Sunday, January 25, 2009

2008 Commencement Remarks

The following are remarks I delivered at the graduation ceremony of Mount Carmel School's Class of 2008.
Tonight, my heart breaks into 36 fragile pieces, all of them dressed in blue, sitting right here in these front row pews.

Tonight, my dear Seniors, I face the moment that I’ve feared for so long: the moment that we must say goodbye.

You know, during all my years in education, I’ve been warned so many times by so any people that I shouldn’t get too close to students. And throughout the past year, I’ve been criticized so many times by so many people that I’ve gotten too close to you.

But you know what? Despite all those warnings and all that criticism, I don’t regret a thing.

I am so glad that I had the chance to get to know each and everyone of you. You have enriched my life more than you’ll ever know. Whether in the classroom, on the stage, in court, or on the court, you have given my life meaning and purpose.

I know it is expected that these commencement speeches should inform, persuade, or even inspire students with words of advice and wisdom.

But, tonight, I choose to do neither of these things, because all I want to do is express how I feel about you, the Class of 2008.

I also know that our public speakers have been chastised for being too emotional. But I don’t care. In fact, I believe that the main problem we all have today is a lack of emotion. We make cold decisions without considering our emotions and the emotions of others. If anything, we need to inject more compassion and empathy and love into our public discourse. In other words, we need emotion.

Besides, any decent scholar of rhetoric knows that Aristotle argued that every good speech must have logos, ethos, and pathos: logic, credibility, and emotional appeal.

So, tonight, I make an emotional appeal to you, my dear Seniors, to listen to these last words I share with you. And I ask you to forgive me if I do, in fact, get a little emotional.

While tonight’s commencement speaker, Janet King, was preparing for her speech, she asked me what makes this class special.

That’s a hard question.

Is it that this class has succeeded at so much: Drama, Basketball, NFL, Mock Trial, and AG Cup? Is it that this class has a bright future: Prestigious colleges, the military, even flight school? Is it that this class always McGyver’s a win: Pep Rallies, Christmas Shows, and even your own graduation? Is it that this class brings a smile to your face with funny jokes about molasses, games like Jeopardy, and movies like Pedro’s Anthem, The Great Ratzby, The Vicente Code, and Richardstein? Is it that this class is so diverse yet so unified: nerds, geeks, jocks, and even “trouble-makers” who come together to support each other in everything from soccer to basketball to mock trial to AG Cup?

Or is it that this class takes great pride in being Mount Carmel knights?

Which one of these characteristics makes this class special?

Probably all of them.

But for me, what makes you special, and the reason I love you so much is this: You opened your hearts to me and let me in. In turn, I opened my heart to you and let you in. And there is no greater gift in the world than that trusting act of love.

For that, I thank you.

And I thank you, the parents, guardians, and families for trusting us with your children. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve them.

Now graduates, as your principal and your teacher, I have one last lesson to share with you. It is a truth that you don’t want to hear, but you know me: I have always shared the truth with you, even when it hurts.

So here it is: You will never be this close as a class again. And, no matter what you’re feeling right now, we will never be this close again either.

I love you guys so much, and it hurts me to admit this, but I’ve seen hundreds of students graduate over the years, and I know this for certain: it’s never the same after tonight.

It’s sad that only when things end, only when we realize that we are losing someone, do we truly appreciate them for all that they are: funny classmates, supportive cheerleader, sympathetic listeners, loyal friends.

I tell you this not to depress you, but to encourage you to cherish this moment, and cherish each other.

You are more beautiful and amazing than you will ever realize. And even after all the you’ve accomplished, the world has yet to see the greatness that is to come from you.
I truly wish I could be there with you when that happens. But it is time for you to set off on your own.

At times, the road ahead will get lonely. And at times, you may want to come crawling back home. But believe me when I tell you that you are ready. You’ve been ready.

And even though it breaks my heart to see you go, I feel so blessed to have been a part of your lives. I honestly hope that I have helped, in some small way, to make your lives better, more meaningful, and worth living. I hope that I have given you as much as you have given me.

And while we will never be this close again, I hope you will come by and visit sometime.I’ll be here, ready to welcome you home.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Kori Seki, an old classmate and good friend of mine who worked in the California housing market, has shared some of his thoughts on how we can revive the economy. In particular, he called for less restrictive building codes, pointing to old buildings that have lasted the test of time despite being built before the current array of strict building codes. He also argued for lowering property taxes to make it more affordable to build, buy, or own a home. These are certainly good points worth exploring in this economy.

One of the perennial challenges of a democracy and capitalism is balancing the need to protect people from unnecessary harms—including harms from themselves—through regulations like building codes, and trusting people—and the market—enough to refrain from overregulation. Similarly, on one hand we need taxes to fund important government spending, but we shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds by overtaxing a dwindling tax base.

At the risk of oversimplifying ideologies, I suppose that’s why there’s this constant tug between pro-regulation Democrats who want to fund health, education, and welfare, and fiscally conservative Republicans who want to deregulate as much as possible.

Let’s not forget, though, that a big cause of the current economic meltdown was the LACK of regulation in the financial markets.

It’s so hard to come up with a definitive answer that strikes the right balance. The new global market is making it incredibly difficult not only to be competitive, but also to understand what’s happening and where things are going. While I’m not a communist, Karl Marx certainly had it right when he predicted that capitalism run amuck would run society amuck.

Furthermore, while this quickly evolving market calls for flexible and adaptive governance, we must balance the need for swift action with the need for prudent deliberation. There’s no sense in rushing into yet another maelstrom. This need for balance between haste and prudence is also difficult to strike. But strike the balance we must.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year's Meanderings...

With the arrival of each new year, it seems there is never a lack of people griping about how bad last year was, and how they hope this new year will be better. Save for the occasional positive pop psychologist, who ever unequivocally celebrates the year just passed without caveats, doubt, or sarcasm? After all, despite the economic meltdown of the past year, American voters reaffirmed our faith in America by electing its first black president, we elected our first delegate to the U. S. Congress, and my daughter got hooked on Twilight-phonics.

I guess it’s a matter of perspective. While the cliché goes that “hindsight is 20/20”, usually, we either romanticize the past, or condemn it. Personally, while I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, I’d rather celebrate the blessings of the past year, learn from its mistakes, and romanticize the future.

Here's to a Happy Old Year...and an even Happier New Year!