Editor's note: Here's the prepared text of Stephen V. Falcone's speech at Thursday's commencement exercises:
Good evening and welcome to all of you. I very much appreciate the opportunity to make some brief remarks on this very special occasion.
Last year during the springtime, my daughter was complaining of lower back pain. It was difficult for her to bend or to twist. So she went to her doctor who suggested some physical therapy. She had six, seven, eight sessions with the physical therapist, but the pain really did not subside. She also took some ibuprofen, but that only relieved the pain temporarily.
I know it was frustrating for my daughter as her mobility was pretty seriously limited. With the hope of some remedy, she made an appointment with a specialist. I tagged along, as I thought that I could get some insight regarding my own lower back ailments.
My daughter was called into a room and an x-ray was taken. About ten minutes later, the doctor—a very upbeat and enthusiastic man—returned with the diagnosis. He used a long term to describe her ailment—spondylolisthesis which he described as a condition in which a bone or vertebra the lower part of the spine slips out of the proper position onto the bone below it.
Well, I thought, we finally have a clear diagnosis. I waited to hear what the doctor would suggest as a treatment. Would it be medication? Some kind of shot? Go to a back specialist to realign the bone? And I was waiting to hear his recommendation, too.
He said three words—“strengthen your core.”
I thought, “That’s it? Strengthen your core? No meds, no shots, no back specialist? All this time we have been waiting for a solution and you say “strengthen your core.”
Hey grads: Start off the first day of the rest of your life by doing one great thing for your community:
(1:45 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Piedmont Club)
Well, that became the focus of the rehab. These were daily activities to strengthen the muscles around the abdomen, pelvis, and back. There were no fancy remedies, no shortcuts, no magic pill.
A Darien High School diploma, one which you will receive today, is evidence of the strength of your core—a core that has been built for 17 or 18 years, beginning in your homes and continued through your schooling. And as part of the Core Values at DHS, it is expected that you think critically, communicate effectively, develop reading and research strategies, see multiple perspectives, act responsibly and ethically, and contribute to your community.
Today is not so much about your glorious successes and individual achievements (of which there have been many), but it is to celebrate the fact that we acknowledge that your core is strong—every one of you—and you are well-positioned to face the challenges that can test your core (of which there are many).
A performer I enjoy is Paul Simon and I am reminded of lyrics from his song Call Me Al – “A man walks down the street—He says why am I soft in the middle now —Why am I soft in the middle—When the rest of my life is so hard. As I know all too well, there is the french fry factor that challenges my core. I am often tempted (and sometime give in) to making my order a deluxe which means it comes with fries. Let me tell you that it is a challenge to my core. You probably also have your own weakness that challenges your core.
The core you have developed has been as readers and writers, as critical thinkers and problem-solvers, as ethical decision-makers, as community servants. Each day, it is incumbent upon you to do those exercises, physical and intellectual, to keep that core strong because the challenges and tests that await are not insignificant.
You will be challenged by our minimalist approach to the use of language, where series of letters like OMG and IDK, or even worse, emoticons, are supposed to create meaning. As readers, you will be challenged to sift through the sensationalism to gain a depth and breadth of understanding of issues.
You will be challenged to make quick-fix solutions to problems that are complex. You will be challenged by a media that sometimes glorifies the inane and absurd, where behaving in base and demeaning ways is celebrated. You will be challenged to abandon your service to community for other personal and selfish gratification.
You will be challenged at your core to do more—and do it quickly- regardless of whether it has been thought out.
You will be challenged by an “it’s not my problem” philosophy as well a “buy it now, worry about paying for it later” mentality. And like my weakness for french fries, some of you will be challenged in college by the omnipresent ice cream sundae bar in the dining hall.
These challenges are endless and I know that you are not immune to these challenges right now. But the DHS diploma represents our confidence that you are prepared, as independent and capable young men and women, to address these challenges thoughtfully and confidently.
People to thank
To your parents and those in your extended family including grandparents and other relatives, thank you for being models of having a strong core and for providing opportunities for that core to be strengthened each day.
The values of intellectual curiosity and personal responsibility begin at home. I realize that there are so many things that vie for your time and attention, so your reinforcing those values on a daily basis have sent a valuable and consistent message to each of these students.
To our faculty and staff, and I want to acknowledge all district faculty and staff, thank you for your efforts in leading our students in their core development. It is the daily expectation for intellectual clarity, effective communication, and ethical behavior that characterizes your practice and I salute you for this work.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank your departing principal, Mr. Haron, for embodying what it means to have a strong core and for leading this high school with courage and confidence.
At his core, Mr. Haron is a teacher. His work has reflected a commitment to learning and thinking and has been characterized by collaboration and collegiality, humor and humility, integrity and respect. Not once has that core changed, not since his start as a classroom teacher in 1998 until today where his focus has been on what is best for all of the students of Darien.
Seniors—soon-to-be graduates—you have developed the intellectual and ethical core that has earned you the right to be presented a Darien High School diploma. You should be as proud of this accomplishment as we are. I wish you all of the best in your future endeavors and invite you to continue to remain connected to the Darien Public Schools. Congratulations.