“From Whirlwind to Wisdom”: Baccalaureate Speech to Class of 2016


Graduating senior Brent Hensley and myself prepping for the baccalaureate service on June 5, which began graduation week.

Welcome to graduation week, it’s my pleasure to share a few thoughts tonight as you prepare you to go through this major rite of passage – bringing closure to your high school career and beginning your next step in life.

Just last Monday we were all sitting in the gym and Josh Levy was summarizing the 2015-2016 year in what he called a “whirlwind” of activities. We have our own HKIS code language for the whirlwind: formatives and summatives, IFs, APs, SATs, GPAs squeezing in the occasional DMCs – thanks to last year’s interim cluing me in on that one. That’s just a brief reminder of the whirlwind.

But this week, seniors, will be like no other at HKIS. The usual whirlwind has been quelled . . . and what will take its place? My wish for you this week is that you can exchange the usual whirlwind for a bit of wisdom.

If you have had me in class recently, you know that the word “wisdom” has become something of a preoccupation for me, and I believe it’s a concept we desperately need to rehabilitate. But rather than making wisdom sound like something lofty and unattainable, I’d like to suggest that wisdom is the natural outcome of living what should be a normal life, one that all religions traditions including my home faith of Christianity speak of eloquently- one in which body, mind, and heart flow into each other like a waterwheel.

Tonight I want to show how commonplace wisdom is by sharing three examples of wisdom from my little corner of HKIS which involves service trips, which are total body-mind-heart experiences. And I hope to show how the wisdom of those experiences can be applied to your graduation week which lies before you.

The first piece of advice as you begin graduation week is start with the big picture of your high school career or maybe your entire 17-18 years. As you take time over this next week to allow your HKIS experience to flash before your eyes – hard-earned academic successes, a favorite interim memory, your first college acceptance – there’s probably a temptation to focus mostly on the positive. Yet so often in my classes or on trips, it’s the difficult, the painful, the heartbreak moments that are the best teachers, and there’s usually a bittersweet feel to them. Three years ago Mr. Kersten and I made a video in which we interviewed some of you about the Foshan orphanage experience. Listen to the wisdom of your 9th grade selves talk about this bittersweetness:

VIDEO CLIP (4:29-5:40)


The message is: explore not just the highs, but the lows too. This may be somewhat counterintuitive, but I encourage you this week to reflect on it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I was struck on Friday watching two senior projects – Amar and Yash’s, and Claudia’s and Elizabeth’s – how setbacks were necessary course corrections that led to the impressive final outcomes. Avoid the temptation to only remember the good times. Take it all in this week – warts and all.

If you can face the full reality of your schooling, the triumphs and the defeats, the second piece of wisdom is that in time – and it can happen during this week – acceptance and even satisfaction will emerge. The second clip comes from Charmaine Chan (the tall one) who made a music video at the Yaowawit orphanage and school in her freshmen year of interim. The setting is Thailand, but the message is universal. She begins by acknowledging our good intentions – we all want to live a life with no regret – but we end up sometimes with what she calls “a mess.” So WHAT DO WE DO in the messiness of life?


As you look honestly at the whole of your life this week, the second message in the messiness of life is: “Be good, be strong, be kind, make others belong.” Most simply, “Be kind – first to yourself.” Of course your growth has been uneven with ups and downs – welcome to the human race. It’s okay – be kind to yourself.

And then extend that kindness to your parents, to your teachers, and administrators.” We all are struggle in the messiness of life. If you can be kind to all those in your high school journey, gratefulness will bubble up in you.

Again to quote Charmaine, “Don’t let yourself be consumed by the world, don’t let yourself be fooled: be happy.” I hope that you appreciate in this moment what you will realize even more forcefully next year, as my daughter Christa did as she went off to college, what a remarkable thing it has been to attend a school like HKIS in this incredible East-meets-West crossroads of a city that you have called home.

The third piece of wisdom comes from our Teaching for Empowerment interim in India in which our students and their Indian counterparts work together in a 4-day workshop to try to consider how to solve social problems. Listen as Anant describes the relationship he had with his students:

(VIDEO CLIP (1:51-2:36)(input password: “ambur2015”)

When that student said to Anant that love is a key trait of a team, he said that this idea totally shifted his way of thinking. He called the whole experience one of “mutual inspiration,” which is a beautiful way to describe education at its best. What’s the take away: if you have been inspired by someone at HKIS – be it a teacher, a parent, one of your peers – recognize that fact this week. And I would just add . . . I think you as students would be really surprised how often we as your teachers are really blown away by who you are and what you do. I think it’s a truism of teaching to say that we’re in this profession more for mutual inspiration than anything else.

So, there you have it: HKIS wisdom can emerge out of the HKIS whirlwind, but you have to have eyes and ears attuned to its unassuming presence. As you proceed through Senior Dinner, Senior breakfast, and graduation, you’ll be doing a lot of reflection on your time here at HKIS, and even your whole life. I hope you can spot that immortal diamond of lived wisdom that will come from your peers, your family, and your HKIS community this week.

  1. First, consider the truth of your experience, remembering the highs and the lows.
  2. Second, sit with that truth and allow gratefulness to arise in your heart for all that you have received and given here in your years.
  3. Third, recognize those moments of mutual inspiration, which, as Anant heard, involves that incomparable virtue of love.

May you find and celebrate love in your family, friends, and our HKIS community this week. Thank you.

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About martinschmidtinasia

I have served as a humanities teacher at Hong Kong International School since 1990, teaching history, English, and religion courses. Since the mid-1990's I have also come to assume responsibility for many of the school's service learning initiatives. My position also included human care ministry with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Hong Kong, southern China, and others parts of Asia from 1999-2014. Bringing my affluent students into contact with people served by the LCMS in Asia has proved to be beneficial to students and our community partners alike. Through these experience I have become committed to social conscience education, which gives students the opportunity to find their place in society in the context of challenging global realities.
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One Response to “From Whirlwind to Wisdom”: Baccalaureate Speech to Class of 2016

  1. Pingback: Burn Your Mandala: Letting Go in a Culture of Achievement | Social Conscience and Inner Awakening

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