Class of 2018! You’ve made it! From the moment you arrived in September 2014 when you heard rumors about Freshmen Friday to this day – the commencement exercises of 2018, you have been a fantastic class-a class of which I am proud. Your teachers and counselors have used the following adjectives to describe you: nice, good, kind, compassionate, creative, fun, polite, hard-working, and amazing. You have all been a pleasure, and I am such a fortunate person to be your school principal for the past four years.
If you recall earlier this year in September, I asked you to become stewards of the student body and to be role models for our 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students. You far exceeded my expectations, and all subsequent classes have some large shoes to fill when you leave the school. In September, I also told you about the lesson I learned hiking 214 miles from Portugal to northwestern Spain to reach Santiago de Compostela: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together.” I witnessed this African proverb come to life daily on the Camino as I saw a young girl without arms and legs being carried by two volunteers on a specially-constructed stretcher with wheels. An older woman, probably in her eighties, was peddling a cycle using her arms to help her complete the Camino de Santiago. When going uphill, a volunteer gently pushed her from the rear to offer some assistance. A young adult had limited use of his right side and required a crutch. A volunteer walked with him along the Camino, helping him during difficult paths along the road. People worked together either physically or emotionally, encouraging one another to go onwards.
This type of teamwork and encouragement was indicative of your class as you worked together to raise supplies for hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico and bring social awareness to the issue of gun violence after Parkland, Florida. You planned together, organized together, celebrated together, and had fun together. Indeed, John Donne’s words that “No man is an island entire of itself…because I am involved in mankind” rings true.
But now what? Soon you will be graduates of Clarkstown North. This old African proverb of going further together may not apply since many of you are leaving the safe and comfortable confines of your home and school and are starting out anew and often alone. It may feel like you are an island entirely of itself for the first few weeks or months. So what lesson can I offer?
I was struggling for the past few days to think of a meaningful message to tell you before you leave here tonight and go your separate ways. While trying to overcome my writer’s block yesterday afternoon, I saw that I received a friend request from someone I had not heard from for a while, Michael Stief. I met Michael in Santiago after I completed the Camino. Michael is from Germany, and he went on the Camino to think about what he wanted to do next since after so many years in the corporate world left him wondering about what is truly meaningful. After re-reading his last email from August last evening, I quickly discovered what I wanted to tell you. It’s the word that Michael used to conclude his email to me, “Ultreia.”
Translated from a Latin dialect, this word has certain meanings, among which is “Onwards.” However, this word was not used by itself. Instead, the ancient pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago would greet each other with the following phrase: “Ultreia e Suseia.” Put together, this phrase means: “Onwards and Upward.”
As you commence on your own journey from your home to your next destination, travel with an eye set on the destination, but don’t obey established criteria. Your way is made by walking your own path, not looking things up in a book or on Google. Start walking and connect one step to the next, one stage with the next, always moving forward, persevering, growing. Ultreia y Suseia – Go onwards and upwards. May you advance and grow and, more importantly, grow as you move forward with each step you take.
To the Class of 2018, I do not have much to leave, but only three words. Words that have been used for over a century by thousands to encourage others: “Ultreia e Suseia.” “Go onwards and Upward.”