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It’s official: My oldest child has graduated from high school. Her commencement address was remarkable (see short clip below). I’ve included a couple photos of her as seen on the Target Center jumbotron talking to 600 of her peers and an audience of 3,000 parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends.

Here’s the introduction and first couple minutes of her remarks (I’m a terrible hand-held camera operator – just FYI).

Here’s the last 1:45 of the speech.

KG JumboTron

The Maple Grove High Graduation Ceremony was broadcast by cable access Channel 12.

KG Jumbotron2

She’s a superstar, what can I say?!

Text of speech:

“Our Crimson Identity,” by Kayla Grothaus

You know, I was looking through the yearbook the other day and suddenly, it felt like I was staring at pages of faces of people I’d never seen before in my life. So I began to think about it and I realized that in my time here at Maple Grove, I have only gotten to know a small group of people. Maybe a couple dozen or so out of the 2 thousand involved in our school community, out of the nearly 600 students who sit here on this floor.

And, I thought, how strange is it, really, that here we are today, celebrating one of the first huge milestones in our lives, together… When some of us haven’t even met yet! I mean, I don’t know who would invite 600 strangers to their grad party!

But as I look out on this room, I realize that we aren’t really strangers. Not at all. Because somehow, it just feels right that today we wear the same clothes – the same cap, the same gown. We bear the same colors: our crimson and gold. It represents a piece of who we’ve been the past few years and who we are right now and who we will be forever. And as much as I would have loved to have gotten to know more of you, the peers I share this wonderful day with, I am content to know that we share one thing in common, one thing that will be unique to us and only us, regardless of where we find ourselves in the coming months and years.

It is our Crimson Identity that unites us. We discovered it three years ago at that homecoming pepfest. And I’m willing to bet that the Class of 2007 might still try to deny it, but we earned that spirit jug. Why? Because in those 45 minutes, we forged the character and began the legacy that is the Class of 2009.

Since then, we have grown and matured and learned and for this short while, our lives have become inextricably intertwined. Every time we went to a football game, or a school play, or any of the dances, and every class we’ve attended, or cafeteria lunch we ate, our experience has been shaped by all of us: the people who go to our school, people we may not know.

Obviously, it is this collective us who make up a class with whom we are all quite familiar. But as a senior reflecting and reminiscing on the high school experience, standing on the precipice that is graduation, preparing to enter the adult world, one thing has become very clear: In life, it is incredibly easy to get lost in the crowd, to forget the role we play and contribution we make to the big picture. I’ve realized that high school was never just about me and my friends. No, it was about each of us in line at lunch, or on our feet screaming the battle cry, or in our classes, writing papers and giving those presentations.

For each of us, we reached a point when we asked “What’s it all gonna add up to, anyway?” When we wondered where or how poetry explication is going to have value in our lives. And I realized that, for our teachers, it has never been just about World History or Geometry. They have dedicated themselves to preparing us for the world we are about to step into. Because of them, we are able to comprehend the fact that we aren’t alone in this universe. That there are seven billion people out there who are just as willing and able to work as hard as you and I. But fear not, because our teachers know what it takes to go above and beyond, what it means to really strive for excellence. And I know just as well as I know about sine, cosine, and tangent, that our teachers did everything they could to supply us with the knowledge and skills it will take for us to really go far in life.

Because our teachers…they have been there. They have done that. They have seen students from the class of ’08 and ’07 (and years before) walk this stage. They have shaken hands and given hugs. And, thanks to their efforts – thanks especially for their patience – they have seen former Crimson graduates succeed in college and careers and in life. They are not strangers…they are our mentors. Our logic and rational voices.

