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Recycling an oldie but goodie: Don’t take it for granted

Paul Schlichtman

Paul Schlichtman, chairman of the School Committee, delivered these remarks at the 2024 Arlington High School commencement.

Superintendent Homan, Principal Janger, Rep. Garballey, distinguished faculty, family, friends, and members of the Class of 2024.

I had the honor of delivering this speech 20 years ago. People seemed to like it. As a believer in recycling, I thought . . . why not pull it off the hard drive? I mean, none of you heard my 20-year-old speech. So, here goes.

Members of the Class of 2004: I’ve got just one question for you.

Do you honestly think nobody noticed that half the senior class has been lurking behind shrubbery with Super Soakers? In 50-degree weather? In the rain?

Here you are, right at the end of your high school career. We’re about to give you these diplomas that tell the world how smart you are, and you are running around with water guns in a rainstorm? And this was a highly organized effort.

Is this still happening?

Looks like we have a tradition on our hands. A powerful one. It prevailed through a pandemic, and so did you. Your resilience is a harbinger of the future we are placing in your hands. Our hopes and dreams for a better world are invested in you.

My friends and neighbors of the graduating class of 2024, if you started with us in kindergarten on a beautiful morning in September 2011, the town has spent $179,847 on your education.

Look back 20 years

Arlington can take pride in our willingness to invest in your education, which wasn’t the theme 20 years ago. In 2003, voters defeated an operating override, and the Class of 2004 tasted the bitterest fruits of that failure. We laid off teachers, cancelled electives, and their senior year was plagued with a plethora of directed studies in Old Hall.

I told the Class of 2004:

You now choose what to take from the experience. You may be tempted to feel let down and turn your back on public schools. 

Or you could walk away with a renewed spirit, knowing the value of your tax dollars, knowing the value of the money you send to your public schools. If you walk from here with the spirit of community, and the determination to build something better for the generation you will send to our schools, then maybe this painful lesson will have long-term benefits.

And they built a better future. They became voters, and civic leaders, and . . . .

Old Hall?

Remember Old Hall?

$291 million for new AHS

Five years ago, Arlington voted by a 3-to-1 margin to build a $291 million high school. In the same election, we voted by a 2-to-1 margin to support a $5.5 million operating override. Last November, we passed a $7 million override, with the bulk of the money going to support our schools. Old Hall is gone, and we have a budget that provides resources that were unavailable 20 years ago.

So, I ask only one thing in return. Don’t take it for granted. As you walk through the arch with your diploma, know this is a transition to an adult world where you now gain an adult responsibility to children in the classes behind you. We don’t send you a bill for your education. We can only ask you to care about future generations; we can only hope that your dreams will include a better world and even better schools for your children and grandchildren.

I told the class of 2004:

Last week you were playing with water guns. In November, you will be eligible to vote for president. You are entering adulthood in historic times, and you have a tremendous opportunity to influence the world your children will be born into.

That’s even more true today. I don’t think I need to say any more.

Red/blue then, now

Twenty years ago, I noted some differences between red states and blue states. Those differences are even more pronounced today. Know that Arlington is one of the bluest towns in one of the bluest states, and when you travel into the rest of our diverse nation, you will experience the many flavors of being an American. You will find real differences, but there’s so much we hold in common.

There’s lots of good people, and lots of yummy regional food, out there. Go find it.

And don’t just fly to the West Coast. At least once, get on a train and experience the vastness of our continent. Witness the transition from cities, to farms, to prairies, to deserts, to dramatic mountains, before you reach the cities of the Pacific Coast. When you live in a place with 46,000 people living on five square miles of land, there is something dramatic about looking out a train window at nothing but empty land, clear to the horizon.

Sox beat curse 

Twenty years ago, the Red Sox were in a championship drought. The Sox hadn’t won a World Series since 1918. 2004 was the year the curse was reversed, the Red Sox came back from a three-game deficit to beat the Yankees for the American League championship, then went on to win the World Series. They followed by winning three more titles, in 2007, 2013 and 2018.

You leave today as high school graduates. Now that you are an adult, you can have adult conversations with other adults. To test this new relationship, ask your family about the 2004 World Series. If they lived in New England 20 years ago, they will have stories worth collecting.

As an adult, you will be creating your own stories. You will shape and define your own beliefs. You will choose your own path, choose where you live, choose who you love, build your own family.

What he told Garballey's class

Rep. Garballey was a member of the Class of 2003. I also spoke at his graduation. I told his class 21 years ago:

Barriers of prejudice are falling, but they are not all gone.  I hope your generation will have the success in fully demolishing those barriers, for that would fulfill many of our dreams. Yes, we do live our lives through you, bestow our dreams upon you, and educate you so you can achieve things beyond our reach:

A cure for cancer.  A flight to Mars. An Asian-American, an African-American, a woman president.  Or two.  Or more.

We haven’t cured cancer, we haven’t flown to Mars, prejudice still lingers, but we broke a streak of consecutive white male presidents at 43. We elected and reelected an African-American president, and we have an African-American, Asian-American, woman vice-president. Just like marriage equality, the domain of possible presidents has more than doubled.  And in a state that had never elected a woman governor, we now have a female governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer and auditor. And the governor lives in Arlington. How cool is that?

Which is why I can look at this brilliant, wonderful, and incredibly well-educated graduating class with tremendous optimism, because I know everyone here can follow their hearts and achieve great things. I know you are strong enough to ignore the naysayers who dare to set limits on what you can achieve. 

On behalf of my School Committee colleagues -- Jeff Thielman, Kirsi Allison-Ampe, Len Kardon, Jane Morgan, Liz Exton and Laura Gitelson, I am pleased to congratulate you on your achievements. Now, please, go forth and do great things.

This viewpoint was published Sunday, June 2, 2024.

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