Last weekend a busy one for me and all at NCSSM. We held our 2011 Commencement ceremonies on Saturday and then on Sunday, we held commencement ceremonies for our On-line students. My orchestra performed an awards ceremony on Thursday, Commencement on Saturday and then I played solo violin for the ceremonies on Sunday. I had a great deal of time at these events to think about the commencement season and what it means to me today. I realized that this year represented my 25th year of commencement exercises for students. My first was in 1987 in Palmyra, PA.
Over the years, I believe that my perspective on commencement and its relevance to my life has changed drastically. Back in 1987, it represented the end of a first year of teaching and an opportunity to regroup and prepare for the next school year. I had graduate work to attend to and a bunch of things to figure out about teaching. As the 1980's progressed and into the 1990's, commencement came to represent the beginning of the summer and opportunities for windsurfing, beach trips, and camping. It was essentially the beginning of vacation. Later in the 1990's it came to represent closure. An opportunity to close the door on one year and prepare to, all too quickly, open the door on another. As the years have moved on, each has had its own significance, and over the years one starts to look a great deal like another.
One of the great challenges for a teacher of high school age students is to remember that each commencement is the most important one to the students in that class. They are proud of their accomplishments, excited for the challenges that lie ahead, and certainly, a bit apprehensive about the changes that are about to come in their life. I remember the magnitude of the event in my own life and I truly try, each year, to honor that crossroad and celebrate with my students both in my actions and in my thoughts. In doing so, I do feel that each commencement, for me, has been a bit more meaningful.
I want to take a minute today to share what commencement means to me this year. I have found in my reflection over the past week that I really want to be better. I want to be a better teacher. I want to be more scholarly. I want to plan more exciting lessons and be more inspiring. I want to be a better musical authority on the repertoire that I select for the various orchestras that I conduct. I want to be a better father, husband, colleague, mentor, and professional. There have been days over the years that I thought I had this stuff pretty much figured out. I have been teaching orchestra for a long time and have felt like I knew what I was doing. It seems the longer I do it, the more I realize how much I have to learn. I have come to realize that I can always be more "present," more in the moment. I can prepare more effectively. I can study more deeply. I can participate more fully in all of the activities that are necessary to success in this life. I have come to understand over the years that the only way that one can stay viable is to stay unsatisfied. I want more out of myself. I want to be ever-developing as a person, scholar, and musician. The only way to make this happen is through action. I have to continue to study, listen, learn, reflect, and implement new ideas into all that I do.
For my dear students in the class of 2011, (and all other classes that have gone before and will come in the future) I challenge you to continue to desire to improve. We can always do a little bit more, be a little bit better. I know that I haven't achieved all that I can yet. I promise that I will keep trying to get it right. I will keep working to achieve the little goals. For meeting the little goals leads to attaining the big ones! I challenge you to do the same.
To the class of 2011: I wish you all great success in college and in all that you endeavor in life. It had been a pleasure to be a small part of your life at NCSSM. You have enriched mine.