And if there was anything I think they would like to impart with us before we leave it is this ancient Greek tradition: E tan e epi tas. For you see, when the Spartan warriors left their homes to fight Xerxes, their women handed them their shields and said: “E tan e epi tas” It means, “Come back with it or on it.” It was a matter of pride and glory, of honor and perseverance. Come back with it or on it. Today, for us, it means to go out into the world with the skills we’ve learned and do the things we can be proud of, then return home and say, “Yes. I gave it my best.” Even if the outcome isn’t all we hoped for, we will have invested ourselves and used the skills and tools we’ve learned. And in doing so, we will return home with the same honor and glory that the Spartans once had. We will uphold that Crimson Identity, and as classmates, as comrades…not strangers…we will pay tribute to the legacy that is the Class of 2009.

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My 18-year-old daughter, a senior at Maple Grove Senior High School, graduates on June 7. In a few weeks, wings will spread and she’ll transition from a child student to an adult preparing for the start of her college experience. Wow. Where did THAT time go?

Several years ago, in her Freshman year, she spoke to a few hundred parents and students at the ninth grade honors banquet. Without a note card, without a stutter, she shared words of friendship and responsibility – words beyond her young years. Words that pushed my heart into my throat and caused my eyes to glaze over in prideful tears.

On June 7 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, she’ll once again speak to the masses. This time several thousand will listen, including the entire graduating class of 600-plus students. Her peers and friends. Her face will be on the jumbo-tron and her words will be transmitted via loudspeakers once used to announce Kevin Garnett as he took the court in a Timberwolves uniform. (Interestingly, “KG” has been one of several nicknames for my daughter through the years.)

I’ve read a draft of her planned remarks – the speech she wrote to be selected as one of two students to share thoughts and parting “best wishes” to her fellow graduates at the commencement exercise.  Without giving it all away, she’ll impart advice that an average 18-year-old isn’t likely to have thought about when setting out on a new path in life.

The phrase “e tan e epi tas” means return with it or on it. It’s a reference to Spartans leaving for battle and the sentiment the warriors’ wives shared with them when they donned their shields in preparation for a march into battle. In a nutshell, “Give it your all and make us proud.”

Before she even steps foot on the stage and utters one syllable, I’ll be proud and my heart will once again be in my throat. Seems some of what we’ve shared with her these past 18 years landed and stuck.

Stay tuned. I plan to post her short speech here next month – maybe I’ll even post the video recording.

-end-

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Elitists feel they have outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or some other distinctive attributes, and therefore their views and ideas must be taken more seriously or carry more weight. In addition, they may assume special privileges and responsibilities and feel they have earned certain rights that others do not or should not have based on their level or position in society.

The proliferation of elitism has been underway since the dawn of human kind. What’s become worse in the past two decades is how many people automatically place themselves into this elitist category with no basis of reason. As populists in society strive toward breaking down the walls and barriers created by the elite (to ensure everyone has the same human rights and opportunities), elites attempt to further widen and deepen their moat protecting their belief that the privileged few have every right to make and enforce the rules.

What’s more, the new elites stem from recent generations of children who grew up expecting life to be handed to them in perfect order – further widening the gap between the haves and have nots. In fact, the common middle class that most of us grew up in, has now latched firmly on to the orbit of the elite.

The hard work our mothers and fathers once performed – the work that made our nation strong – has been tossed out with the bath water in the past 20 years. The yuppies, Gen-Xers and Millenials feel society owes them the vast rewards of life simply for waking up and putting on their socks.

And since elitism endorses the exclusion of large numbers of people from positions of privilege or power, this class in our society is essentially turning its collective head further and further away from its roots – away from the very parents or grandparents who worked two shifts so the family could enjoy a warm home, a reliable car and new shoes as the kids’ feet grew. Today, the 4,000-square-foot homes, Beemers, Audis and Mercedes are not the exception, they are the rule.

I’m sick and I’m tired of 20-somethings and younger walking around with their hands out – like baby birds waiting to be fed and chirping their beaks off until the mother Robin satiates their demands. These kids, our children, are clueless. They lack responsibility, respect and a fundamental concept of what labor is all about.

How are we suppose to begin fixing the recent economic malaise in the United States and globally, when our “most valuable asset,” our best and brightest, are entering the workforce with no concept of what work is all about? The learnings that once came with earning a decent wage for a decent day’s work are gone.

