Transcript of Principal Leonard’s 2020 Commencement Speech
Hello friends. We are privileged to welcome our honored guests, family members, friends, and this amazing Class of 2020 to this very special graduation ceremony. Thank you to the staff of Wilde Lake High School, who have gone above and beyond the call of duty on behalf of the Class of 2020, particularly over the past 2 ½ months. We want to give a special shout out to the administrative and student services teams who have been incredible teammates throughout our transition this spring. Thank you to the Wilde Lake PTSA and Boosters for your partnership on behalf of our students and community. Thank you to Lindsey Startt, graduation coordinator extraordinaire, and DeAnna Amalemba and Melissa Bell, class council sponsors beyond compare.
We could have seen this coming. The signs were there. The week that we we were last at Wilde Lake together, the week of March 9-13, it was the transition to Daylight Savings Time, there was a full moon, and our last day of school was Friday the 13th. Anyone who works in a school knows that any one of those events is enough to impact a building. Those three events together created a rift in the space-time continuum, and here we are.
Here we are. Usually, when you think of a school, you think of a building. “Where do you go to school? I go to Wilde Lake.” But as this school year has shown us, both before and after our move to online learning, our school is much, much more that a building with bricks and mortar. Wilde Lake is a community with deep roots. Wilde Lake is an extended family. We are an ohana.
I know when we shared the idea of ohana with our seniors at the start of the school year, some of you thought “what is this ohana mess”? For those of you who are joining us from across the nation and the world to celebrate our graduates today, ohana means family. Ohana is a Hawaiian concept defined as an extended family, one that is not necessarily connected by blood. A person’s ohana can include their best friends, neighbors, teachers, or anyone else who is special in your life. Your ohana is special. The people within your ohana are bound together by genuine compassion, culture, support, loyalty, and love for each other. In an ohana, you are never isolated or alone.
Particularly now, it is imperative that no member of our Wilde Lake ohana is left behind or forgotten. And, seniors, there are four characteristics to caring for our ohana that we encourage you to take with you as take the next steps on your journey to Find Your Purpose and Create Your Path. Those characteristics are the ones that you have shown to your family at home and your Wilde Lake family during the last few months, and they must guide our community, our nation, and our world moving forward, even when this trial is long behind us. Those characteristics are compassion, empathy, flexibility, and love.
Compassion is kindness, caring, and a willingness to help others. It is having patience and seeking to help where you can. Whether you help your younger brother or sister with their online assignments, help your family by doing chores around the house or by taking on another shift at work, or help your community by donating to Columbia Community Care or the Howard County Food Bank, your compassion for others has inspired us throughout your time at Wilde Lake, but no time more than right now. It is vital for our community that you keep your compassionate heart at the fore of your actions in all that you do, and in all times. Your family, and our ohana, need that.
The next characteristic that we need in our Wilde Lake community, and in our world, is empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is spending time with, and really learning about, people who differ from you in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economic background, language spoken at home, or political beliefs. Empathy is leaving some toilet paper on the store shelf for the next person. Empathy is ensuring that you don’t tell someone else to improve, until you have walked a mile in their shoes. And looked at yourself in the mirror. Empathy is asking why someone may be afraid to go out for a run, or to hear a knock at the door, and then taking the time to listen to their response and guiding your actions accordingly. Empathy is one of the greatest skills that you have developed at Wilde Lake, and it is one of the greatest gifts most needed in our world today. We have to be able to share our feelings in open and honest ways that allow us to make decisions that benefit all of us, not just some of us.
The next characteristic that we encourage you to continue to develop is flexibility. When you don’t know what life may have in store for you next, it is flexibility that will allow you to pivot and respond effectively. William James said that “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” Sometimes you have to be flexible enough to overlook the small stuff in order to focus on what is really important. Look at us. You just got an A for 4th quarter for turning in two assignments. We had to be flexible in our grading because we know that you have so many responsibilities on your plate right now. We encourage you to bring that same flexibility to your expectations of the ones you love.
Love. That is the final, and the most important characteristic of our Wilde Lake ohana. Do not ever be afraid to make your decisions based on love, to lead with love, and to express your love. Love for others, and love for yourself. Give yourself the grace to be imperfect, to do the very best you can in the given circumstances, and to know that you will continue to learn and grow for the rest of your life. Then offer that same grace to the people around you, the people in your ohana, and in our world.
You have made an incredible impact on our Wilde Lake family in your four years as a Wildecat, and we know that your experiences overcoming adversity in our inclusive community will be a strong foundation for your journey moving forward. You are the class that was born in the shadow of 9/11 and finishes high school in the middle of global pandemic. When our community, and our world, needs compassionate, empathetic, flexible, and loving leadership in the future, you will be the ones saying, “here, hold my beverage. I got this.”
Class of 2020 – you got this, we are here for you always, and we love you very, very much. Congratulations!
Now, in acknowledgment of the compassion and love that resides in this Class of 2020, Dr. Martirano and Mrs. Mallo, I hereby certify that the graduates in the Wilde Lake High School Class of 2020 have met all the requirements for graduation as set forth by the Howard County Public School System and the Maryland State Department of Education. They are eligible to receive a Maryland High School Diploma, a Certificate of Completion, Certificate of Attendance, or Certificate of Achievement.
It is now my great pleasure to introduce our Superintendent and Board of Education member to continue our celebration of the Wilde Lake Class of 2020.
Our Superintendent, Dr. Michael J. Martirano, is a champion for equity for all students, and his leadership has been a touchstone for Howard County Public Schools for the past three years, but none more important that these past 2 ½ months. Dr. Martirano, thank you for your purposeful vision on behalf of our students and, on a personal note, thank you for the priceless gift of being able to come home to Wilde Lake this year.
Our Board of Education member, Jen Mallo, is first and foremost a Wilde Lake Mom, and her tireless efforts in the Wilde Lake community continue to be student-centered, first and foremost. Thank you both for sharing this special day with the Wilde Lake Class of 2020!