PMHS Graduation 2018
June 23, 2018
Dr. Cheryl H. Champ, ED.D.
Board of Education President Smith, Vice President Acampora, Members of the board of education, Mrs. Clark, Mr. Rothstein, distinguished administrators, faculty and staff, parents, guests, and most especially the Pelham Memorial High School Class of 2018.
Welcome and congratulations on reaching this important milestone in your educational journey. Your last year in this journey has been my first in this wonderful district, in a very special community that truly values and invests in its schools knowing that support is a direct investment in the success of each one of you. An investment in opportunities, experiences, and resources that broaden your horizons, develop your talents and help you to become the well-rounded students that you are today. That same investment pays exponential dividends as you leave high school behind and engage in the future endeavors that will take you far beyond the hallowed halls of PMHS and to all reaches of the globe.
Although our time together was brief, you impressed me with your kindness and compassion toward one another, your commitment to service for your school and community, your passion for making change in our community, our country and our world, and your persistence in rising to an inspiring level of excellence in all of your academic and extracurricular pursuits.
So, as I thought about words of wisdom to impart to you today I turned toward one of the sources that always inspires me. The writings of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. His leadership, faith, and commitment to justice have always caused me to pause and reflect on my own commitment to these things. To question, “what would I do if faced with similar challenges, situations, injustices, and inequalities?” I venture to guess his writings resonate with many of you as well given the activities I’ve seen you engage in at this unsettled and divisive time in our history.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail Dr. King talked about the role of the church in fighting injustice and righting wrongs in society. Harkening back to earlier times he stated, “In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”
His analogy of the thermometer and the thermostat serves as a lesson for each of us to consider. We are each here, now, at this time and in this place. June 23rd, 2018 in Pelham, in Westchester County, in New York, in the United States, in North America. Each of you has been part of a family, a school, and a community. Each of these divisions, whether geographic or relational, add a different layer of context to the world within which we each function. I, being new to Pelham this year, had many goals for the year, one of which was to build relationships and get to know the school and community. In other words, to take the temperature of the place. To be a thermometer to identify and collect data on the ideas and principles of popular opinion that make Pelham Pelham. This is an important first step when entering any new context or environment. All of you will be doing that in the next few months as you leave high school behind and head out to college, work, the military, or wherever your plans lead you next.
But I, and you, would be remiss if we stopped there. Thermometers are simple, static tools. They measure but do nothing to influence the environment around them. Hence Dr. King’s reference to the thermostat – an influential tool that takes the information provided by the thermometer and reacts to it in order to change the environment within boundaries of specific temperatures. At times those temperature boundaries need to change. And the thermostat responds, changes the environment, and conforms the environment to the new boundaries that have been established.
Dr. King’s thermostats “were small in number but big in commitment. They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest,” which were a temperature of the times. The evils of Dr. King’s time were inequality, discrimination, hatred, and bigotry. He and so many others had to become “the thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” Now it is our time to question what our role will be in this system.
Each of you has been blessed with a wealth of opportunities to learn and grow in so many ways throughout your time in school. You have built lasting friendships, made memories you will treasure and some you will be more than happy to forget. You have learned a tremendous amount and developed both academic and life skills. You have found faculty, coaches, advisors, and mentors that have helped shape you into the people you are today. You have taken the temperature of the world around you.
But you have also grown in your sense of right and wrong, justice, equality, respect, responsibility, and courage. And these are the qualities that will support you in being a thermostat to the world around you. You have the ability and the responsibility to not only measure the environment around you, but to influence it in ways that will take the evils and injustices that exist around you – be they at the personal, systemic, local, or even global level - and change the current status quo. You have the ability to shift those boundaries and right that which is wrong to make the world a better place and “transform the mores of society.”
We all learned a lesson this past year about the powerful impact high school students can have on our country. Staring tragedy in the face, the students of Stoneman Douglas High School used their voices to force changes in laws and regulations in an effort to transform the mores of society in the hopes of this tragedy happening “never again.” Many of you joined in their efforts. The #me too movement gave voice to so many women who had been victimized and who chose to be the thermostat that said this is not right, it needs to change. We could go on for a long time listing the many evils and injustices that exist around us but listing them won’t change them. It is our actions that will. So, graduates, as you leave this chapter behind and launch out toward whatever lies next, I urge you to remember Dr. King’s analogy, and to be not only the thermometer that records “the ideas and principles of popular opinion,” but to be the thermostat that transforms the mores of society.”
Congratulations and best wishes in all your future pursuits.