The Wellington School Commencement Speech “Hear your Heart” 06.12.09 Let me simply begin by acknowledging everyone who made this day possible. The parents, siblings, family and friends, fabulous faculty, staff, the board, and Rob, and finally the class of 2009—what a wonderful day for us all. As the largest class of lifers in the history of the school, I’ve had the great fortune of knowing many of you for a very long time. I’ve always believed this class to be an incredibly spirited group with great chemistry. I am honored to be standing here this afternoon. When Rob first asked me to speak, I have to say, I was really hesitant. First, as a parent of a graduate, I didn’t want to embarrass my daughter, or get too emotional, or add more stress to an already stressful week! And second, I wondered what I could possibly share that would be memorable to these kids I love and adore? In fact, as I was thinking about what I might talk about, I was trying to remember my own high school graduation. I couldn’t remember much; I don’t remember who spoke, or what was said. I asked a bunch of other people, and they couldn’t remember much about their high school graduations either. So I thought ‘Whew—at least the pressure is off! Whatever I do, no one will remember it anyway.’ Still, while I may not remember what was said at my graduation, I DO remember how I was feeling. I was anxious to move on, yet nervous about the future. Like a lot of teenagers, I lacked confidence. This was partially due to the fact that while growing up, I was repeatedly called stupid by my older brother. My own mother used to call me her dumb blonde. Instead of ignoring them, I believed them. I felt unsure of myself; I felt fat, clumsy, uncoordinated and stupid. I had come to public school after attending Catholic school, so I felt like an outsider. And even though I was involved in lots of high school extracurricular activities from the drill team and student council to the yearbook and newspaper staff, I never really felt like I fit in. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that while serving on the ‘dress code committee’ for student council I voted against kids wearing BLUE JEANS to school; maybe it was that! Not a great way to fit in and make friends. Okay, well, that’s a whole other story! So when graduation time came, I was feeling ready to get on with my life, ready to start fresh. As I’m sure many of you are too. Today marks a very important moment in your life. Yes, it’s the end of high school, the end of your time at Wellington. But perhaps more importantly it’s also the beginning. The beginning of the next phase of your life, when you learn so so much more about yourself. With that as the backdrop, I decided that there was really only one message I wanted to share with you today. There’s one thing I’ve learned from my own experiences that brings the most joy and fulfillment to my life—and that is, when I have the courage to make choices, make decisions that follow not my head, but MY HEART. It sounds incredibly simplistic, but as we get older, our inner voice seems to fade, and the beating of our heart is overcome by the noise of our head. When the happy-go-lucky version of each of you entered kindergarten at Wellington or elsewhere, you made choices instinctively; you didn’t over-think things. It’s part of the magic of being a child. By the time we hit middle school, then upper school, we become more influenced by peers, and the shoulda, coulda, wouldas of our life. It’s easy to loose track of yourself. And now, as you enter this next, even more independent phase of your lives, you’ll be faced with all sorts of NEW choices, from choosing classes and a major, to how much you party and who you hang out with. The choices you make begin to define you as an adult. Some of your decisions may have lifelong impact. Which brings me back to my point. When I have had the courage to follow my instincts, follow my heart, and make decisions without the shoulda coulda wouldas in my head, I feel so much more joyful and happy. So today I want to share four things I’ve learned to do that help ME listen to my heart: I try new things; I observe others that I admire and respect; I choose environments where I get to be myself; and finally, I work to find a time and place to reflect. I have found that when I engage in one or more of these, I have a much easier time to connecting to my heart and my true self. The first thing I’ve learned to do is try new things! Now is the perfect time for you to experiment! Meet new people; take classes that seem completely ridiculous! When I was in college, I took Swahili as my foreign language requirement. Everyone thought I was crazy! But I had had a passion for Africa ever since I’d been a ten-year-old girl pouring through books about Africa at the local library. The animals, the people and the location captivated me probably because it was so new and different than my own life! After I graduated from college, I planned and paid for my own trip Kenya, which had been one of my dreams. To this day, the photographs I took on that trip hang on the walls of my office as a reminder of who I am—and what I am capable of doing—when I listen to my heart. When I was 26, I started my own business. And my first client was also 26. His name was Steve Jobs and he was the founder of a three-year-old company called Apple Computer. I remember a story Steve told about how he went to calligraphy class at Reed College. The calligraphy class had no practical application in Steve’s life, but when the Macintosh was introduced years later, it was that class that inspired the elegant type style for the computer. Had he not taken that class, we all may still be using computers with really bad typefaces and your SIP projects may not have looked as wonderful! Learning what our heart is telling us is a bit of trial and error. That’s why I’ve found trying new things helps me hear myself more clearly. Second, observe others. Take in the qualities of others you admire and find inspirational. For me, I have always found books, especially biographies, to be inspirational in helping me figure out myself, what things resonate with me and make my heart sing. I think I’ve gravitated to books