The Farewell Address

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Usually by the last day of school, the students have checked out and just waltz in to collect their report cards. You would think they would be satisfied with checking their grades online in 2017 but that would ruin their perfect attendance so they all come, especially the freshman. By June 28th there isn’t much teaching to do so many students spend their day sitting in a hot classroom staring at their smart phones. So a few years ago I decided I would make their trek into school worthwhile – I give them a farewell address.

The farewell address has become the highlight of my course. Students don’t expect to hear anything from their teachers on the last day which is why I highly recommend
sending them off feeling motivated for the summer. I always include meaningful quotes as I reflect on the close of the year.  I share tidbits about how I became a teacher.  I always try to explain to students that they don’t need to know who they will become as adults at 16 ( a valuable message for many of them to hear). I’ll share only part with you so not to bore you with the whole 35 minute speech. I highly recommend giving it a chance in your classrooms!

Here it is:


“Ladies and gentlemen of US History –

I welcome you to this farewell address today. First, I would like to celebrate the year we have had together. Think about how far you have come this year.

Way back in September you entered the class by introducing yourself with a meme. From there you participated in Constitutional Conventions, Socratic Seminars, debates, mannequin challenges. You have spilled the teasang and danced, made pop up cards, told comedic jokes, painted murals, speed networked, sold an invention in the shark tank, crafted your own power point presentations, enjoyed the pumpkin and cookie challenges, and even visited the 9/11 memorial. Whew – It has been no ordinary junior year.

I welcome you here today not only to reflect upon what an incredible year it has been, and all that you have accomplished this year in school, but also to encourage you to think about the future.

The future. A black abyss far away for many of you. Well I have a sneak peak for you. It is a world without thesis statements. And Cornell note-taking outlines. And review sheets and AP tests. And SATs. And college applications. A world where you embark upon a limitless sea of potential. Where you get to discover who you are and maybe who you aren’t. But today at 16 or 17 know that you truly have limitless potential. The truth is the world that we’re living in – the one outside of high school and of college – is one filled with expectations from everyone. Parents, friends, keeping up with the Jones’s. Recessions. Joblessness. Student loans. Responsibilities. Bills. Laundry. Jobs. Marriage. Babies! But I truly believe with an optimistic attitude, even in the worst conditions, and in the worst moments, there is always a potential to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

With this in mind I have compiled a few words of advice for you from many different sources. I hope this will give you some inspiration (for some of you it’s going to be perspiration) as you move on to senior year.

Instead of pursuing one theme that might exclude many people, I hope to be diverse and leave a sentence or two with you that might be useful. All these thoughts come under the general heading of “what I know now that I wish I’d known then.”

I’ll start with Shakespeare- to thine own self be true.

Ever since I was four I knew I wanted to be a teacher. In elementary school I used to steal chalk from my teachers chalkboard. I begged my parents to buy me a chalkboard of my own, and when they did, I kept stealing chalk from school. I would run home everyday, put out four chairs, one for my  sister, my 80 year old grandmother who lived across the hall , and one for my mom and dad. I would force them to sit down and listen to me teach. I was 4 or 5 at the time. I don’t remember what I was “teaching” my family but I kept “chalk and talking” until family members would start to cover their ears, or fall asleep. For years I would force everyone who visited my house to sit down in my “classroom” and learn a lesson. My sister would always get annoyed and she would yell at me “You’re going to be the meanest, worst teacher in the world!” ( I guess she was right.)

But I knew, since I was four, that teaching was going to be my destiny. But along the way I and the people around me started to find faults in my career path.

When I got to middle and high school my teachers told me, you should be a lawyer, be an economist. Why would you be a teacher? You’ll make no money. So I started to think things over and began to question my career path as the years went on.  But I made the best of it. I was a total nerd in high school, I participated in everything, but in my classrooms I never felt truly comfortable. We never debated, we never learned from a PowerPoint, or a clip from Youtube, we sat and listened to the teacher chalk and talk non stop for the whole year. I was bored. I knew that I would do it differently when I became a teacher.

I lost my teaching ambitions for a few years after college. I was busy pursuing what everyone else around me thought I should do. But I wish someone had told me then what Steve Jobs once said…

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition … Stay hungry, Stay foolish.” -Steve Jobs

So I went back to grad school, quit my job, even there was a teaching hiring freeze and no schools were hiring teachers. I had to support myself in my apartment but as Lisa Kudrow shared “I was weirdly confident…for no reason at all — but because this didn’t exactly feel like it was a my own choice as much as it was that I was succumbing to a compulsion. I didn’t sit and analyze what led me to this point, whether it was divine intervention, or a lapse in judgment of my sanity, I just kept listening to my inner voice. By the way, it’s always a good move to listen to that inner voice…if it doesn’t lead to a crime.”

So during the summer I applied to a variety of positions. But there was still a freeze. And then two days before school started in September, the day of Hurricane Irene, I got a phone call that the hiring freeze has been lifted for 24 hours, and they would like to interview me for a position. So I ran, and interviewed and the rest as they say… is history. But if this is not your story. And you are thinking, this sounds great but I don’t feel like this at all, I say…

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”  Baz Luhrmann – The Sunscreen Song “Everybody’s Free to wear sunscreen”

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I’ll leave you with that.

Have you tried giving a farewell address to your students? I’d love to hear your experiences as well.

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