by Muddy Waters
Each year, we pick a Pike graduate who is graduating from high school that year to speak to us at graduation. We alternate between boys and girls each year. I am always amazed in their ability to both entertain and enlighten not only our graduates but the hundreds of people in attendance. This year, Darian Bhathena ’12 gave a truly memorable address we are sharing here. Please take the time to read it, as he encourages us all to take the time to appreciate all we have done as we look to the future and the possibilities that await us. The video of his address can be viewed here, as well. Enjoy!
Good morning. To the class of 2016, congratulations. You have completed the first stage of a very, very long and difficult journey. Kind of like getting past the first couple pipes in “Flappy Bird.” But still: you’ve made it this far, and without smashing head-first into a massive green metal tube, and that is cause for celebration. Enjoy this feeling of accomplishment, completion, and anticipation for what is to come. Before you know it, the summer will be over and you will be swept up in the excitement and confusion that is freshman fall of high school – enjoy that too, as much as possible.
Coming back to Pike is like visiting an old friend that I haven’t seen in a while: different, but the same. I no longer recognize every student in the Upper School; even many of the teachers have unfamiliar faces. The old white cabinets have been exchanged for new wooden ones. A sleek makerspace has replaced the cluttered technology office in the back of the library. And at the same time, I still feel as though I can walk these hallways in my sleep. In the ten years I spent at Pike, it became my home away from home. And in some way or another, whether you’ve been here since Pre-K or only a couple years, I’m sure it has been the same for all of you.
But I could stand up here and reminisce all day about my time at Pike: Hitting the deck when Mr. Smith wound up for a shot in a soccer scrimmage – and I was standing right in front of him. My perfect clay bowl that I made in Mr. V’s ceramics class shattering in the kiln, utterly destroying my hopes of becoming a skilled sculptor.
Learning in Mrs. DeVries’s 6th grade history class that “less is more” applies not only to Charmin Ultra Toilet Tissue commercials, but to note-taking skills as well. Mrs. DeVries, some of those 6-4 closed door conversations have really stuck with me…the doctors think I may have a minor form of PTSD. But although I could bore you all to tears with more stories than you could ever imagine, I will spare you that particular torture.
Instead, the powers that be, also known as Mr. Waters and his trusted faculty, have decided that, being a mere four years older than you are, I am old and wise enough to impart some of my wisdom upon you. And yes – I have been through high school and survived. I have made it past the next couple of flappy bird pipes. And I guess that makes me a little older and a little wiser. So sit back, relax, and brace yourself for the immense amount of clichés that I am about to hit you with.
Cliché number one: failure is important. It is how we learn to adapt, improve, and eventually succeed. As you grow older your world will just keep getting bigger. And as it does, you’re going to see more, you’re going to want more, you’re going to try to get more, and you’re going to be refused more. You are going to fail more. Sports teams, tests, even the occasional love interest – they are going to fall through at one point or another. And as failure finds you more and more often, it becomes even more important to maintain your integrity, believe in yourself, and pick yourself up and move on. As one of my favorite childhood comic-book characters said in a 2011 Steven Spielberg film adaptation: “There are plenty of others willing to call you a failure…Don’t you ever say it of yourself.” Now Captain Haddock may not be the best role model for a lot of reasons, but that particular line struck a chord in me because of my experience in sports. Yes, I’m about to talk more about myself, I apologize. It was sophomore year, and I had just gotten cut from the JV soccer team, after being almost certain about making the team. And so I played on JV2 for the second year in a row, starting to lose hope in my ability to ever make the varsity team. But I decided I wasn’t going to let my soccer career end that early. I changed the way I approached the sport: I began to focus on improving. I would work hard not because my coach told me to or threatened me with sprints if I didn’t, but because working hard was how I was going to get better – a lesson I first learned here at Pike, in the classroom as well as on the field. The next season, despite many people telling me it would be nearly impossible (my dear parents included) I ended up making the varsity team, straight off of JV2. Now I’m not going to deny the fact that a 6-inch, 25-pound growth spurt came in handy that year (as many of my Pike teammates, Mr. Waters, and Mr. Smith can all attest to, I used to be a scrawny little squirt) – but the hard work and shift in mentality didn’t hurt either. And yet, I attribute most of my accomplishment in making the team to Coach McHugh, who cut me from JV that sophomore year. If I hadn’t been cut, I may not have worked as hard, improved as much, and become the type of player that could have made the varsity team the next year. Now it is worth noting that despite all my hard work, there was a very real chance I wouldn’t make the team anyway. But in embracing my initial failure, accepting it, and learning from it, I at least gave myself the opportunity to succeed.
Cliché number 2: Stay true to yourself. In middle school, I can almost guarantee you that no one is truly themselves, that no one acts the way they want to or the way they normally would. Societal pressures, peer pressure, the desire to conform or stand out or make friends…these pressures are all very real, and in middle school are all too strong. But you are moving on to high school now. A clean slate, as it were. In many ways, you can build yourself anew. And I would encourage each and every one of you to not “build” anything. Approach high school as your most genuine self. There is a saying I came to live by during my time at PA – it even became my yearbook quote: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Now the internet is really quite confused on who first said that particular line, but regardless, the advice is sound. When you maintain your integrity, that is when you will forge the best friendships, that is when you will find your passion, and that is when you will discover who you are and who you want to be. And if anyone decides you aren’t at your best when you’re being yourself or doing what you love, then consider the fact that maybe that person isn’t someone you want to keep close by. Unless that person is your parents, of course. Then you should have a very calm, non-confrontational argument – I mean conversation – about whether or not Russian is just as valid a language to take in high school as Spanish…but I digress. I was happiest in high school when I stopped trying to be someone I’m not, and I know it will be the same for all of You.
Third and final cliché: don’t fear the unknown. Accept it. Also accept that there is no way you know, have known, or ever will know it all. As eighth graders many of you have recently encountered Mr. Smith’s black box experiment. For those that haven’t yet experienced the frustration, the black box experiment consists of a black box with wooden skewers running through it. Students have to try to figure out what is in the box however they can, mostly by listening to what happens as they pull out the skewers one by one. When I did this experiment myself, I was almost positive there was a live animal in my box…and to this very day Mr. Smith has refused to confirm or deny that theory. Just as he refused to inform us as to what was actually in the box after we completed the experiment. As a kid who loved to know the answer, this was incredibly frustrating to me, just as I am sure it was very frustrating to you. But at some point, we have to come to terms with the fact that we simply will not know certain things – ever. We have to learn to trust ourselves in a world full of unknowns and uncontrollables. But just because it may be impossible to know everything, doesn’t mean we should stop trying. In the words of UCLA basketball head coach John Wooden, “perfection is an impossibility. However, striving for perfection is not.” So even though you may never learn what mysterious objects (or mythical creatures) Mr. Smith has hidden in his black boxes, that does not mean you should give up on figuring out what they are. If being a teacher myself in the Math Study Center at PA has taught me anything, it is that the journey is much more important than the final destination. And while that may be the most cliché line in the book, it’s cliché for a reason: it’s true.
Thus ends your most recent journey: your journey of surviving my speech without falling asleep. Enjoy your summer, enjoy high school, and never forget where you came from. I speak from experience when I say you will always have a home at Pike.
Congratulations and best of luck to the class of 2016.