Dear graduating students,
I am so proud of you! You should also be proud of yourselves. Whether you are graduating from STX, HF, HHX, IB, EUD or EUX, you have worked hard to reach this day. You have probably cursed the school during this emotional and hectic exam period. This is how it should be.
However, it is amazing to look out over this beautiful sea of different caps with happy faces, full of expectation in the hall today. Even though you look a little worn out after the last few weeks and days of hardships, you make a cascading wave of potential, hope and opportunity. You must go forth and change the landscape of the future. You will soon rush out into a new life of freedom and decide your own path without the shackles of Lectio. I am sure that it feels intoxicating but at the same time a little scary.
It is a melancholy day for us who have to stay behind, because we are so fond of you. You give us light and life and make it delightful to go to work every day. I think it should be emphasized in all high school job vacancies that the most important personnel benefit and privilege of the job is spending time with joyful and inspiring young people – you!. I am sure that there is evidence that this is life prolonging for any secondary school teacher, this is how it seems to me.
It is crucial for me that you have gained both professionally and socially from your time here, that your mental barriers have been moved, that you have made friends for life – and you have enjoyed life along the way. I hope that you will look back at your time at Nyborg Gymnasium as a significant and meaningful period of your lives and feel exhilarated. In a few years, the feeling will grow stronger.
I am so proud of you, but I am also proud of Nyborg Gymnasium’s teachers and employees. They have day in and day out worked hard to make you as clever as possible. They have given you the optimal framework for your development from curious first year students to fully-fledged graduates ready to embrace the future. The teachers have challenged you and have given you a long lasting professional foundation of education. You can build further on this foundation and use it to make dreams come true in your life. Thank you, teachers, for your tireless efforts and care of our students. Please give a round of applause for our teachers and employees.
As many of you know, I suddenly became principal after a turbulent year, where the school has been under construction, fusion, reform and replacement of management. My lovely friend and former principal, Trine Rhein-Knudsen has played a crucial role in creating and future proofing our campus. She has laid a foundation for a uniquely diverse school, where the light truly is not for the learned just. We and I have a lot to thank Trine for.
Today I stand here before you – with just three months of experience as principal. I have not regretted it for a second. I suppose I feel a lot like you did as first year students. Can I manage this, and what does everyone think about me? That feeling is universal and experienced throughout life. Therefore, what you experience for the first time today is also my first time.
When I started writing this speech, I sat in front of an empty computer screen and had grim flashbacks to my own time at high school, with long evenings with countless assignments. What do I really want to say to you? It should mean something special and something you can take with you on your journey through life. It was difficult. I called round to my old classmates from year 99´ from Randers State School and asked what our principal said to us, no one could remember. Everyone could remember the trip in the lorry afterwards though…..
I could, for example, focus on great changes in the world: Trump, the British and French elections, terror in Manchester and London, on general education in 2017 or the new school reform. They are all good and relevant topics. However, I would like to talk about your lives instead, where you are in your lives at this time, and the high expectations you are living with.
Therefore, let us start up in Norway with Erland Loe’s novel ”Doppler”, which is about an existentially challenged man of my age and the elk Bongo. This story tells about the pressures of high expectations and life as such.
Andreas Doppler has a career, family, villa, designer furniture, a racing bike, and does everything in order to live up to society standards, being a dutiful citizen, father and husband. However, in reality he is falling apart because of the career race and the idea of the perfect family life in the great hamster wheel of life. He realises this one day when he falls off his bike and bumps his head. Suddenly, he can see clearly that he is living a life on autopilot without doing what he really wants. He expresses this as follows:
”I have done so much. I have been so competent. I have been so bloody competent. I was competent in nursery. I was competent in school. In high school, I was disgustingly competent, not just academically but also socially. I was a competent student and had a super competent girlfriend, who I had a competent marriage with among competent friends. I was also offered a job, that was so competent that it said sod all to all the other competent jobs. Later on, we had children, which we brought up in a most competent way, and we acquired a house that has undergone a competent renovation. I have breathed competence and gradually lost my own life”
Doppler packs his backpack, leaves his family and villa and moves into the woods on the outskirts of Oslo. He wants to break with conformism and the performance society he lives in. This gives him meaning in his life. After a short time, Doppler becomes best friends with the elk Bongo after accidentally eating his mother. The two of them move into a tipi and spend time playing picture lottery, stealing skimmed milk from the local supermarket and making a giant totem pole.
