Commencement Address for Cheshire Academy

Thank you, Dr. Beaulac.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

This is a very special occasion for everyone here.

To the class of 1982, I sincerely congratulate you on your achievement. This day marks the completion of one phase of your education. Now, you will go on to new and even more challenging endeavors.

This is also a special occasion for those who have taught, for those who have encouraged, for those who have loved, I congratulate all of you, teachers and parents, for your dedicated efforts which have helped to make this day possible.

This is a special occasion for me too, and on a very personal level, I am not only honored to be your commencement speaker, but as I stand here, I am filled with a warm feeling of nostalgia.

Thirty-three years ago, I came to Cheshire from Cuba. I landed at what was then Idlewood Airport in New York and somehow made my way to Grand Central Station. Somehow, I got to New York, New Haven and Hartford Line. Somehow, I survived that, and then, somehow, I got a bus to Cheshire Academy.

While many things changed over the years, I can assure you the New Haven Railroad has not!

I did all this hardly being able to speak a word of English. I couldn’t even tell people what I didn’t know!

I spent long nights here at Cheshire with a dictionary going over Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot, word by word.

I also spent quite a few Sundays at the movies. Sometimes I would go to the same movie twice or three times, as a method for learning the language and getting an ear for it. By the way, I highly recommend the movies, especially now Since The Coca-Cola Company has acquired Columbia Pictures.

In all honesty, I have to say that I think the proudest moment of my life was when I sat where you graduates are sitting now.

I had learned the language, I was graduating from this fine school, and somehow I had the great, good fortune to be valedictorian of my class. In Cuba, when you did something like that, they gave you a big gold medal with silk ribbons.

Here, they gave me a fancy dictionary!

It was appropriate though, because I think it actually was my difficulty with the language that enabled me to do well.

I remember after one exam, my professor said that my sentence structure was textbook-perfect. It should have been … it came right out of the textbook! The only way I could accurately convey a thought was to memorize, word by word, entire passages.

I have used these examples of my experience as a student at Cheshire to point out that the tools of learning are all around you, and the supply is limitless. During your study at Cheshire, you have acquired a great deal of knowledge.

I urge you to keep acquiring knowledge. No one can ever take that away from you.

Material things – your property – can be lost, stolen or even forcibly confiscated. This happened to me and many of my countrymen some 20 years ago in Cuba. All personal property was confiscated. Even that fancy dictionary from Cheshire Academy.

I hope you never experience anything like that, but it has left a lasting impression with me. No one can take away from you what you have stored inside your head.

The human mind knows no capacity, so open it up. Explore as many avenues as you can. Every experience can be a learning experience.

I don’t have to tell you that today’s society is very fast-paced and very demanding. The tendency is toward specialization. It takes so much effort simply to master one particular area, there seems to be precious little time left to wander widely in the fields of knowledge.

And yet, as disciples of education, we have an obligation to wander in the fields of knowledge.

It is only through broad knowledge that we can recognize and grasp opportunity when it comes along.

It is only through broad knowledge that we can even vaguely visualize what a better world might be like.

It is only through broad knowledge that we can make moral and ethical decisions.

My intention this morning is not to lecture. I instead want to give you something to think about as you embark on your chosen educational and career paths.

So first, think about what I just said, the idea of continuing to acquire knowledge.

Secondly, think about this: take the time – make the time – to step outside your specialized field. Do not limit yourselves by erecting artificial barriers.

If you are going to major in engineering, most likely you have a strong background in science and math, but don’t neglect music, poetry or history. On the other hand, students in the humanities have the same obligation to learn a little something about the sciences.

I am concerned about a widening gulf and conflict between the so-called “two intellectual worlds”: the world of scie