By Dr. Cheryl Champ, Superintendent of Schools
Good Morning and welcome members of the Board of Education, Mrs. Clark, Mr. Rothstein, faculty, staff, parents, friends, loved ones, and most importantly the class of 2019. It has been an absolute joy to serve as your Superintendent over the past two years and it is an honor to share this moment — the final mile stone in your Pelham education with you today.
One of the many perks of having an office in the high school is that it is so easy to take just a few steps and see you in action — whether in your classrooms, cramming for a test in the hallway, or scrambling to move your car on Corlies before you get a ticket. Like you, I start each day with Mr. Rothstein’s unique cadence as he recites the pledge, and like you, I get to celebrate the many accomplishments he reads over the morning announcements. Pelham Memorial High School is vibrant— each and every day and you are the reason why.
For all the good moments of your high school lives - science research victories, maybe the greatest high school production of “Mamma Mia” ever produced and a decisive Olympics victory — I know that hours of hard work were behind them. On behalf of everyone who shares this stage today, please know how proud we are of each of you and take a moment to give yourselves a round of applause
As I address you for the last time, I want to share some insights from Holocaust survivor and author Viktor Frankl - whose work “Man’s Search for Meaning” has left a deep and lasting impression on me - more than any other school lesson or course I have taken.
In Frankl’s writing, he shares his personal story of survival in various concentration camps. He highlights the difference between those around him who maintained hope and those that did not, and how survivors like him, who lost almost their entire family and the life they had built were able to remain resilient, move forward and live life again following so much hardship, tragedy, and pure evil.
What makes Frankl’s work special, is that as a trained psychologist, he was able to provide a keen analysis of the human condition, which led him to discover a new understanding of identity and survival of the human spirit, even in the most horrendous circumstances.
He writes, “Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.”
He recounted three types of prisoners in the camp -
Those that lost their grasp on their moral compass and became ingrained in the evil culture of the camps,
Those that lost their hope in the future and let themselves mentally and physically decay, often to the point of death,
And those that were able to still find meaning in their lives, through past experiences that no one could take away from them. These survivors were able to discover and secure their lives’ meaning through small daily acts of human kindness and decency, and through hope for the future.
It is through this lens that I hope you will view your next chapter — whether it be college, a career, a gap year, or service in our Armed Forces.
According to Frankl, the choice to maintain a sense of internal hope and meaning was the one freedom that could not be stripped away by others. It was the one thing that the prisoners could choose for themselves. Those that chose to find meaning in life found the resilience to face each day no matter what atrocity presented itself.
It is a choice that we each have, and it is a choice, that you, graduates, will have throughout the rest of your journey.
We are all incredibly blessed to live or work in such a community such as Pelham. You, the class of 2019, have completed a strong program of study from one of the top schools in the state, you have demonstrated tremendous achievements, accomplishments, all listed on a resume elucidating your great successes. As a result of that, and the strong community, family, and friendships that have brought us here today, your opportunities will be many and substantial.
But no matter what comes your way next, what challenges you face, what future accolades you recieve or accomplishments you achieve, I encourage you to find your personal meaning, in those things which can never be taken away - who you are and what you bring to others in this world.
Frankel challenged his fellow prisoners and challenges us to remember that, “It’s not what we expect from life but what life expects from us” in right action and right conduct that matters no matter what life brings our way.
The German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stated, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” I hope each of you finds that why and exercises the freedom each and every day to anchor your meaning in that why. That is something that can never be taken away.
Congratulations class of 2019.