Wise Words from Elementary School Graduation Speeches

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My six year old Ellee’s school had an end of year celebration where the outgoing 5th graders gave speeches.

It’s a small school with about 10 students moving into middle school in the fall. Each “graduate” spoke for a few minutes to share memories, insights and lessons to pass along to the younger students.

I’ll admit, I was not expecting a group of 12 year olds to knock me over with perspective & brilliance. I was happy just to support my kid and her classmates.

Yet, the wisdom that came from these young minds resonated with me and deserves to be shared beyond that room.

Don’t procrastinate

The school is an alternative schooling environment where students are given the freedom to self-pace their core studies. The pros of this method are that students can take the time to master whatever the subject matter quickly & move on or take as much time & as many reps until it clicks.

The cons is that students can choose to put things off.

Sound familiar??

Just about all of the graduates gave stories around various methods of procrastination. And the problems it created for them.

“If you procrastinate on your writer’s workshop during the year, then you’ll have to do it over the summer… and ruin your summer.”

A little dramatic, yet how often do we put off that thing that we don’t want to do and it comes back to bite us.

Let’s take the wisdom to see the problems that will arise in the future by not doing those things we know are on our preferred growth path in the present.

“Thanks for never answering my questions”

The school’s teachers are referred to as “guides” because their job is to guide the students to find & develop the resources to solve issues.

Each speech delivered gratitude to the guides that helped them along their journey through elementary school.

More than one gave specific gratitude because the guide “never answered my questions.” One of the hallmarks of a guide at this school is to NOT answer the students’ questions. Instead, they point them in a direction to find it – be it online or from another student.

How often do we bail people out and rob them of using or developing resources to find answers, which builds resilience and confidence? Yes, often it’s quicker and easier to give answers. When we resist the urge and guide people to use their resources, they develop quicker and stronger.

Always ask for help

Is this contradictory from what the previous paragraph said? No.

Although a guide doesn’t often give answers, they do offer help. The students also help and support each other.

The grads express the reluctance they had at one point asking for help, especially when they were younger. They said as they became more willing to ask for help from older students, they accomplished activities more quickly. And as they became the older students, they said that they wanted to help the younger kids that came after them.

I have often struggled with asking for help. Maybe it’s stubbornness. It’s also been not wanting to expose myself for what I don’t know. As I’ve shed that protective piece, I now recognize that true strength comes from reaching out to seek help and assistance.

What a great lesson to learn at 12 years old!

“Would you rather be right or be happy?”

This is a famous quote that has many iterations and attributions. Dating back from Aristotle and ranging up to Dr Phil.

One of the grads  – again, a 12 year old – said that she used to prioritize being right. That led her into arguments and frustration. She learned that some battles are not worth it.

Of course I, being a mental performance coach that prioritizes cultivating joy in myself and others, know that this formula or construct promotes well-being & even high performance. And, of course, I thought that I’ve mastered this for myself.

And then I’ve counted multiple times this week that I’ve pointed out facts to my wife on various topics that were meaningless. But, I was right. I pointed out the “right” perspective, backed by research & experience, in coaching calls. Again, I was right. I’ve made rules for my kids because, well, it’s the right thing to do.

Each time I caught myself, I backed off. Either by dropping it, or asking for the other person’s perspective. Their perspective, although different from mine, helped me reshape how I saw the situation.

The desire to prove ourselves right is a natural default. The beauty of this quote is that it serves as a reminder that there’s a time and a place for being “right.” Rightness is like a spice… use a little only when you know the recipe needs it.

Do the hard thing in the moment, guide people to build their resources & confidence, ask for help and optimize for joy over proving a point.

I am grateful to learn from such wise learners.