Kirkpatrick Graduation Speech

10-mile run went well:+ 22 f with a wicked 16 mph eastern wind. Listened to Wait, Wait…don’t tell me and Says You!

This last week marked the 4-year anniversary of Steve Kirkpatrick’s death (colleague, friend) and as the nation continues to prattle on about what matters in education, I think Steve’s thoughts are right on. Here’s the text of that speech:

Commencement Speech, June 2, 2002
Mr. Steve Kirkpatrick

Public speaking and its relationship to fear is an interesting phenomenon. If I were to ask you what the following people have in common–Albert Berkley, Barbara Helleen, and Arthur MacArthur–you would be hard pressed. The simple answer is that they are the only people who have died while delivering a speech. So, I feel relatively sure I will walk away from your commencement.

I would also like to point out that if Mr. Staley or Mr. Dwyer or Dr. Nelson had to lead a mule across this stage, they probably would have little trouble because the mule is calm, sedate, and not easily excited. On the other hand, if they were asked to lead a thoroughbred across the stage, they would probably have difficulty because they are known to be nervous, skittish, and all together difficult to handle. I want you all to know I am perfectly calm-not the least nervous.

Now that my state of mind has been established, I would like to thank the entire Concord community, the students, the parents, and the staff for their prayers, their hugs, and their constant concern. You have lifted me and stood by me. You have shown me the kindness that dwells in all of us. Thank you so much.

At the beginning of the 90’s, I was excited about the prospects of the future. I felt education and rapid change would play a major role in our lives and that is what I would like to discuss with you today.

The aim of the teacher is to prepare his students to do without him: to see life through their own eyes, to hear the day with their own ears, and to understand with their own minds. The good teacher recognizes the differences in his students, will seize the teachable moment and cause it to evolve. The good teacher places roadblocks in front of his children and encourages them to overcome.

Here it is important to point out that the state and national governments have mandated that language and math skills need to be improved and that tests are to be the measure of our success–the success of our children, their teachers, their schools.

I agree that academic skills are important. Our children need to read better, write better, and do math better. However, we are leveling downward and praising that as common sense. We educators spend a lot of time discussing rubrics, aligning the curriculum, and assessing student academic skills with the single goal of raising test scores for that is how our success is to be measured by our state and national government. As a result, I have seen hard working teachers and students labeled failures in much the same way that a business labels parts defective.

Our children are not flawed or inadequate. The focus has moved from the child to the subject matter because that is what is to be tested. Students and their schools work hard and for the most part do an excellent job. What is needed from Washington and Indianapolis is a change in the paradigm that student, teacher, and school success is best determined by a paper and pencil exercise. We need a new mandate that emphasizes the building blocks of our society: compassion, sacrifice, integrity, and justice. This is how the success of our society will be measured by future generations.

Many of the thoughts that I tend to dwell on and can’t shake revolve around change. Whether thinking about the fall and the leaves turning from green to red or a young child and her desire to be a paleontologist or astronaut, of one thing I am sure, change has a heart and soul of its own and yet it is part of every fiber of our being. It is powered by Aristotle, Newton, and Edison. It gains energy from our grandmothers and grandfathers as they are reflected in our hearts and smiles and laughter.

Sometimes as I think about change and my classroom, I ask my students to fill in the blank to this sentence, “I remember a time when there was no such thing as…”

When I fill in the blank, I say television. My students say,” computers, and I imagine you parents might say calculators. If my wife’s father were to have answered this question, he could have said automobiles or airplanes, almost everything that is a part of the twentieth century. Change is not happening at a leisurely pace. It has become a stampede and as a result significant problems have occurred. Drug abuse, alcoholism, stress related illnesses, and in many cases the idea that bigger and quicker is better, and that hard work is not needed, and worst of all that morality is relative. I don’t mean this to be a sermon but there are laws we have been given that cannot be broken. These are the laws that God has given to us and at no time did he mean to have a friendly discussion over whether he was right or wrong.

I think my mother’s advise is important in these times, “Keep it simple.” Say, “Self, what is important–really important to me?” Most would respond with answers relating to God, our families, or our country. But how do you spend your time? Did you pray today? Tell your family you love them? Did you vote when you had the opportunity? Everything that detracts from what we value subtracts from life–makes your life more complicated.

I want you all to understand that each day I see beauty in all its glory. I see children. I see their smiles, hear their laughter, feel their innocence. Each day I tell myself my job is easy. Each day I hold up by hand and tell those near me to save the world. It sounds incredibly difficult, like bringing peace to the Middle East or eliminating prejudice. But, the beautiful part of it is that saving the world is easy. All you have to do is place a smile where there wasn’t one, plant hope where sadness lives, instill confidence where belief has been shaken, wipe a tear, or pat someone on the back for a job well done.

We must be careful of how we walk, for the footsteps we leave behind become the path future generations tread.

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3 Comments on “Kirkpatrick Graduation Speech”


  1. I think the biggest change in our society is not the new technology we have gained but the lack of time we now have for our children

    Children need time much more than the many gadgets and technology when growing up

  2. Paige Says:

    I remember watching him make that speech – it doesn’t feel like he’s been gone for four years already.

  3. vergil66 Says:

    Paige,
    I’m with you on that one: sometimes I walk by Bordner’s room and expect to see him sitting in that campfire chair.


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