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A Moment of Reflection: 8th Grade Graduation Speeches

A Moment of Reflection: 8th Grade Graduation Speeches
Joe Harvey, Head of School

If you were tasked to come up with a symbol to capture your experience at Mark Day School, what would it be? Explain. Was there a reading or an assignment that changed the way you look at yourself or the world around you? What is an obstacle or challenge you faced, and how did you tackle it? What will you take with you beyond Mark Day? As you prepare to graduate, consider this: Who were you before you started school? Who are you now? Who do you want to be? 

As I write, our 8th graders are in the process of preparing their personal statements for graduation. The questions above are just a few of the many different prompts that English teacher Dana Kirk has students respond to; the goal is not to write a speech that answers every question, but rather to find a prompt that unlocks something--one thing, really--that each graduate wants to share. When we introduce the unit, I talk about the occasion and the audience--in particular, that each 8th grader will be speaking to parents and guardians, family members, teachers, and friends who love them, who are proud of them, and who have worked and often sacrificed in meaningful ways to support them as they have moved toward graduation day. In one of the sections, an 8th grader asked me if I had a favorite speech. It was a good question! My son, Jed, graduated from Mark Day, so of course that is a speech and a moment I treasure. But my answer--and it includes Jed’s personal statement--was that I have many favorites, and that they happen when graduating 8th graders seize that opportunity to share something that matters to them, to share who they really are with the audience. It is about following the advice of “more you!”--taking the opportunity to share something that fits the occasion, that considers your audience, and most of all reflects something of yourself. 

When I think back over the 11 graduation ceremonies that I have experienced to date at Mark Day, many moments come to mind. I remember Dylan, now an Olympian(!), fainting and tumbling over the front row at my very first Mark Day graduation in 2012! Several years later, I remember hustling across the stage to support another 8th grader about to do the same thing--he and I can both thank Dylan for my recognizing what was happening and stopping it before it did! (We also no longer have 8th graders stand for so long during the ceremony!) I remember a graduate who used the personal statement to complete their Kindergarten New Year’s Resolution--which they had never quite been able to say at the microphone nine years earlier. I remember a student comparing Mark Day to Hogwarts, and the love she expressed for the school she saw as magical--despite not quite being Hogwarts. I remember a graduate describing the long journey she took each day across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and the challenges and, eventually, joys in finding her one true self as she moved between her two worlds. I remember a graduate telling us that she always had genius inside of her, but that it took Mark Day teachers to convince her to dig it out and to let it shine.

Before I arrived at Mark Day, a parent of an 8th grader told me that he had attended every graduation from the time his child was a Kindergartner, describing it as a meaningful way to get to know the school. I could not agree more. Every year, every speech offers something particular, and something very special. We are so fortunate to have such remarkable young people to celebrate, and to have the great gift of their willingness--eagerness, really--to share themselves with us. I cannot wait to hear this year’s graduates on June 15th. Please join us!

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  • Head of School
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  • Joseph Harvey
  • Speech writing
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  • graduation reflection
  • joe harvey
  • mark day school
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  • middle school graduation