The story is wonderfully grotesque and a liberating criticism of the stressful performance society that characterizes our later modern society.
The story about Doppler and the elk Bongo is also relevant for you because you experience performance and expectation pressures in your lives today. The solution is not to move into the woods with an elk and survive on stealing skimmed milk, but instead, that each of you can make a little personal rebellion against the excessive focus on grades, career and the perfect life.
I actually think that many of you from your generation have spent too little time being curious and searching, being insecure or doing something a little crazy without it having a measurable value for your CV, grade certificate or a later career. There is great political pressure on your generation in the education system and in the labour market. Never before has there been so much focus on the utility of your educational choices. Education has become the means to ensure increased growth in GDP and competitiveness in the global community until you retire in 2070. Educational political opinion formers caricatures you as “the competitive state’s foot soldiers” who can take orders and live up to the needs of society.
Some call you for “generation progress” and “generation flawless” because there is a huge focus on appearing perfect, gaining high grades and having a clear career and project plan for the rest of your lives. However, these demands create both stress, lack of self-esteem and dissatisfaction among young people. You have forgotten that you are not foot soldiers but generals in your own lives.
In the excellent TV2 documentary “boys against girls” from Brønderslev Gymnasium, transmitted here in the spring, the focus was on the pressure on young people, in terms of both grades and choice of education. The skilled A student, Rikke, expresses this as follows:
”I just think it is difficult in the society we live in to know that we actually have value in ourselves, but we really do. However, nobody tells us this. That which defines me is how clever I am in school. It is as if being yourself is not enough. Therefore, you need to have a high education in order to be a little bit visible”.
This really hurts to hear. However, the series focuses on an important problem and shows that the race for high grades has increased across the country. The study “stress in high school” from Aarhus University, published in January 2017, shows that the race for high grades contributes to pushing 55 per cent of students so hard that they become just as stressed as the 20 per cent of the most stressed adults. According to the survey, the most stressed students were characterized by always trying to make everything perfect.
In the school’s new, wonderful magazine ”Kapslen”, a student writes the following about pressure and his/her own generation. ”We are pushed harder and harder and have reached a point where we have lost focus. More and more people are getting ill with stress and depression – even the generation before ours are affected – but I would dare to claim that we are more affected as we are already stressed in our teenage years.”
The stress-tendency illustrates that education has unfortunately, been reduced to a means of obtaining good grades in the long project of life. Learning has lost its intrinsic value. Psychologist and society debater Svend Brinkmann focuses on this problem in his new book ”Ståsteder”. Here he addresses the existential major question about the meaning of life and criticises the utility value thinking in all areas of society: the most learning for the money, the most education for the money, and the most environment for the money.
Brinkmann very rightly points out, that we have come to think too instrumental and exclusively do things to promote career, to increase finances and to boost our CV. We want access to the dream education, the dream job, the dream girl/boyfriend and the so-called perfect, happy life.
Brinkmann’s thesis is that the meaning of life is connected to things that are a goal in themselves, and the activities we perform are for their own sake. He asks us all, what can be a goal in itself? What do we do, because it actually matters to us? That is where we stand, and what gives meaning to life! We play for the sake of playing, we play music because it moves us, we spend time with friends because we enjoy being social, we read books because they are exciting, and we go to a gala party because it is fun.
