On Friday, June 15, Saint Paul American School (SPAS) held a commencement for the graduating class of 2012: 18 students, who hail from all corners of the world: South Korea, Sweden, Spain, Nigeria, Lithuania, Canada, Tanzania, Brazil, Tonga, Mongolia.
The Saint Paul American School Advanced Band, led by Band Director Ben Wareham, played “Into the Clouds” as a prelude. For the processional, the band played all-American graduation tune, “Pomp & Circumstance,” as the 2012 graduates walked down the red carpet one-by-one. Graduates wore black robes, matching graduation caps, and a white stole.
A welcome speech was given by Vice-Principal Dudley Burt. “The best leaders never stop learning,” quoted Burt of Abraham Lincoln. He went on to explain, “Your journey today is just a transition.”
What followed was the presentation of a video clip made by SPAS seniors. The montage featured clips from the basketball team, track and field, drama, as well as past events: the Zhengzhou trip, Hangzhou trips, Halloween party and prom.
Next, Vice-Principal Ma (of the Second High School attached to Beijing Normal University) took the stage, congratulating the Class of 2012. Following his speech was Valedictorian Byeol Kim (Larry). “We should be thankful for three things,” he explained. First, to the administration for a great education, to their families for their support, and finally, for each other for “friendships they have made here that will last a lifetime.”
After congratulating the graduates, he also addressed teachers, parents, and friends. He noted: “Our success is your success.”
Chosen by the students, Band Director Ben Wareham took the podium as the faculty guest speaker. “Surfing,” he explained, “is a great example of trying to find the right balance of skill, practice, anticipation, timing and hard work.” When a surfer find that sweet spot on the wave, it is a moment to be savored – and moments like these, he explained, happen all the time, if we’re aware of it.
“You are a very unique class of students,” he addressed the SPAS Class of 2012, “in that every one of you is a musician. […] You have music in your veins.” While Wareham finds inspiration in music daily, he is also inspired by the “music” he has made with the students. “Every weekday, we spend countless minutes practicing and perfecting how to make music with each other.”
“We try to prepare ourselves to be ready for the trials of everyday life, just like we do in band rehearsals, but there is true beauty in the surprises – as long as you’re paying enough attention to notice them.”
The guest speaker was Program Director Jennifer Kim from A Bridge for Children International. She has a lucky friend, and by luck, she means “[someone]who [is living]the life they were meant to live.”
“We are lost in a sea of choices,” and “there will be voices [telling you …]to settle for less, to exchange a life of adventure and service for a life of comfort, convenience, or living in a bubble.” She herself “entertained every career path imaginable,” yet eventually found her calling in helping others through social work. Having been to parts of the developing world, including Bangladesh, to help those in need, she challenged the graduates to open their eyes and ears wider, reminding them: “You don’t have to look far to travel far, to meet someone with a story and a need. They are all around you. […] And you never know how the good you do will impact them.”
She concluded: “I hope that [we]will all die, happy and satisfied that we spent the strength of our youth, the ingenuity and creativity of our minds, the passion of our souls, and the freedom that we have been given to do just that – and to do it well. Wishing you all life’s greatest gifts, so that you can give them fully to others.”
After Kim’s speech, the junior class presented a video gift to the graduating seniors. The graduates then gave personal speeches from their seats – giving heartwarming thanks to their teachers, parents and friends.
Principal Dr. Steve Jordahl (of the Saint Paul American School program) followed up with Congratulatory Comments. “A commencement is about moving forward; we’ve prepared you for that” and as expected, “[you will]soar to new heights.”
Given the intimate size of SPAS, Dr. Jordahl explains that it easy to feel like one big family, as if these 18 graduates are really his own children. “I feel like a Dad today,” he said before reading aloud a letter he wrote to his very own son on May 22. Other than having the words “Dear Derek,” it conveyed the same message he had for the graduates: “Have you been thinking about your future? Have you been dreaming? Use your imagination: It’s like standing on the free-throw line; you have to picture the perfect follow-through of the ball going through the basket. Before you’re ever going to be successful, you’ve got to see yourself successful.”
He concluded: “Dream, think big, and then really plan for success. It will happen.” And, just as he wrote these three words to his son, he said, “I love you guys so much.”
Proving Wareham’s speech correct, the whole Class of 2012 stood before the audience, performing the musical number “American Humn Tune Sketches” by John Prescott.
Both Principal Ma and Principal Jordahl presented diplomas to the graduating class, as their family, friends and faculty applauded. As the seniors exited, the Advanced Band played “Florentiner March.” In the hall, the room was full of graduates, families, friends, fellow students and faculty. It was most definitely full of raw emotion, too – tears of joy and hope for the next stage in these student’s lives.
Graduates of SPAS have been accepted to: Pennsylvania State University, SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Binghamton, University of Washington (Seattle), Tsinghua University, City University of Hong Kong, I.E. University (Spain), University of Edinburgh, Beijing Sports University, Beijing International Studies University.
For more photos of the SPAS commencement, visit our Online Gallery here.
Valedictorian Byeol (Larry) Kim’s full speech:
Before I begin, I am really honored to stand here and give this speech. Thank you.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, friends and family, teachers and administrators. We stand, gathered together to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2012 Class of Saint Paul American School. However, before we congratulate our graduation today, I want to mention that we have three things to be thankful for.
First, we can be thankful for our fine administration and teachers. Here at Saint Paul American School, we have received a great education. We are prepared to move on and to take on whatever challenges come next in our lives.
We can also be thankful for our families. These past four years have presented us with a lot of ups and downs, and it is good to know that we had our families in our corner, supporting us along the way. Thanks Mom and Dad. I would not be here today without you.
Finally, we can be thankful for each other. The friendships that we have made here will last a lifetime and in the same way we have helped each other, in some ways to survive these 4 years here and in other ways to succeed in these years at Saint Paul, I hope we will continue to be there for each other and to support each other in future endeavors.
To my fellow classmates, we’ve made it. We’ve finally made it. We are graduating. Congratulations. Congratulations not only to us graduates, for achieving excellence in academics, athletics and the arts, but also congratulations to our teachers, parents, friends, families and administrators. Our success is your success, for you have given us the freedom to dare, the courage to excel and the belief that we can achieve our best. You have been there for us with support and care; you had faith when we doubted ourselves. For all these things, we, the Class of 2012, thank you.
Together for the last time, we stand poised at the very edge of graduation, looking towards a bright future. Soon each of us will go forth, in his or her unique direction, seeking to make a mark upon the world.
Confucius once said, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” I am not sure how we will get to where we need to be, how we will achieve our dreams – but I do know that we know how to do it, and that’s important thing. We will be going out into the world, each of us different paths, following different dreams. May you have every success, may you work hard and play straight, may you hold your head high, may our paths still cross from time to time and may you go with all your heart.
Once more, congratulations Class of 2012 and may God bless you.