Monday, June 18, 2012

Message to Our 2012 High School Graduates

By Sam Bahour

At the outset, I extend my respect and thanks to the teaching staff and administration staff of Palestine’s school system. Teachers and their support staff are the wheels and gears that produce a society’s human capacity to face today’s challenges. We should hold our educators in much higher regard than we hold up the superficial role models being force fed to us by today’s mass media.

Also, congratulations to all the parents of our graduates, especially the mothers who are our society’s unsung heroines.

Of course, my sincere congratulations to each and every one of our Class of 2012 graduates. You are the reason this message was written. Each of you is a shining star. As you pick-up your diploma you are formally entering a new threshold of life.

Many may believe that today marks the key milestone in your life’s journey. They are wrong. There is no one key milestone; today merely marks one important day of many.

Your life is like a train and it has already left the station long ago. This train does not stop for anything, it simply changes tracks.

Your train will shift tracks much more often after you leave this hall. With each shift of tracks your focus will readjust.

As you come to the end of the track of your secondary education and enter onto the track of higher education or vocational training you may feel a bump, but the train does not stop.

You will need to choose a discipline to guide your career. I know that this is a hard choice, especially since our education system does not give you the full ability to make your own choice, but do not worry. Education is not locked up behind the walls of your university. Formal education teaches you how to learn, but learning is an action you can do wherever you are. The world is literally at your fingertips; never let anyone limit your ability to learn to a classroom.

To date, you have been spoon-fed knowledge, at times, more willingly than others. From this day onward it is totally your choice if you decide to continue to acquire knowledge or not. Regardless, your train will keep moving.

As your train enters onto the tracks of employment or family life you will feel more bumps. These are the real bumps, like the speed bumps and potholes in our streets; they come with little warning and no signs. If you are prepared, these bumps will be manageable. Prepared or not, one thing is for sure, your train will keep on moving.

More important than your train’s inevitable movement is who and what you will take for the ride.

Allow me to stretch the train analogy one step further. For trains to stay on the tracks they have four wheels, each made of steel.

Wheel #1 is your family – Today you are in the limelight. Today is your day, but you would not have reached this point if it were not for the love and care of your family. Someone registered you to attend school, someone paid for your education, someone made you sandwiches for lunch every day, someone did your laundry, someone made sure you did your homework, and that someone made sure you look your best today. Give back to your family; you owe them more than you will ever be able to pay back.

Wheel #2 is your community – The best of families do not exist in a vacuum. An old African proverb says: it takes a village to raise a child. The second you entered this world the community around you molded your character. You can chose to be on the receiving end of your community’s influence, or, you can choose to be one of the active community members that define the community you live in. As Palestinians, community is key; it is what has held us together until today. Our sense of community has allowed us to uphold our just struggle for freedom. Without community we become dull human beings, rolling along in our empty train.

Wheel #3 is your health – Without health all else means very little. Health comes in many packages, first is your physical health. Stay fit, move, and be active. For those of you who think spending hours-on-end at the coffee shop smoking an arghela is cool, call me one day and I’ll walk with you through the cemetery to show you where all the other cool smokers are resting. In addition to your physical health is your mental and spiritual health. Keep your mind and heart stimulated. Don’t become numb smart phone dummies or satellite TV couch potatoes. Instead, read, interact on the human level, not only in chat rooms, and then, read some more. If you are not reading a new book every month, your train is being passed up.

Wheel #4 is your set of values – You, and only you, will decide what your set of values will be. Remember, if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. As you enter this new stage of your life, define what you stand for. Don’t accept mediocre, mashy al hal, when you know you can do better, does not create excellence, ma’alaesh, when you see something that is wrong, does not promote continued improvement, Inshallah, when you have no intention to act, is better not said. Set your values high, make them known, and continuously adjust them as you learn more of the challenges of living in the 21st century.

Finally, never, never, never allow your train to derail. Oil each and every wheel, each and every day.

Again, I salute each of you and thank you for giving me the chance to participate with you on this joyous day.


This was given as the keynote speech at the American School of Palestine 2012 Graduation Ceremony, May 26, 2012, Best Eastern Hotel