It may well be that you did not immediately like all your subjects, lessons and activities at NG. However, I still think that what you have experienced and learned has changed you and has really meant something to you. This has been a goal in itself! It has given you a foundation and has educated you. General education is not just about measurable competences, knowledge and having high educational standards. It is equally important to be well prepared for life and find the meaning in life.
This is precisely one of Nyborg gymnasiums most important tasks! To open your eyes for new and exciting dimensions in life and in yourselves. To give you the opportunity to acquire insight in thoughts and ideas, that you have not known before. To teach you to listen, investigate and be able to critically appraise statements and claims that daily bombard you from all the media. To teach you to think independently, find your own standpoints and put the race for performance on stand-by for a while. Many of you already do this and still manage to be successful academically. You are fighters, and with blood, sweat and tears you have fought hard to get a fantastic average and future opportunities. It is so wonderful and you have my admiration.
Now, I hope you will enjoy the victory and afterwards remember to be a curious, read books, dance, travel and enjoy life as much as you can. It is a magical time and it will not come back. Soon there will be so many commitments and responsibilities to relate to, that these opportunities will gradually disappear. There is nothing wrong with that and that is how it should be. Everything has its own time. It is part of life to start a family, find a job, think sensibly and reject offers if they are not important to you. However, you do not need to think about which property loan to choose or pension you need just yet.
But am I now standing here before you asking you to move out into the woods with an elk, take 5 sabbaticals with dancing and not strive for a good career and a successful life? No of course not. Of course you should get out there and fight for a good place in the world and acquire top grades. However, you should not do it for the sake of appearances, or be superficial in order to live up to others expectations. Do not waste your time living other people’s lives.
What we need is well-educated, brave and enterprising young people who are passionate about what they do. This is of course you! We also need young people who are aware that one does not always have to do things perfectly. The imperfect and being comfortable with yourself is a pivotal point in the Norwegian series SKAM that has been voted the best youth television series in the world. The series was intended for 16-year-old girls with high ambitions and low self-esteem. However, the series hits on something universal and strikes home with both young and old, because we can all relate to the generation portrait. I have to be honest, I feel just like a big teenager when I watch the series!
Even though Sana, Noora, Vilde, Eva, Chris, Even and Isak are young in 2017, they give us insight into timeless problems like love, jealousy, low self-esteem, search for identity, doubts and insecurity. We follow them through the ups and downs of life and can identify with them. Experiencing the young ones’ strong sense of community gives hope as they and the series teaches us that it is ok to be imperfect, upset and confused. The series also pays tribute to solidarity and friendships, it is through these the young people solve their problems. ”People need people”, as Even says to Isak i season 3. This is so powerful and so true.
The same theme repeats itself in Nyborg Gymnasiums fantastic musical “Drømmeakademiet”, which had its premiere in January. The play was written by our school’s drama teacher Johanne Graf and is about a group of young people who have enormous ambitions and who aspire to fame and success. To start with, most of them are rivals but after a while, they are moved by the timeless message of the classical works and find themselves in a strong fellowship. At the graduation party at “Drømmeakademiet” one of the main characters says:
”We were told when we came that the theatre is a tough environment, which is all about ambitions and competition and battles with one self and each other. However, I now realize that while we were having our battles we became friends. This is good because when you are close to each other, you hold a part of another person’s life in your hands and you must be gentle with this.
I am very grateful that I have met you. Each meeting has been a gift. Meeting you has made me understand that happiness is right here. Right here where we are now, meeting each other. We just need to open our eyes and see it. We meet each other and we can almost say that we lift each other up.”
These are so lovely and wise words by Johanne (and Løgstrup)! I hope that you all have experienced being lifted up during your time here at Nyborg Gymnasium. I also hope that the years at NG have given you firm standpoints, strong friendships and the courage to go forth, be imperfect, and follow your own intuition. Break away from the performance race in your own life and give yourself time to experience that happiness is right here and now.
I will close with the wise words of Steve Jobs from his famous speech from Stanford:
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
With these words I hereby graduate the year of 2017 from Nyborg Gymnasium.