Addressing Mountain View High’s winter graduates last Tuesday, Feb. 5, Principal Dave Jagels asked them to take a moment and think back to kindergarten.
“I believe most of us were the same way, excited to start school,” he said. “If you were lucky, you usually started the school year with something new — a backpack, clothes, shoes. You couldn’t sleep, the night before; you didn’t know what to expect.”
Then, as they walked into their school for the first time, said Jagels, “Most of us were scared and unsure, but we all had dreams and aspirations. Success or lack of success wasn’t even a thought. School, for the most part, was fun.”
Most importantly, he said, “We had a belief in ourselves. No one could tell us what we could become. We truly believed that, given the right circumstances and life situations, we could all accomplish our dreams and achieve what we wanted. There wasn’t anything or anyone that could stop us from becoming what we wanted to become.”
And for some people, said Jagels, that’s just how their life story plays out. Everything falls into place for them. But many others aren’t so lucky.
“Their path takes a different turn,” he said. “It could include losing a parent or moving to a new country and learning a new language by yourself at age 14. Or it could include surviving civil war in your home country, living out of your car for six months or getting placed at a new school because of a mistake you made.”
Still other young people find themselves working full time until after midnight, said Jagels, or having a child before even having a driver’s license. “For some students, life becomes complicated, difficult, unsure,” he said. “The dreams of kindergarten become a distant memory, and graduation, impossible.”
But seated before him, said Jagels, he saw 50 students who didn’t let life get in the way of their accomplishing what they’d planned, years ago. He then quoted from Los Angeles Watts Times reporter Michael Josephson’s Dec. 1, 2005 article about the life and legacy of Rosa Parks — who overcame her own obstacles.
“How will the value of your days be measured?” wrote Josephson. “What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave. What will matter is not your success, but your significance; not what you learned, but what you taught. What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.”
“What will matter is not your competence, but your character; not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you are gone,” continued Josephson. “What will matter is not your memories, but the memories of those who loved you. What will matter is how long you will be remembered by whom and for what. Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstance, but of choice. Choose to live a life that matters.”
Then, referring to Mountain View’s graduating seniors, Jagels told them that, at one point, they’d all made the choice — no matter their circumstances — to pull themselves up, brush themselves off and complete high school. And he encouraged them to continue having that can-do attitude.
“Regardless of what life throws at you, use your experiences and the guidance and support that Mountain View gave you and find success,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ve shown you that, through family, love and respect — [the school’s motto] — you can accomplish what you want to.”
“Remember those who helped you get to where you are today,” continued Jagels. “Looking around this room, I see dedicated Mountain View educators, and I thank you for your persistence and belief in the students here today. You never gave up and, most of all, you treated these students like family.”
Lastly, to the almost-grads, he said, “We are extremely proud of you. Go live the life you dreamed of living and never let anything get in the way of that dream.”