On the morning of Saturday, June 2, the Western Academy of Beijing honored its graduating class of 2012. As a procession of nine drums echoed throughout the temple, WAB 2012 graduates walked in procession, passing an audience of friends, family, staff, and fellow students. Donning Tang-style coats in WAB’s colors of black and yellow, they stepped up on the stage, looking outward and onward towards the smiling faces of those honoring them, while listening to a series of speakers – each sharing their own words of reflection and wisdom.
Welcome and opening remarks were given by Student Council President Franklyn Zhu; WAB Co-Founder, Legal Representative and Teacher Michael Crook; Director of Confucius Temple Mr. Wu Zhiyou; and Professor of Confucious Research Institute 75th Generation Descendant of Confucious Dong Nai Qiang.
Mr. Wu noted, “That we are holding [the graduation]here is an example of cultural coherence of China and the world.” He has great confidence that the graduating class will go on to serve the world, acting in accordance to one of Confucius’ teachings, “Do unto others what others would do to you.”
In a musical interlude, the WAB APAC Chamber Choir charmed the audience with a song. Then, Director Geoffrey Andrews and High School Principal Rena P. Mirkin followed up with speeches.
Andrews reminded everyone that while it is a commencement, an accomplishment of which they should be proud, the words, “to commence,” means “to begin” – and “today is a new beginning.” Quoting Helen Keller, he said, “There is something worse than not being able to see – that is being able to see and having no vision.” With “the vision born of the WAB Experience,” he explained, “My charge to you today is to live out that WAB vision of working with others to make a difference. […] And the time is always right to do right.”
In her speech, Mirkin recalled the WAB mission: “Connect, Inspire, Challenge, and ultimately, make a difference.” She continued, “The difference that we offer the world is YOU. Your contributions will be legion.”
Each student was acknowledged and awarded their high school diploma by Curriculum Coordinator Joergen Glittenberg, Assistant Principal Cathy Jones, High School Principal Rena P. Mirkin, and Director Geoffrey Andrews. Student’s names were announced, along with the number of years they studied at WAB and their next destination: be it their selected university, a gap year or a return to their home country.
WAB 2012 graduates will be going on to: Harvard University, University of Oslo, St. Michael’s College, University of Southern California, Rutgers University, Boston University, UCLA, McGill University, Princeton University, Berklee College of Music – among other colleges and universities around the world, including the US, the UK, Australia, South Korea and Canada.
Following the handing out of the diplomas, teacher Jeff Henningsgaard said a few words. “Those of you who wish to stay, may go” – advice he gives to his students when leaving the classroom. He offered some advice, through Thai phrases, including:
“Jai yen” = Stay cool, cool-hearted, calm. Stay cool, reflect, and find a solution [to your problem].
“Sabai sabai” = The closest translation is peaceful, tranquil. Find your peaceful place. That will be your place of strength where you go to when your troubles leave you drained.
“Sanuck” = Fun. Make sure that in your life, you have fun, crack jokes, and deal with stress with humor.
He concluded: “I am afraid this time, it is time for you to go. Thank you, Class of 2012. Keep resonating!”
Other schools acknowledge their top students, purely through academic grades, as valedictorians and salutatorians; WAB recognizes Confucious scholars, students chosen based on being “a top scholar and someone who meets all the aspects of the IB learner profile.” Herman Homan Chau and Anne Louise Stephanie Brader were recognized as this year’s Confucius Scholars.
In her remarks, Brader delved into the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She reflected that perhaps in our earlier years, we answered, “princess” or “astronaut.” But in our later years, we change our answer to “scientist” or “doctor” – and finally, “I don’t know.” At WAB, she explained, “We were allowed to join, set up, or take part in any activity that came to mind.” Their options were not limited and teachers asked, “How do you plan on doing it?” – instead of explaining that it cannot be done.
She continued: “WAB taught me that the possibilities are endless. In university or wherever else we may go, it’s time to discover as many of those as we can, even more than we already did in high school. While the final destination for a lot of us remains vague, the journey is what really matters.”
Check out more photos from the day here.
