other - each aware of leaving behind what has been, proud to be standing at this milestone today, embarking on a new voyage - their sails filled with hope - their hope and ours !
And this particular rite of passage into adulthood says you've completed a `beeg' chapter - around twelve / thirteen years of formal education. Starting with the learning of reading and writing and 'rithmetic, the systems that form the grid of our definition of effective functioning in this world - required that of you.
You have completed that `beeg' piece of the journey and you're embarking on the next piece as young adults!
Young adults with diplomas now that say you qualify to move on ....
Adult yes - but how wonderful to be a `young' adult - a starting out one - a fresh one where the world is your oyster - everything is possible - and it's absolutely appropriate to dream!
It is indeed most appropriate as a young adult to believe that everything is possible - justified too here though because what you do have now is a concrete milestone in place - something very real that marks this spot - your graduation is both a symbol of completion and of a new beginning.
And of course everything is possible.... as long as the right ingredients are thrown in - the right elements are there.
There is no guarantee of an easy life
...only a rich and full one - if we provide the ingredients - the fundamental elements with which we build our story.
the investment of energy
faith in oneself
and faith in what life has to offer
And so we invest the energy - in the words of Mel Brooks...
"Look, I don't want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you're alive you've got to flap your arms and legs, you've got to jump around a lot, for life is the very opposite of death, and therefore you must at very least think noisily and colorfully, or you're not alive. "
That investment of energy when we get to live a piece of our lives in `another' country - a `different' one from our county of origin, a different one from the one our parents have called `home' - happens almost by default.
We are called upon to draw very deeply on our resources.
How very much more so however, for those who pursue their studies within such a context. We, `established' rather than `young' adults can often continue to live a large part of our lives in a `new' country, still within the bubble of our own culture, our own ideas, the old patterns and habits that work for us.
Our children do not have that choice of refuge.
We throw them in at the deep end.
They spend most of their waking hours in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual pool we cannot begin to imagine the depth of.
We throw them in at the deep end and we expect them not only to bob to the surface - but to swim, even to swim `butterfly' - and they do!
Their resilience keeps them afloat. They juggle their experiences of home, school and society, and they manage to cope with the dual, often multi-cultural realities that define their lives.
When this occurs during adolescence - as it has done for our graduates, the balancing act becomes even more complex because it happens just when these young adults are forging their own value systems. Their own age-group, their peers, are offering building material here, which is a lot more interesting and attractive than parental or educative influences and norms have been. Horizons widen, frontiers are there to be pushed outwards.
Their values and ideals will not be a copy of ours - they will have been fed by the values we have conveyed, but they'll be different -
and they'll be more - a good strong mix of what is encountered and experienced - of their own peer group values - of other inspiring influences too - and of course of their own spirit.
And how appropriate, how wonderful ....
...that this is symptomatic of the fact that they will develop and modify what has been, effect change and move forward - not only for themselves, but as we comfortably and self-comfortingly like to think - on our behalf too!
Thank-you for reminding us, for shaking us up a little when we forget that life is not about staying in one place - it is about constant movement and curiosity.
As graduates of this school, in this context, in this country - you carry the inherent knowledge that you have come through something difficult, not defined by the usual rules that would apply to growing up in one place in one neighbourhood, the usual confines of convention. You're rather special - rather extraordinary.
Know that - know also that anything that life will throw in your path in the future is made less challenging by that very fact - that you know, you have confronted first hand - and have come through - the NOT ordinary - the NOT easy. You have kept your balance between cultures - and you haven't fallen down .
Hooman Sharifi, a Norwegian/Iranian choreographer I admire, speaks of this balance, as the inspiration for his work called - "Trans-late" performed in Europe during 2007 .
"This constant presence of not belonging,
constant presence of connecting and disconnection,
constant presence of having two realities present ....
I am interested in those who are fighting to keep the two realities alive
and live in these contradicting realities.
I am interested in those who, just by their being and doing
confront themselves and others with this matter of fact,
yes, with this constant presence of different realities.