more for this inspiration because in the absence of pictures, I visualize myself as part of the character. When I was younger, I read Nancy Drew and Little Women; as I’ve gotten older, I have been drawn to stories about strong women like Hillary Clinton, or the great Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, or my very favorite role model, Jane Goodall, the female scientist who spent decades studying chimpanzees in Africa. Maybe it was the connection to Africa that first drew me to Jane, but the more I learned about Dr. Goodall, the more I was drawn to her strength, her independence, her ability to forge new ground. When I finally had the chance to meet her recently, guess how she inscribed her book to me? “Nancy: hear your heart. Warmly, Jane” As you learn about others you respect, notice what things you admire, and take those things with you. Oh, and Jane Goodall? She’s a blonde. Third, I choose environments where I get to be myself. One of the beauties of Wellington is that students are encouraged to choose schools where they feel comfortable, seem drawn to. As you’ve made your way through that process, I imagine you’ve had a variety of people telling you that you ‘have to’ apply to a certain place or you ‘should’ go to a particular school. I hope you were able to make the best choice for YOU. And if you happen to find yourself in a place where you don’t feel yourself, I hope you find the courage to make a change. After all, it’s not prison; it’s college, and it’s a choice. For me, creating a work environment where people can be themselves has been one of my proudest accomplishments. I completely and totally believe that in order for a company to succeed, people first need to feel safe and secure to speak their mind and be themselves. Our company is populated with writers, designers, art directors, technology developers—folks that put themselves—literally—into their work. Creating an authentic, genuine environment that nurtures creativity is paramount. I was recently speaking at an MBA class at OSU’s Fisher College, and one of the students asked me how I manage creative people. I laughed and said there’s no such thing. Who am I to manage creative people? I’m there to inspire, to encourage new thinking, and to motivate. I do that by trying to help them tap into their inner child, that voice that is unfiltered and unencumbered. I do it by instigating a giant Nerf gun war at the office, crawling around on the floor, trying to stay out of the line of fire, and laughing so hard with everyone that my sides hurt. Or by unexpectedly toilet papering the office or surprising everyone with Jungle Breakfast! So as you move through your life, either find or create environments where you get to be you! And finally, find a time and a place for quiet reflection. Find your groove, your place, your time, your activity that makes your heart sing, ideas flow, and gives you great confidence. Maybe it’s when you are out running, or listening to certain music, or skiing down a mountain, or being close to or far away from your family. For me, finding time to reflect is a work in progress. I haven’t mastered the art of meditation or personal journal writing. My reflection times come sporadically. They come when I’m in an airplane, at 35,000 feet, flying back to Ohio from California, or when I’m talking to my best friend or watching the horizon at the ocean or breathing in mountain air. Those are times when I experience an Ah Ha moment, as Oprah calls them. For me, this is something I will continue to practice for the rest of my life. And perhaps the reason I’m such a firm believer in the Wellington message of lifelong learning. So my wish for you all is that you TRY new things, DISCOVER people who inspire you, FIND environments that unleash you, and MAKE real time for self-reflection. As Steve Jobs said in his 2005 Stanford commencement address, "
Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."
The great news is, Wellington has already given each of you a head start on listening to your heart. As I was reminded yet again at the Senior Dinner Wednesday night, the secret sauce of Wellington is the community and family atmosphere. All of our grades, under one roof—with lower schoolers interacting daily with the high schoolers and all the grades in between. Some of you refer to it as the Wellington bubble, a nirvana-like environment that is insulated from all the ills of the world. And to a certain extent that is true because it is like a family. Still, even when the real world intrudes and individual students or staff face personal struggles, or even painful losses, we respond by reaching out and holding on to each other—just like a family. Our school’s intimate environment is designed to help you feel safe. Safe to be yourself, safe to explore your passions. Because we believe that when students feel safe, you soar. It’s the primary reason my children are here, and I would imagine, a big reason why your parents chose Wellington for you. As you move beyond Wellington today, I wish you all the courage, the comfort, and the consciousness to listen to your heart. Each one of you is special. You’ve already proven it here at Wellington. You’ve performed on the Royal Mile at the Fringe Festival in Scotland. You’ve faced and overcome public and private personal challenges. You’ve served as ambassadors in France, Italy, Chile and Mexico. You’ve taken Wellington spirit and sideline cheerleading to a whole new and sometimes ‘questionable’ level. You’ve tried out for the solo performance, even though you were scared. You’ve been accepted to play athletics at the highest college level. You’ve written, produced and directed your very own performances. You’ve contributed thousands of hours to our community through dozens of services projects. You’ve uncovered your true talent and passions. You’ve been welcomed into over 130 colleges and universities. YOU are Wellington. WE are Wellington. On behalf of your parents, the faculty, staff, friends, the board of trustees, as well as all those who love you yet are unable to be with us today, we are so very proud of each of you. We look forward to watching you and sharing with you this wonderful journey called life. Congratulations!