Mt Abraham Academic Excellence Night Comments

Thanks for inviting me to join you in this celebration. It’s always a pleasure to return to Mount Abraham. I enjoyed my time here greatly and my children Steve and Anna appreciated their time here as well. You are part of a wonderful educational system and a wonderful community.

I’m not going to ruin an otherwise nice evening by rambling on about the importance of education or even praising you for what you have accomplished. Just once, I’ m going to offer my congratulations to you, your parents and your teachers. Let me tell you why.

Educational curiosity begins in the home. I’ve often said, our children will be who we are, not who we tell them to be. Good parenting is mostly exemplary, so that’s why I congratulate your parents as well. They, too, are curious and have a love of learning and they have imbued you with that love. A child that sees his parents watching television will usually want to watch TV. If parents sit around the kitchen table and grouse about teachers, teacher’s pay, school budgets and schools, children will intrinsically know that schools are not a resource to them but a burden on their lives and community. In a home where books are part of daily life and toddlers are read to, it is only natural for children to want to read books. If a parent helps a child look up a word, the child will learn to do that for themselves. Parents, you all are to be congratulated tonight.

I congratulate the teachers as well. Learning is not about buildings, facilities, budgets, games, computers, and distance learning. Those are tools. It’s about people who know how to teach children.

I have often participated in business forums on education. Business leaders are often powerful minds and they have ideas for fixing everything, including schools, though they occasionally forget to ask the people who actually do the work of teaching what they might need.

When I look back on my own education in Morrisville grade school, boarding school and college, I only remember teachers, about a dozen. They did not make me feel good. They were not concerned with my self-esteem. They never spared me a bad grade I deserved. They kept me believing in my ability but always a little uncomfortable with my effort. They pushed me outside my comfort zone and yet I knew they would always be there for me when I needed help. These few people made all the difference in my education. I am sure the same is true for many of you. It is your parents, your teachers and your own academic accomplishments that have brought us together this evening.

Schools don’t work for everyone, but that can be okay. Nothing works all the time for everyone.

It’s ultimately curiosity that matters, a desire to learn and understand the complex phenomenon that is our world. Whether you approach it from the humanities, the sciences, the arts, the economy, or professionally, it’s a big world out there. School is only your shepherd during this part of your life. Others will be your learning guides in other parts of your lives but it will fall to you in the end. You may be aided by reading, research, your job, your colleagues, or your spouse. You may get more schooling, but it will be up to you to be a life-long learner.

When people lose their love of learning and their ability to listen to others democracy is at risk. The day you close your mind to new ideas and to learning is the day you become a risk to our democracy rather than an asset. When you close your mind to new ideas and become unwilling to listen and learn – even from people with whom you may disagree, your learning career is over and you become a threat to our way of life rather than a resource.

The terrible deadlock that we see in our congress and in much of politics is the disastrous outcome of people with a fixed point of view, unwilling to listen and learn from one another.

Life is very complex and simply cannot be reduced to binary yes-no arguments.

Answers emerge when intelligent people, who may disagree but are open to learning from one another, engage in a discussion, listen to one another rather than planning their next verbal attack and arrive at a compromise solution.

Right and wrong co-exist in our world, but rarely as absolutes. Progress is found by intelligent people talking and exploring ideas with one another respectfully. That is life-long learning.  May you all be life-long learners!

Finally, I would urge you in this information age when the mash-up of real journalism, opinion, advocacy, marketing  and entertainment have all become one, learn the difference. This too, is vital if we are to preserve and improve our democracy.

Opinion is not news. Rachel Maddow, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill Maher are not news sources. The first three offer their opinions. Bill Maher is, by his own admission, an entertainer. Comedy Central and Saturday Night Live are comedy shows that parody news and media. They are not news. News is different. It’s based on verifiable facts and data. If we are to make sound decisions about our future, you all must be media-literate and understand the difference.

I lied. I said I would only congratulate you all once. So one last time, let’s have a big hand for the people who made your academic success possible tonight, you, your families and your fine teachers.


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