We’ve created the “gimme” culture of elitists and I’ve never been more personally disgusted and disappointed by a mind set than this one.

-end-

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In toney Eden Prairie, Minnesota, high school students have been busted. Busted by dozens of photos they or their friends have posted on their profile pages found on social networking pages like Facebook (see the previous post about this story as it broke on Jan. 9).

So far, 42 students have been disciplined and 13 have been suspended from school sanctioned extracurricular activities – activities in which many students signed a pledge to abstain from using alcohol or drugs or face consequences.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports today that students organized a classroom walkout today due to the controversy of whether or not school administrators have any authority over photographs and content found on Facebook. Not only that, apparently some parents are talking to lawyers to see if they can sue the school for taking measures they view as “too harsh” for the indiscretions and stupidity of their children.

It seems (as has been done through the ages) kids will be kids. I drank when I was 17 years old. In fact, I drank beers before, during and after high school events that I was involved in. I did not, however, share pictures of my activity with teachers, friends or parents in any public way. But today, with the accessibility of the Internet, these kids checked their brains at the login window and chose to upload photos of themselves at parties, holding beers or cups of beverages believed to contain alcohol.  The school administrators were presented with the evidence and felt obligated to take action. Case closed.

Except not only do the kids affected by the district’s discipline policy feel it’s too harsh, but so do the parents – who apparently also checked their brains at the door.

Helloooooo! Your child is consuming alcohol and brazenly posting pictures of their actions on public web sites. If you don’t want the school district to interfere and discipline then perhaps you should pull your heads out of your asses and be the parents!

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Oh my god! Are teenagers really this stupid?

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported today that more than 100 students from toney Eden Praire High School (a ‘burb of Minneapolis) have been suspended from participating in athletic events and given other punishments because of incriminating photos posted on various profile pages found on Facebook.

I have a daughter. She has a Facebook page. She goes to parties where, at times I’m sure, alcohol gets served (you know those theater groupies – they love their booze and pot) *cough*. But I’m thinking that even IF a photo of her standing next to someone who appeared to be drinking a beer or other form of alcohol were taken, she’d never allow it to be posted online anywhere. Just a hunch. And if a photo incriminating her were to be posted online, someone’s head would roll. Her group of friends are above average in recognizing the public nature of the Internet. Unlike this student from another high school in suburban Minnesota who said:

I think it’s a huge invasion of privacy.”

Oh yes. That huge private thing called the Internet (rolling my eyes).

Many children today, for various reasons (read: most parents choose to be friends to their kids instead of serving as parents), think there are no longer limits as to what they can do. The drinking age is 21? Ha! Watch me drink. No cell phones in the classroom? Right. Sure. (sound of typing a text message as their pal’s phone across the room vibrates…loudly).

As an aside there was a hilarious joke going around just yesterday about Bill Clinton being in near-constant cell phone communication with Hillary as the two campaigned in New Hampshire. The punch line dealt with Bill’s phone being on vibrate, making the calls from Hill all the more wanted. Ok. Not so hilarious perhaps, unless Bill’s cell phone is shaped like a cigar.

Back to the story…

So a preponderance of kids today think it’s a “no-holds barred” world for them and all they have to do is show up to have life handed to them on a platter. And parents enable this attitude. Junior drives Dad’s 2003 Beemer to school five days a week, and sits in the “great room” of the fam’s 4,000-square-foot-house while mommy serves him and his five best buds plenty of pizza and ego-building compliments about what good kids they are. They, in turn, lap it up and ask for more.

And what will the result of this Facebook scandal net these kids who are caught with beers in hand? A few missed games if they’re an athlete. A wag of the finger from school administrators who’ll say,

“Don’t you know better?” And of course, mommy and daddy just might smirk and say, “Next time you have a party, all cameras and phones will be checked at the door!”

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Death and Taxes

Taxpayers may be on the cusp of a revolution in toney Maple Grove, Minnesota.

