In your time at Packer, you have been simultaneously nurtured and pushed – to the point where sometimes there weren’t enough minutes in the day to do your extracurriculars and sports, write that essay, read that assignment, do those problems, outline that reading, study for that test. (If you never felt that, I wish I could say I am happy for you, but I fear that means is that you never pushed yourself to your own limits.) More than anything, I hope at some point when you were being pushed, you met failure and said “
Hello, failure, old buddy! It’s nice to see you again.
” This could be an academic failure -- heck, maybe even our class. And this could be non-academic too. You ran for an elected office and failed. You didn’t snag the championship. Your first crack at the ACT was a disaster. There is something so freeing once you
that you are imperfect, that you can’t control everything, and that sometimes you mess up. Welcome to life. The real question is: what do you do then? I mean, if you never push yourself farther than you think you can go, if you set the bar so low that you are guaranteeing yourself continual success, then how are you going to ever see how capable you truly are? If you set the bar just a little bit higher than you think you can achieve, again and again, and you embrace and learn from failure, you are opening the way for you to move from being ordinary to being extraordinary. On a very serious note, I live my life in a perpetual cycle of failures. I don’t regularly feel successful at what I do. I view our classroom as my laboratory. And everyday I strive to do well by you – meet you where you’re at, take you to where we need to go. And everyday, I watch the experiment of my lesson plan unfold. I see the complex reactions taking place – by who is raising their hands, by what conversations are happening, by who is sitting there waiting for their neighbor to write something instead of immediately writing themselves, by how you did on the nightly work, by how well a concept was explained. And then the class ends, the fifty minute experiment is over, and I look at my laboratory as I collect the folders and recycle the papers you all leave behind. And I often – not sometimes, often – think “wow, that was a royal failure.” But that’s because I set my bar high. And you know what else? Each year, the number of times I say that decreases. Because I learn from watching you and listening to you. And then the following day (or sometimes the following year), I revise my experiment. I design the class and everything we do based on where I see you guys are at. Failure can be a wonderful thing to embrace, but only if you do something as a result of that failure. (Hopefully that explains why I allow second chances in calculus.) Although I don’t see myself as a failure as a teacher, I don’t see myself as being “there” yet (where “there” is the bar I set for myself). I only know that it is because of you, and our daily laboratory, that I can get there. So thank you for that. Mr. Parent stirred in my soul something that I had a hard time articulating. When reading one of the many books by or about my childhood hero and Nobel prize-winning physicist, I ran across a quotation which summed it all up for me, putting into words something I couldn’t say:
I was born not knowing and have had only a little time to change that here and there.
There is something
about the world around you. Keep an eye out for the magic. It appears as questions… and there are so many questions! How can we – billions of years later – know about the earliest moments of the universe? Where does matter come from? How can the world be probabilistic (quantum) in nature when everything feels so causal? How do we
about the smallest worlds we cannot even see? Why are there rainbows on the surface of an oil spill? How do rubber bands work – how do they come back to their original shape? How can we – on this planet – know how far things are, and that there are other galaxies