Despite not preparing a speech in advance, Chau delivered a heartfelt speech, ending with a quote from friend and fellow student Franklin Zhu, who said, “If you leave on a happy note, you look forward to returning.”
At last, Board Chair Christopher Alberti recounted his days at university, where at a small gate it says, “Climb high, climb far, your goal the sky, your aim the stars.” He sees this lesson reflected at WAB, “[setting]big goals and [doing]what it takes to achieve them.” The second lesson he shared was to “Love WAB, always.” He explained, “WAB is the sum total of all the people who have passed through the school over the years as students, teachers, administrators and staff. […] WAB’s gift to you does not end with your years here. It is also the gift of association with an ever-growing number of people around the world who have shared what you have shared, experienced WAB spirit as you have experienced it, and carried this out into the world.”
As Alberti officially declared the students before the temple as the Class of 2012, they threw red roses up in the air in celebration. In conclusion, the orchestra played “Eye of the Tiger” for the graduate recessional, as graduates and their loved ones enjoyed a slice of cake and a congratulatory moment, a momentous occasion.
Below is Confucius Scholar Anne Louise Stephanie Brader’s speech in full:
When we were in elementary school, they asked us for the first time what we wanted to be when we grew up. We answered: pirate, astronaut, princess, or in my case, the best artist in the world. Everyone that’s met me knows my artistic skills are near zero, yet at that age, no one cared whether or not our dreams were plausible.
Then when we were in middle school, they asked us again. This time our answers were: rock star, teacher, scientist, or in my case, surgeon, because I thought that the doctors on Grey’s Anatomy had the coolest jobs ever.
But now, they want a serious answer…what do you want to be when you grow up? Well, for me the answer is … I dunno.
That’s the beauty of WAB. In high school, we spent four years of our lives learning about whatever subject interested us, be it Environmental Systems and Societies or Geography or Physics or Psychology. We were allowed to join, set up, or take part in any activity that came to mind (remember Franklyn’s Opera trips). Nowhere was there a teacher that said, “that can’t be done”, they only said, “how do you plan on doing it?” Every student was unique and had their own ideas, and most weren’t shy about letting their voices be heard. With WAB, we experienced near the best that can be offered.
Throughout my time here, I’ve met people from around the world, each with their own story to tell. This class in front of you in particular is probably the most diverse group of people I’ve ever met. Agreement isn’t always guaranteed, but perhaps this just illustrates that we all have opinions. We care, albeit too much at times. We put heart and soul into everything we do. And we always strive for the highest result possible, because, as someone famous once said, when you shootfor the moon, even if you miss, you’ll landamong the stars.
So at the end of these four years of high school, with everything that WAB has already let us do, some of us are left a tad clueless. With so many possibilities out there, how are we ever supposed to limit ourselves to one career pathway for the rest of our lives?
Maybe the point is that we don’t have to know just yet. Instead, we should keep the spirit that we take for granted at WAB and bring it to our next destination. Now comes the time to explore, to find ourselves. Time to take a subway or train to an unknown stop and walk around the whole day, having absolutely no idea where you are. Time to go shopping and spend our parent’s money before we’re the ones that have to pay for everything. Time to join the beekeeping society or the trampoline squad at university just because we can. Time to make new friends, while saying see you next time to the old ones. Time to change our mind, again and again and then, perhaps, …. again.
WAB taught me that the possibilities are endless. In university or wherever else we may go, it’s time to discover as many of those as we can, even more than we already did in high school. While the final destination for a lot of us remains vague, the journey is what really matters. I believe that so far, our journey has been amazing and I think I speak on behalf of the entire class when I say thank you for being a part of ours. Friends, parents, teachers, family, and even random strangers on the street. Each one of them has added to our high school experience.
Four years ago, we arrived at WAB’s high school doors scared, but eager, thinking it would be just like middle school except bigger, better and perhaps a tad more serious. Now, four years later, we emerge overwhelmed by the experience, raw, brain dead, yet strangely, still feeling invincible. Because after finishing high school at WAB, nothing else can take us down. Thank you.