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Commencement Address by Dr Carpenter - June 4 2022

MRHS Commencement Address 2022

Remarks given by MRSD Superintendent Scott Carpenter, Ed.D.   June 4, 2022 -- Today is a special day. For most sitting behind the Class of 2022, it’s special because we are here to celebrate a loved one’s milestone of graduating from high school. For me, today is made a bit more special, not only because my youngest is among our graduates, but because my parents are here to celebrate their granddaughter. I’m entering my 23rd year as a school administrator, but today is the first time my parents are seeing me “live and in-person” doing what I consider the best and most special part of my job. Me being here, in this role, is also something they would have never imagined when I was graduating high school.

I’m sure many of our graduates experienced this, but we parents tend to try to strongly influence, some may say pressure, our children toward attending college or pursuing a particular career path. Despite our unsolicited parental guidance about higher education and future careers, the vast majority will graduate from high school not knowing exactly what they want to do with their life. This lack of a future direction can make for a lot of anxiety on behalf of both the graduates sitting here and your families sitting behind you.

Granted, some of you may already be laser-focused on your future plans, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I also know from experience as a parent over the past couple of years that I needed to buckle-up and enjoy the ride, as I’ve watched my rather focused graduate further refine his direction in life with four major changes in his first two years of college.

So, if you are graduating today and still trying to figure out what you are going to be in life, that’s okay. It’s the norm, not the exception. Most of your parents and grandparents were likely still trying to find their future path when they were graduating from high school too. And, some of us older folks may still be in the process of shifting our focus as interests, opportunities, or life’s circumstances change.

As graduates, you may enlist in the military straight out of high school or immediately head into the workforce and, you can use that real-world experience to discover your path. You may have applied to, been accepted to, and then chosen a college and still be unsure of your life’s direction. Statistically, over half of those heading off to college will also change majors along the way. All this indecision may make your parents crazy, but perhaps not as crazy as when you choose a different career path than the one they’ve been steering you towards since you were 5. And, parents, we will continually need to remember to vocalize our support rather than our disappointment.

Speaking of parental disappointment, I asked my parents over Thanksgiving dinner this year to reflect back 40 years to when I was a teen, and I asked them about what career path they thought I’d take down the road. To their dismay, I filmed the conversation, and they’ve been dreading for the last six months how I would use the footage. Here’s what my mother thought I’d become one day: Video Clip 1

Yes, she said she thought I was going to be a cowboy, and my father’s response was surprisingly similar. Now, if you asked me when I was 5 what I wanted to be when I grew up I probably would have said “a cowboy,” but not when I was graduating high school. Like most high school graduates, I was still trying to figure out what I was going to be in life. Forty years later, it's sufficient to say that I either epically failed as a cowboy or possibly exceeded my parents' expectations.

I’m sure my parents hoped for a different pathway for me than being a cowboy. Had I not completely destroyed my left knee during youth sports, disqualifying me from military service, I would have taken our own Lucas Tambolleo’s noble path and enlisted to spend the next few years discovering who I wanted to be while serving our country. So, if I wasn’t going to be a cowboy, and the military was out, I guess there was college.

Parents today can be pretty over-the-top in their emphasis on higher education, and I will admit to being one of “those parents.” While I ultimately earned a doctorate, like the majority of grads today, I was undecided as a teen, not just undecided about a career or a major but undecided about college, period. So, let’s return to Thanksgiving dinner and see how my father summarized my college experience. Video Clip 2

To correct the record, it only took 35 years from the time I graduated high school to finish the doctorate, but I did manage to earn four other degrees along the way…none of which my parents nor I would have ever imagined when I was a teen. Along that 35-year journey, there were three important takeaways:

  • First, it can take time to find a field that truly piques your interest – for me it ultimately was in the sciences.
  • Second, you need to explore options to decide what you don’t like – in my case, I needed to explore being pre-med to understand that becoming a medical doctor wasn’t for me.
  • Third, there is no substitute for real-world experience to discover your passion – over the years, I did research, taught, engaged in environmental consulting work, and tried the corporate world, and through those various experiences, I found that my real passion was with teaching and education.

The best advice I can provide my daughter and all of the students sitting here today is this:

  • Take the time to explore and experience the world.
  • Find pursuits that engage your interests and your heart.
  • Discover what you are good at and leverage those strengths.
  • Know that it’s okay to fail, but be flexible and ready to shift to a thoughtful backup plan.
  • Seize great opportunities. 
  • Lastly, but not least in terms of importance, never forget that asking for help is a sign of strength – we who are here today to celebrate you will always be only a phone call away.

As you walk across this stage and get your diploma, it’s okay to have a laser-like focus on your future, and it’s also completely normal to be still searching for who you want to become. There is nothing wrong with becoming a cowboy. However, my hope for each of you is that you can look back 40 years from now and surprise yourself and others with who you’ve become.