Don’t take for granted all that we have

As I roll around to the end of the year, and my career in education, I have numerous engagements at which I am supposed to speak. It’s a ritual I have become accustomed to over the years and I have saved each speech so that I can review them to ensure I am not droning on about the same things, to the same group, year after year, even if it feels that way to them.

This year is a bit different.  These will be my last rounds of speaking to faculty, students and parents and I have looked over the old speeches with a different focus. Rather than avoiding similar topics, I am, in fact, looking for the similarities between various talks. In essence, I am trying to distill the thoughts which have seemed the most important over the years so that I can make one final push before I sail off into the sunset and a new philosopher/educator offers his/her regular take on life.

Although I am always respectful in my speeches, I am not really one to mince words. I have spoken disdainfully about student and parent apathy in acceptance of low standards and illegal activities. I have chastised faculty for viewing the school system as something that serves them rather than viewing their role as serving students. And I have stood front and centre and taken responsibility for decisions and directions that were errors on my part. Admitting our mistakes, on any level, is at the heart of personal and professional improvement.

At the same time, I have waxed eloquently on the achievements of students, families, faculty and school board members when they have deserved it. I have been blessed with a career where, just about every year, I get the chance to see few miracles, a few people who truly see the light and blossom to a level of personal success that they, and everyone around them, might not have considered possible.  It is amazing sometimes, to stand at a graduation and reflect on the moments in a grad’s education when everyone wondered what the heck might become of this child, only to see them emerge in their final year of high school as extraordinary and focused young individuals.

My general routine has been to leave my speech-writing to the last moment, to capture the final essence of what has transpired for each class, for each individual, for each family and for each mentor who has impacted on a student. Most of the time I try to utilize anecdotes of those in the community to support a particular theme I have chosen as pertinent to this group of grads.

As it turns out, my review of topics has revealed an emphasis on three main themes for almost a quarter of a century. The first is the importance of personal health and the decision-making necessary to reduce any risk of damaging that health. Given my teaching background in health education, I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The second theme has been that of responsibility, to self and others. I have emphasized the responsibility that we all have to be the best person we can, intellectually, emotionally, ethically and physically so that we can become a person who is not only successful in our own right but can serve in the role of helping others. If everyone sought to give, rather than take, the world would be a very different place.

And the third has gathered around the concept of perspective leading to gratitude. So often we bemoan what we don’t have, while taking for granted the many things we do have.  We view small annoyances as barriers to our success rather than minor obstacles that simply make us stronger. We use up those around us rather than showing them the gratitude they deserve for helping us.

I am preparing my final assault on these themes. I have new stories of current students, staff and families that I can use to support the values worthy of repeating.  Rather than avoid repetition, I plan to attack the tried and true values that offer our lives focus and meaning. I know it is impossible for students to fully absorb my words now, but I remember Mr. McKnight, my Grade 7 teacher, when he turned to me one day as I argued the minutiae of some useless concept and told me: “Someday you will understand, more clearly, the things that are most important in life and the anxiety you feel now for this nonsense will be imperceptible.”

I have a responsibility to pass that seed of wisdom from his generation of teaching through my generation of teaching to the next generation of teaching.


Graham Hookey is an educator and writer. Email him at