I am interested in not choosing this or that reality
because I can choose this, that ... and in between."
Research shows more and more that those who grow up interacting in more than one cultural reality - do not end up belonging nowhere - they end up belonging everywhere. Citizens of the world.
So the first ingredient - Investment of Energy.
The next - Faith in Oneself. And why not ? Why not shine?
As a South African I always have to quote the great man of this epoch - Nelson Mandela - although this part of his inauguration speech as president, was in fact written by the author Marianne Williamson
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. "
You have everything you need for the journey of life.
And we `established' adults, We need to trust ourselves too !
We have given our children what we can - the harbour to sail from,
and anchors to return to.
Their education here - is also a map they can depend on.
We need to trust these young people.
Even when the pendulum sometimes swings out so far that we become anxious and wobbly ourselves. It will swing back again - things will `normalize' although not necessarily back to within our old frames of reference - perhaps `refreshed' a little.
Young adults have a great capacity to take and use what we have given them, what they have learned, what they have experienced.
They will bend and shape and mould all of that into their own way forward, their own path.
They need to know that we believe in life and what it has to offer.
They need to know that we believe in ourselves, that we think we've been competent parents, competent teachers.
But mostly that we believe in them and who they are.
And we need to let them go.
The voyage these young adults are embarking on is their voyage.
Kahil Gibran ...
"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. "
And of course we let them go ... and at the same time we're right there with the safety net - while they're building their own dream, their own story and while their own safety net is not quite fully woven yet.
Simon and Garfunkel - Bridge over troubled water
"Sail on silver one - sail on by - your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way - see how they shine
If you need a friend - I'm sailing right behind - like a bridge over
troubled water" ... and we'll focus on the bridge and being there for our `young adults' who are starting on off on a new path.
Setting out on a path is about choice.
You choose - you choose the direction - you choose the path
and a path starts somewhere.
(mostly it's the piece just around our own feet)
It is appropriate to choose a direction.
Harry Emerson Fosdick
"He who chooses the beginning of a road, chooses the place it leads to."
and Robert Frost
"Two roads diverged in a woods. And I ... I took the one less travelled by...and that has made all the difference. "
Doubts and dead ends and mistakes all have their place along our paths.
When we've chosen a direction - doubts are appropriate.
"Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom."
When we've chosen a direction - dead ends are quite possible.
But there's no rule that says you can't turn back,
that you can't take another way because you've found that this one doesn't go anywhere any more.
When we've chosen a direction - mistakes are inevitable.
"The only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas. "
Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.
Art is knowing which ones to keep.
The last ingredient that makes `everything' possible is faith in life.
Those who commit themselves to education must have that faith.
The psychologist/author Haim Ginot says ...
"Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times they accomplish this impossible task. "
and Dan Rather (CBS journalist)
"The dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth. "
But today the story becomes your own story - the dream becomes your own dream. There will still be teachers, but in some part you get to choose them yourself now.
Plant many seeds, some of them will grow.
You may at some time have been fortunate enough to cross paths with an exemplary person - the sort of person that is a light-house to us .
I know I have - a wonderful man who has transcended so many obstacles to carve out a life that makes sense to himself, a life built on his dreams, despite everything that so obviously stood in the way.
He says his father, a humble man of the land, of very modest resources, always said - more as a warning than a blessing....
"Be careful of your dreams - they may come true! "
Being careful of your dreams is perhaps choosing them mindfully, choosing them well - because you know you would very much like them come to fruition - you very much want them to enter the realm of possible!
The Zulu people have a greeting for someone embarking on a journey .
They say `Hamba Kahle' Go well !
It means go safely, without danger and may good befall you, but it also means go proudly, carrying with you all the strength of those who have travelled this road before you, carrying with you all the strength of those whose hearts travel with you, carrying with you all your own strength .
`Hamba kahle!' Go well !
Trudi Penkler - Active Adaptation Counselling
20th June 2009 - American School of Grenoble Graduation Ceremony