Graduation Speech, 13 June 2000

Given to the Class of 2000, friends and families, Bergen Academies

Members of the Board, colleagues, friends, honored guests, and fellow members of the AAST class of 2000, good evening. I am deeply gratified and honored that this graduating class before you tonight has asked me to address you all this evening. In case you don't already know, I have accepted a faculty position at The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham; therefore, these are my final days at the Academy.

I could stand before you tonight, in the manner of many graduation speakers across America each June, and catalog a cascade of cloying cliches for your consumption this evening. I could bloviate earnestly about the grasping of brass rings. I could elocute excruciatingly about paths not taken and cite Robert Frost with elegant sentimentality. This I will happily skip.

In the world of cliches, I will say this much because it is absolutely true. We are all embarked on a great adventure, freighted with uncertainty. It brings us all more than just a frisson of excitement; tied to it are the emotions of fear, loss, anticipation and antsiness about the things that face us at our chosen destinations. What will our new friends be like? Will we measure up to the challenges that face us in our new places of work and study? Will our old friendships wither in the face of distance? Will they be overwhelmed in the tsunami of work that accompanies the adjustment to our new chosen lives? Did our experience at the Academy really prepare us for what is "out there," or will we flounder hopelessly in our new roles? These are questions, which at this time, we are unable to answer for sure. They constitute some of the danger associated with wading into unfamiliar waters.

But unfamiliar waters are actually nothing new to us at the Academy. Four years ago, you decided to apply to a school whose first graduating class was just entering college. Hmmmm..... little or no track record discernible here. Great risk was tied to the enterprise you undertook. You even competed in the grueling application process to take this great risk! For all you could have known, the faculty of the Academy could have failed in its great experiment. The first class could have floundered pathetically at school and, thereby, your prospects for getting into a school befitting your aggressive ambitions, could have been greatly diminished. However, fortune has smiled upon you; and that class, and the ones succeeding it, have built a solid academic reputation for this school in the marketplace of higher education. This is a reputation you have the responsibility to build upon.

Like you, fellow members of the class of 2000, I took a great risk too. About seven years ago, I got up on a cold, clear Pennsylvania winter morning in December to walk down to the corner drugstore to buy the Sunday New York Times and Philly Inquirer. As is my habit, I looked through the education careers advertisements in the OpEd section of the Times, whilst imbibing my morning coffee. In this edition of the paper, I saw an ad for a whole slew of faculty positions at a school billing itself "The Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology". I decided to apply; it looked just insane enough to attract my attention and interest. The following August, August of 1993, I arrived and began my career at the Academy with a trip to Stevens on a hot Sunday afternoon with the Class of 1996. Seven years ago, I took a plunge similar to the one you did four years ago. I took a flier with my career and decided to chance a very uncertain situation.

This brings us to today, 13 June 2000. You, the Academy Class of 2000, and I have both experienced a measure of success. We have both won the right to pursue new opportunities and to write new chapters in our lives. But, we must both remember, that we have only won this right. Beyond this, again, we both face a no-guarantees situation.

Now, we step backwards, and ask the question: "What have we left here at the Academy?" What is the legacy of this class for the school? What did it leave behind and how did it leave a mark?

Academically, it prospered. Ten students, almost 1/6 of the class, were offered admission to MIT. Several students who wished to attend accelerated med school programs were admitted. Others are attending such excellent schools as Rutgers, Penn, Harvard, Williams and Brown; all have done well. I am genuinely gratified and enormously proud to see this class succeed so splendidly. Having been one of the architects of this school and its programs, I can say I am extremely proud of your accomplishments.

Comically, it prospered too. There are too many funny stories to tell, but I will bring up a few. No look at a class is complete without looking at a few of its funny moments. I know that I had endless fun twisting its tail. Back with the class of 1998, I started the Academy tradition of the "Sunshine Boy." This tradition harkens back to a comitragical movie, starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, about two retired vaudevillians, whose overweening egotism and pride destroyed the prospects for a revival of their show. The sunshine boy always thinks the sun unceasingly follows him, or her for that matter, around. In a school such as this one, there is always an abundance of sunshine boys, (gape in feigned disbelief) even in this class. Who knows? There might even be one or two amongst the faculty! Big egos always accompany big accomplishment; this is a simple fact of human nature. Mercy dictates I forgo the naming of names .....

However, there is a story which has the status of an Academy legend, in which I must name names. After a long day of math team hoopla, the beleaguered Mr. Holbrook pointed at Josh Hamberger and said, "You have the ability to annoy God!" This started a succession of silly so--called "clubs" at the Academy: The God Annoyers Guild, GAG for short, for those whose delight it is to endlessly harry their classmates and teachers, Dr. Nevard's Eeyore Club, for the perennially anhedonic and pessimistic, the Wellsprings of Logorrhea for those who like to yak without surcease, and the Ozone Patrol, for well, I think no explanation is needed here....

With this class came the concept of the Klingon, the student who "clung on" to a faculty member making a trip to a restaurant adjoining school property for lunch or a trip to the Mobil Mart. These things may seem silly, but for me, as for many students at the Academy, they added spice and zest to the life of the school. They add greatly to the store of charming quirks and eccentricities that make this place what it is.

But, now in a more serious vein, this class must reflect on what it owes this school and its faculty. There is no doubt that there is a debt accrued.

Members of the class of 2000, it is your duty to acquit yourselves to the best of your ability at your chosen schools. Not all of you will succeed equally. But, if you put in a good effort, as did the classes before you, you will bolster the reputation of this school and pave the way for future classes of Academy students. This is a debt you owe to the classes that come after you. I am confident that you will do the job.

On a more personal note, and in conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to say farewell to the Academy Community. There are just too many people to thank, colleagues, families and students, who made my tenure here a fun and deeply satisfying one. I have made many friends here, and it makes parting all that much more difficult. I will think of you all fondly long after I have departed for the gentle verdant hills of North Carolina. Fortunately there is ICQ and e-mail.

I worked very hard here alongside my colleagues, in a number of areas, including admissions, the shaping of the mathematics program, and in maintaining the school's relationship with its alumni. I hope that this work will have lasting meaning for the school community.

Nonetheless, this is a commencement. That means it is a beginning, not an end. Now it is time for us to go forward and achieve. Thank you and good night.