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  • Bryne Stothard

Class of 2020 Commencement Speech

As the year head for the Class of 2020 at FIS, I was chosen by the class to be their Faculty Speaker for the special Graduation Ceremony that I helped organise. The speech can be found via the video link below, plus I have included the transcript as part of this blog post too.


This is the first period in my nearly 40 years of life that I have spent long moments facing my own mortality - I feel like I am ok with some versions of it. Maybe I take a long walk with my family up in the glorious Taunus Hills, have a picnic in a clearing, some nice wine. Perhaps a Zoom with some old friends from the UK, Thailand and China, sit in the sunlight on my balcony - and then an enormous meteor hits the earth - I could live with that. Or maybe Michael Jordan invites me to play one on one with him and for no justifiable reason I beat him by dunking over him from the free throw line, then pushing him off (a la the last dance) and sinking a 3 in his face. And then he turns to look at me and says “that was really good Bryne, I’m glad that I could finally lose to someone and feel good about it”. Then the Meteor hits. There is also a third scenario that I would be happy with - Just to recap though….


1. Long walk with my family and meteor

2. Draining a 3 in MJ’s face and then meteor


The final scenario involves eating Korean BBQ and YukgaeJang (prepared by my mother in law and flown in especially) at a beach in Thailand with my wife and kids. As the sun goes down we also break out the smores and as the kids are enjoying them my wife leans in and whispers to me privately “I want you to know, if anything ever happened to you - we would be ok. You have given us more than we could hope for in 3 lifetimes, so god forbid anything happens - we would be fine. Then I say “I love you all”, walk into the sea and get eaten by a shark.


Quickly - the key there is very quickly.


But of course, those who have suffered during the Pandemic and will continue to suffer, don’t have that choice - so I implore you all Class of 2020, as someone who has had your welfare and wellbeing at the front of my mind for the past 3 years. Make good choices and stay safe once you leave my, Ms. Boyd, Ms. Angelidis, Mr. Loeffler, Ms. van der Meer’s, Mr. Sinclair’s, Mr. Switzer’s and Dr. Fochtman’s care.


You will also, more importantly - in most cases - be leaving the care of the most important people in your young lives - your parents. Parents, you probably feel mixed emotions right now. Happy that we all made it - torn about your baby chicks leaving the nest. For some though, it may feel like the incredibly cute baby alligator that you found, that everyone wanted to hold and pet - has now become a danger and needs to get out of your house. Needs to go out into the world and do what alligators do.


Somewhere else.


In either scenario, you should feel gratified that the young people sitting before us today are equipped with the contemporary skills needed to participate in this (even more) rapidly evolving world that we are releasing them into.


The Graduates will tell you that I have a few catchphrases that I have used over the years. My first one I stole from the school entrance “FIS is a World of Opportunities” - I truly believe this. I have tried to live this myself, hopefully to justify this claim when I make it to the students. One such opportunity that many of our leadership group at FIS get, is to go and do school accreditations and school inspections around the world - My latest visit was to Kyrgyzstan last year to spend a week learning from and about another school. A growth point for myself and big takeaway from those visits is that every school makes claims about what/who they are and what they do. Many of them are pretty generic, boilerplate text that doesn’t have much bearing on the impact on students. The claims we make as an institution are born out in the objective reality of the graduates we produce - do we have the impact in the minds and hearts of the young people in our charge - that we claim to do?


If we look at all that the class of 2020 has accomplished, I believe we can say that they represent the living embodiment of that claim - a world of opportunities - In academics, MUN, sports, music, drama, art, computer programming, 3D printing, service projects, kalahari, house leadership, peer educating, debating, Irish dancing and K-pop dancing….the list goes on and on and on. The photographs, testimonies and faces we see today are also strong evidence that our young people are living out both the mission of the school, and the legacy that the members of our learning community have built over the nearly 60 years since the school was started by families much like ourselves.


One of the first graduates (Mrs. Irith Braunsberger-Levy) came back to FIS and spoke with the class of 2020 in October last year, plus messages from most of the other class of 1967 graduates were sent to us from around the world. We got a strong sense from her of how much the school means to those that have spent time here, how much the institution has grown and how compelling that feeling is to help us strive to do our best. I felt that weight the year I joined (and started with the class of 2020 as a homeroom teacher), I have to say that it was very unusual, even for an experienced International educator. Most international schools are at most 20-30 years old - FIS as a founding IB school is doubly impressive in that regard.


We are supposed to offer words of advice and sage wisdom at these events - this is it, get ready for it. “The world is a world of opportunities”, so go enjoy it, revel in it and most of all - participate fully in all that the world has to offer us. Have your emotions moved every day, deploy reasoning every day, laugh, cry and participate with enthusiasm every day. Work hard for your dreams to become reality. Think about that….. If you do that every day of the week you are going to have something special.


My other catchphrase/word this year has been “legacy”. The Class of 2020 already built a strong legacy to leave behind, even before the world changed so dramatically. Their legacy is a special one and one that has an incredibly important place in our school and it’s long history.


Their legacy has not been defined by the last two months of their schooling. Their legacy is one of their entire time at FIS. From those who have been here since primary school to those who joined the class of 2020 most recently, their names are etched in the memories of all who have benefitted from knowing them. Whilst the pandemic has defined 2020 as a year, it has not defined them as young people and it has not defined the impact they have made to the community, and it will most certainly not define who they become in the future.


Having said that….. part of that class of 2020 legacy now, is refusing to give up, refusing to give in and showing other schools around the world what is possible when you do that. The legacy of the past few months, the hard work, planning of exams, projects, legacy events and this graduation - helps provide a map for ourselves and also other schools around the world for how to find a way or their way. As I am sure you can tell, I am proud to be associated with FIS, the class of 2020, parents and esteemed guests. You should all be proud of this community too and the lasting Legacy you leave behind. Thank you all for letting me be your year head - it was always a pleasure, I will miss you all. Good luck and Auf Wiedersehen.


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