[Thomas Moore, “Graduates, teachers and parents: Well done!” Charlotte Observer (06/10/03): 11A]

Congratulations, class of 2003! By that I mean teachers, students, and parents. Learners of all ages. You. I celebrate your achievements. You have strengths and skills you never knew. During this month of graduations, I say to our teachers: Thank you. You may never know the deep and life-changing impressions you have made. But I can guarantee that in every class, your work will last.

Like most students, I never properly thanked my best teachers while I was in school. But they made a profound difference. My eighth-grade math teacher took time to connect with me and transformed her subject into something exciting. My college band director taught me to play 10 instruments, but never made me feel pushed.

My mentor helped me discover my calling — early childhood education, with music as one of the tools. I never saw myself as a thinker until my teachers viewed me that way. A good teacher lights the fire that’s already set up and ready to burn. Through example, my teachers taught me about the importance of developing myself, and giving to others.

To students, I say: You’ve done us proud. Every graduation is a reason to celebrate. If you don’t think what you’ve achieved is important, remember that U.S. prisons are filled with people who didn’t graduate from high school. Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups recruit uneducated people. Education leads to opportunity, and hope. You’ve got that now.

If you’ve completed your studies, come help us build our community. You might not have known it, but you’ve been creating a community in your school all along. Being at school is usually more challenging than being at home, because you have to learn to get along with so many different kinds of people. The real world is like that, too. We need your skills in a changing nation. Before you join us, let me suggest a few things you might like to do.

  • Write down your thoughts and impressions on graduation day. Ask your parents to do the same. You might even want to share notes. Think back over all you’ve learned.
  • Send a thank-you card to your kindergarten teacher. She’s the one who first began your social and emotional development. If friends, relatives and teachers care about you now, your kindergarten teacher is a reason why.
  • While you’re at it, write notes to any important teacher or administrator who showed you what you could be.

To parents, I say: Enjoy this milestone. If your child is graduating from high school, you suddenly have a new adult in the family. Even if the graduation is from preschool, your child is moving from one phase to another. Relish your child’s accomplishments, but take time to know your son or daughter beyond grades and school activities. Who is your child now? How can you support her as she moves to a new stage? Find out what your child is thinking. Just listen. Talk with her about her interests. Describe what you remember and how you felt on your own graduation days.

Let your children’s teachers know you appreciate them. A teacher’s job is to help a child trust his or her own experience, and to introduce new information at the appropriate time, in creative ways. If we’re going to solve major problems, we need people who are constantly thinking about other possibilities. Consider your family fortunate if your child has learned from creative teachers.

What we learn at school goes far beyond books, and many people teach alongside the teachers. Who was influential in your child’s life? Thank the custodian, the cook, the bus driver, the police officer or counselor — anyone who reached out to your child and helped him have a positive experience at school. Ask your children to send their thanks with you. Help your children give back to those who gave to them.

To students and teachers, parents and friends, I say: Never underestimate the power of respect for others. In college my piano teacher, Mrs. Hairston, stopped by my practice room every once in a while to pat me on the back and say, “Good job, Mr. Moore.” Nobody ever called me Mr. Moore back then. That little bit of encouragement would carry me through another four or five hours of practice. What can a kind, respectful word do for someone you know? Now go out and give your gifts to the world. We’re glad you’re here.

Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books “Where is Thumbkin?” and “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”. He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series “Music, Movement and More”. He has also produced ten recordings for children.