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, voters marched into their polling places and tepidly approved continuation of an existing school district levy, but also voted down two new proposals to increase taxes in order to update technology in the school system and maintain student fees for extracurriculars, like football and drama. The two measures failing to pass muster with residents didn’t go away lightly. District 279, of course, played every “woe is me” card in the book. But voters weren’t buying.

Just a few years ago, the school district received a positive vote on, what was then, the largest school bond issue to ever get approved in the State of Minnesota. It was $100-plus million in new funding. The scare tactics were rampant back then, as they were this year. But voters, which include parents of students attending these public schools, seem to have heard quite enough.

Should it really cost more than $9,000 per pupil to educate children in a public school? Minnesota school district administrators seem to think the sky is the limit. Today, the school district in the mid- to upper-middle class suburb of Maple Grove gets nearly $8,000 per pupil in funding from the state and an additional $850 per pupil from city tax levies. Administrators running the district wanted to tap taxpayers even further, to the tune of an additional $300-plus per pupil.

The thing residents see is that there is no end in sight to the bond referendums, tax levies and fees. How public schools get funded is broken. Reform is in order.

Of course the war didn’t end on Tuesday night. Wednesday morning brought principals to the public address systems of the schools they “run” to scare students. “When you go home tonight, tell your parents that next year’s activity fees will double.” Nice try.

Knowing that activity fees are the district’s way of further taxing residents who have kids in school, many parents – like me – will likely thumb their noses at this concept.

Go ahead District 279. Send me an invoice for the $180 you think I should pay so my daughter can participate in drama next fall. Just bill my neighbor for the $500 needed so his son can sit on the bench through the football season. And oh, by the way, we know the high schools, junior highs and elementary schools don’t get these fees directly. They go, instead, to the district administration office and individual schools only see a small pittance to assist with its programs.

Districts now govern in a feudal serf model and the citizens are wise and getting wiser.

The revolution is coming.

-end-

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Yet another first day of school is in the books. Both kids started back on September 4: One in 7th grade (first year of junior high), and one now a junior in high school. They scrambled to tell me how their first days went and I listened, congratulated them and patted them on the backs for taking on another school year with such enthusiasm. In the back of my mind I kept telling myself, “They want something. Here it comes. It’s coming. They’re going to ask…”

 

They never asked.

It was just me and my two kids talking. Well, they talked and I listened. And today they’re back in class. So as a parent, I must be doing something right. Right?

I vividly remember both my start in junior high and my junior year of high school.

Junior high is such a huge transition year. You quickly become a big kid. It’s awkward for boys because we’re sweating and smelling and growing hair in places previously untouched by hair. We start noticing girls in a serious way and have to deal with our mature immaturity. One minute we’re all grown up, the next minute we’re sucking the air out of an empty Mountain Dew bottle and vacuuming it to our cheek, unknowingly leaving a large red hicky on the side of our faces. Just try to explain that to an older kid who’s pointing, laughing and calling you hicky face.

High school juniors, on the other hand are all grown up. They’re practically the top dog and they’re faced with their most challenging year of education they’ve ever had. Eleventh grade teachers are brutal. They pile on the homework in an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff. They want you to know by the end of your junior year if you’re going to a university, a junior-college or straight into the workforce. Of course there’s always the threat of joining one of the armed service branches for those who refuse to turn in assignments on time.

My junior year was filled with dating, music and drinking…and a few nights of studying when I had to. And even with a lowly ACT score, I still got accepted at a major university, proving that if I can handle it, any average kid can. But what is average? It’s the best of the worst, right? So why not strive for excellence? That’s a tough lesson to teach any 17-year-old.  

You lead by example, set expectations and hope they’ll see the rays of light you shine on their path. Then you remain realistic, knowing they’ll stumble along the way and that you’ll be there to pick them up and dust them off.

In the end you can pat yourself on the back if, during the year, you’ve congratulated them more than admonished them and, when spring time rolls around in six months, they’re still just as enthused as they were on that first day back to school.

-end-

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