Mr. Bright's 2019 Commencement Address

Welcome to all. Parents, Students, Board, Relatives, friends, Staffulty,

About 16 years ago or so, each of you took a first, unaided, step. Those in the room today who witnessed that moment will likely recall that day with clarity and probably some emotion.

It was one of those big moments.

Now, you’re ready to take a few big steps again, across this stage to pick up your diploma, shake a few hands, have your picture taken, and to try not to trip on the way back to your seat.

This is clearly another one of those moments.

The average moderately active person take around 7,500 steps per day. If you maintain that daily average and live until 80 years of age, you'll have walked about 216,262,500 steps in your lifetime. So by the time you’ve turned 18 which some of you have already, you’ve probably walked around 48 million steps, or 25 thousand miles - enough to circumnavigate the earth. Along the way, you’ve done thousands and thousands of things: some significant, some insignificant, some memorable, some forgettable, you’ve had victories and you’ve made mistakes. Throughout it all, you’ve made plans, readjusted, made new plans, and you’ve worked hard to do your best because you want to live a fulfilling life and you want to be happy.

There’s a short article in the NY Times this last week about happiness that seems appropriate considering the reason we’re gathered here. The author argues that the more we misinterpret the value of achievement, the more dissatisfaction we’ll experience and and less happy we’ll be. If we focus on the idea that by getting the job, getting into the school, winning the trophy, getting the promotion, we’ll be happy, permanently. Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, a Harvard-trained positive psychologist says that that’s called “arrival fallacy”. “Arrival fallacy, according to him, is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.”

“[Some] individuals start out unhappy, but they say to themselves, ‘It’s O.K. because when I make it, then I’ll be happy.” But then they make it, and while they may feel briefly fulfilled, the feeling doesn’t last. “This time, they’re unhappy, but more than that they’re unhappy without hope, because before they lived under the illusion — the false hope — that once they make it, then they’ll be happy.”

None of this means that goals aren’t important, only that we should focus on a broader purpose and that that purpose should be meaningful to us and to something beyond ourselves, and beyond the simple attainment of goals for the goals sake.

“The No. 1 predictor of happiness,” according to Dr. Ben-Shahar, is the “quality time we spend with people we care about and who care about us.” And truly, achieving something — whether it’s an award, a promotion, or even tying our shoes — that alone doesn’t guarantee happiness.

And so, do you remember the last time you tied your shoes? Do you actually remember doing it? Do you recall when you learned how? Do you remember who taught you? Have you ever taught someone to tie theirs?

I remember when my mom and dad both taught me - 49 years or so ago. I’ll tell you this: wasn’t handed an instruction sheet, sent back to my room and left alone to just figure it out. I didn’t get a grade out of 10 and they didn’t circle anything with a red pen.

Instead, we did it together. They worked with me, beside me, hand in hand, guiding me, showing me, and letting me fail. They were patient, they observed, they encouraged and they corrected. They saw where I ‘got it’ and where I needed more help, until I finally could do it on my own.

Today, you’ve achieved an important milestone. And while it is a big day, it’s really just the end of a beginning. Today we mark this achievement with a direction; a goal that gives you hope. And despite the pomp and circumstance of today, in a very real sense, you’ll still have to tie your shoes and use your own feet to walk into your lives when you leave this auditorium.

Your world is about to get a lot bigger, so keep an open mind, especially about yourself. Make mistakes. Give yourselves a chance to learn from the missteps you will make. Because, if you’re open and honest with yourself, those mistakes will be invaluable, and you’ll likely become a bit more empathetic to others along the way.

Because of the wonders of science, we know that mental operations are in fact shared physical events between people. Our ways of being interact intimately with our surroundings and others with whom we share space and experiences. Brain scans show that in conversation, changes in one participant’s thoughts are experienced chemically and physically in the other’s mind. This allows us to experience and feel in ways that bind us together and remind us that we aren’t alone. Empathy is real and it’s biological.

So help someone without asking for anything in return; stand up for injustice - fight for the underdog; stop to help to someone at an inconvenient time, listen patiently to someone who is in pain or who needs a sympathetic ear. Be wary of things that limit your awareness or encourage self-centeredness. Remember that a rising tide lifts all boats, so when you help others, you’re also helping yourself.

You’re flexible, organized, passionate, patient, funny, risk-taking, resourceful, and committed human beings. From community development to child advocacy, finance to restaurant work, I’m inspired by the wide-open way you’ve stepped into the world during your senior project internships, and brought your whole selves to it. You planned, you showed up, you reflected and you made an impact.

None of this surprised any of us because we see you and we are connected to you. We appreciate what you’ve taught us about the world, about our place in it, and what we should do about it. You’ve filled the halls at Vistamar with hope and with joy, and your voices will resonate long after you’re gone. You’ve shaped our school and made it yours.

We’ve learned so much from you.

The people who taught you to tie those shoes, to ride a bike, who made your lunch, made you make your own lunch, wiped your tears, celebrated your successes, and loved you more than you will ever likely know, they are cheering you on today like it was the first time they laid eyes on you when you were brand new and when you took those first, independent steps all those years ago.

Give yourselves credit for the hard work and dedication you’ve shown in your time at Vistamar, and be sure to thank those who have helped you along your way. Breathe deeply and know that what awaits you is yours to define and yours to create.

You should be very proud of yourselves, not just for what you’ve done, but who you’ve become and how you’ve made things better. And as for me, as I conclude my first year here at Vistamar, I want to thank each of you for making my life better, and for teaching me every day that I’m part of something miraculous and beautiful. Congratulations.
Vistamar School is a private independent high school in the South Bay region of Los Angeles.

Vistamar School