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June 3, 2000

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Commencement means "beginning," as 85% of all American Commencement Ceremonies like to mention somewhere in their text. It represents the new beginning the graduating class is about to undergo, as they step out of their safe roles that they have walked in for the first eighteen years of their life and begin anew as young citizens and adults.

It is, for the nineteenth year in a row, a beautiful day for Commencement. The Headmaster will take credit, as he does each year. This is my third Brewster Academy Commencement. The third time I stand up before the collected school and parents and give out the Grace Murray Hopper Book Prize for achievement in Computer Science. The third time I robe with the rest and participate in the pomp and ceremony of Commencement not as a graduate nor as a band or audience member, but as one of the hallowed children of Academe. I step forward as the Faculty, Staff and Administration do, our role ceremonial on this day of ceremony.

And that's what Commencement really is, for these students. A ritual. A ceremony the student body undergoes, where the alchemical change takes place, and students become alumni. In the days to come, the Class of the Year 2000 will feel stranger and stranger, as they realize their place in society has inexorably changed. Their place in the Academy changes instantly, of course. They are congratulated and embraced upon their leaving, and then we feed them and are cheerful with them, but almost immediately the attitudes change. We are no longer responsible for them, and they are no longer responsible to us. They are alumni, to be courted for fundraising drives but not to be cajoled. And even as they taste the first fruit of freedom granted to them, so do they also lose the refuge of the Academy and her Faculty.

Very few of them will realize that, leaving Brewster Academy today after Commencement. And as the summer passes, their thoughts will be far away. But as they end up in College in the Fall, they will realize how passionately their teachers at Brewster cared about their performance and their progression. They will realize how carefully their Dorm Parents made sure they were safe and sound at night. They will understand how hard the Deans of Students and Community Living worked for them. And despite themselves, most of them will miss it, at least for a while.

And then? They'll get over it, of course. And they'll go on to succeed and fail at many things throughout the rest of their lives. Brewster will become remote to them, and they will become remote to Brewster. It's the way of such things. I realize sitting here in the year 2000, fourteen years after my own graduation in 1986, that this year's graduating class was four years old when I marched with my own Class, and that it would be a rare teacher at Community High School in Fort Kent, Maine that remembered who I was and what I did at that school. The school is far removed from me and my works now, and our Class is remembered mostly by ourselves.

Commencement was the beginning of our walk into the real world, and it has taken us far afield. Today, I can't say for certain what most of the students who I lived, breathed, lusted, cried and laughed with for thirteen of the first eighteen years of my life are doing. The one thing I'm sure of is we're all living in that real world, with real world pains and real world concerns. And if we sometimes think back of the fun and the work of high school, it's with the fondness that we remember childhood and childhood games. It seems unreal to us, and listening to Commencements these days we find ourselves struck by the naiveté of the scene. As we speak about the next generation taking the torch from the last and proudly moving forward to claim the world as theirs, we wonder about the torch handed to us, and perhaps for a moment feel cynical. "New beginning" indeed. It's just the same-old same-old, and this class will be just like all the others.

But the thoughts are fleeting. Because it's not naiveté that drives Commencement. It's optimism. It's hope. It's a hope for the future, represented by the young men and women we have graduated from their childhood, holding the tools we have tried so hard to give them as they move on into life.

Now, I need to practice my speech and get some caffeine. Time waits for no man, after all. And we need to hurry up and begin a hundred lives today.

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