Good Morning.  On behalf of the Board of Education it is my pleasure to congratulate you, the class of 2015 on the completion of your high school education.  Graduation represents both a milestone in your life and for many a point where new paths are chosen.  

It is my fervent hope that we at South Huntington Schools have accomplished our goal to lead you to attain the foundations you will need to achieve success in your lives.  Along with your academic lessons you have had many opportunities to learn about becoming responsible citizens capable of fully participating in society.

At this point you are now called upon to assume your responsibility to provide your input to the great American experiment.  To this day, the central concepts of our national charter that was forged in Phildelphia in 1787, remain consistent topics of the ongoing national debate: freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, the right to privacy and the list goes on.  It will fall on you and others of your generation to make the right decisions and that will require your full participation.  Even while we all need to recognize the fundamental success and optimism of this great nation, we cannot fail to lend our minds to understanding our failings.  Judging by the large number of horrific events that continue in this country and in the world, it seems apparent that there still remains a wide chasm between the ideals and promise of the American Dream and the American reality.

It is left to the American people to understand and address the challenge. One might think that with all the sources of information now available we would find it easier and easier to find solutions to problems, but very often the exact opposite is happening.  Americans must struggle to gather information from multiple and often polarized perspectives just to gain an understanding of the basic facts of any given situation.  Perhaps the biggest problem we face today is that issues needing the most attention often cannot even be discussed openly without fear of being trivialized or ostracized with one stereotype or another in an attempt to isolate others who don’t agree with us.  It is in this isolation that the seeds of hatred and violence are sown.  Whether it is the middle school child bullied to the point of genuine despair or the person who commits an act of terrorism for revenge, the result is the same; a tragic event that did not need to be.  In light of the situation it is easy to see the American Dream as hypocritical and give up on it.   That is exactly the wrong course of action.

Just as with us as individuals, there are often disconnects between where we are and where we want our country to be.  As educated people it is our responsibility to take the time to understand the issues of the day and seek to understand why others feel differently than we do. 

We must study carefully the words people use when they make statements.  Are they merely looking for opportunities to place blame on a rival?  Do they ridicule or marginalize other thoughts or seek to gain some advantage?  Do they offer workable solutions or merely criticism and accusations that further polarize the debate? 

As we reach out to others and try to persuade them to understand our own point of view, our goal must be to try to bring them in rather than drive them away.  Please make it a goal to become a listener as well if this is not already your habit.  You may find at times it is you who needs to change. 

It is a sign of maturity to see compromise and debate not as dirty words as the media often encourages us to believe they are, but rather as tools to move us from where we are to where we want to be.  You will find this same principle applies to your personal life as well.  While it will often be more difficult to work toward middle ground than to posture, only one of the approaches consistently produces solutions to problems.

I have faith that one day America will realize the ideals and values to which we claim to aspire and I have faith in your ability to help make that a reality.  To that end I urge each of you as newly minted adults to participate in your own lives, your families, your community, and yes, your government.  I know that many of you already understand the need for, and the rewards of, community service and have been most generous with your money, talent, and time.  To those that have kept it up, to those that haven’t I ask that you please remember those that gave of themselves so that you could prosper.  When you are asked to do the same for the next generation, I hope you do so gladly. 

When the ceremony and celebrations are over, please take some time to reflect on your own accomplishments.  You have much to be proud of and this community joins your families to celebrate your success.  Best wishes for whatever comes next.  Be careful and safe this summer.  Good luck and Godspeed.