The 2019 ASW Commencement Ceremony was held again at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Graduates and guests enjoyed live performances from the ASW HS Choir along with inspiring speeches by Mr. Raymond V. Banks, ASW Board of Trustees Chair, Dr. Betsy Kirkpatrick, HS Biology Teacher, and Mr. Jon Zurfluh, School Director. We are also very proud of two students who stepped forward to represent their class - Felix Morenc and Lucas Gabrovic. Here we publish those speeches. Scroll down to read or click on a name to skip.
The ceremony was broadcast live and can be viewed again here.
"The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next” - Abraham lincoln, 16th President of the United States.
There a few things more important than education to society. Every adult in our community sees in you, Graduates, hope for the future. Our school represents the very best we could do, collectively, to advance our shared hopes and values into the future.
In addition to being a celebration of what you all have accomplished, this ceremony is also a transfer of authority. You, Class of 2019, must decide what comes next. What you will learn. What you are going to do with that knowledge. You will probably never plan it all out completely, but if you make the world your classroom and maintain your commitment to personal growth, the future will be bright, indeed.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait, a single moment, before starting to improve the world” - Anne Frank
Graduates, know that the education you received here, while priceless, is not a gift. In addition to being hard won, it it both an obligation and a call to action. Your diploma from ASW represents the great trust of our community, built by over 50 nations over more than half a century, that you will continue to exemplify the values of this institution for current, past and future generations.
Our community believes that your international education will continue to provide unique opportunities for you to do amazing and important things. Now, none of us actually know what those amazing and important things will be, but it is certain that without your direct action any opportunity will be wasted. So step forward an make (those) things happen.
As I look out into the crowd, I can see that we are all so proud that you were able to experience and American education as part of an international community and against the backdrop of Poland’s rich culture and heritage. As you move out into the world, remember how it feels to be a part of a diverse community like ASW, how much help and encouragement you received from (and provided to) everyone at our school over the years. Use that experience to build connections, work together with all people to lift up your neighbors whenever and wherever you can, especially when others won’t
“...after all, if they are like us, then their struggles are our own. If we fail to help, we diminish ourselves.” - Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America
"You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” - Maya Angelou
Always believe in yourself, even when you are not quite sure who you really are. Every adult in this auditorium has failed, alot, and yet here you all are. Our very best wishes for the future, personified, and every you are still going to fail at times. I promise you this, as soon as you decide to bounce back, regardless of the direction you chose, things will already be going your way.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Don’t be afraid to work hard and love deeply. Life can be a long and challenging journey or a tragically short one, as our community knows too well. While pursuing your greatest dreams and ambitions, don’t ignore the minor victories in life just as much as you would a great test score or a university acceptance letter. Put the same into life as you have put into school and you will be prepared for all the joy and tragedy that this life has to offer.
Congratulations, class of 2019. On behalf of Ambassador Mosbacher and the Board of Trustees, I wish you all the best as you start the next exciting chapter of your lives and express our confidence that you can change the world for the better. Thank you."
- Raymond V. Banks, ASW Board Chair
"Welcome friends, family, and faculty that helped us get to where we are today. It is an honor to be standing before you as a representative of the class of 2019 on such a memorable occasion.
It is with a huge sense of relief and accomplishment that we are all sitting here today. We have survived High school, senior year, IB exams. Together we have experienced the highs, like the awesome senior retreat and studniowka, but we have also supported each other through some tough times. It was unbearably hard for us to lose Nicolas Seidel, our buddy since 4th grade and we wished he could be with us today. Elementary, middle, high. Some have left us, some have joined. It all went by in the blink of an eye, yet here we are, the class of 2019, ready to launch.
Our graduating class is special. For a start, we have lived our whole life in the 21st century and quite a few of us have spent most of these years at ASW. We have known no other century, no other way of life. Adults have ideas about our generation. They talk about 21st century vices: we are over-connected, addicted to technology, we binge watch and game, we message instead of talking to someone in person. While there may be some truth in this (I can’t see myself leaving the house without my phone), there is so much more to us than that. We are also the generation that takes sustainability and climate change seriously. The generation that will have to face vital issues like migration, the environment and a changing economy, and develop cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.These are not small challenges and they would scare most people, but I want to assure you: we are well prepared and not afraid.
The American School of Warsaw has taught us many things. And I don’t really mean math, English or computer science. We learned all of that too, or at least some of it. While these subjects have provided us with the knowledge we may need at university, some other things we have learned along the way may prove, in my opinion, in the end to be much more valuable for our future than all the IB knowledge. Just don’t tell the IB that before we get our diploma.
For us some of the most important of these are gratitude, responsibility and kindness. There can be no graduation speech without mentioning gratitude. Of course, we are all grateful because we realize that we have received the most precious gift of all: an education and not just any education but one that has shown us the value of friendship, support, team spirit and warmth. So, we are grateful. For the enormous amount of opportunities that ASW has provided us with: the sports competitions, the activities, the arts and the music programs, the service learning. For the support our teachers and parents have given us. They were there for us, even when we were disheartened, difficult, sad, angry, rude or just simply unreasonable. Grateful for each other, because together we are stronger. Our chats and memes are legendary and we know how to work hard together but also how to party. We will never forget our time in High School. BUT At this moment in time we are all focused on the future. We have aspirations and as we are going forward we will, like everyone else, have our moments of doubt. Some of us already had to face their first setback when they did not get the university acceptance they expected. These moments are just a natural part of life. Sheryl Sandberg, a much wiser person than myself said it: “It is the hard days, the days that challenge you to your very core that will determine who you are.” It is in those moments, when our plan goes off track, that we should take a moment, not to wallow in self-pity, but to remember our friends, to count our blessings, because gratitude is what brings us back to reality. If we can find joy in what we have, it will encourage us to move beyond disappointment and make us stronger and happier.
The best way to express our gratitude is to take on responsibility for ourselves and others. We have been well-schooled in this. On this stage there are team captains, MUN organizers, environmental activists, lead actors, artists, rock band leaders, student government members and service learning enthusiasts. As seniors we have been in leadership positions, but at the same time we realize that we are big fish in a small pond. The ocean awaits us and will make us feel small and often insignificant. I want to share with you one of the most important lessons my parents taught me. It is about responsibility and reliability. It happened during a conversation, after it became clear to me that one of my IB subjects, economics, did not really agree with me and I wanted out. My parents have always been of the opinion that:” You can take your time deciding whether you want to do something or not, but once you do commit, you have to follow through”. Rather than to change subjects, I was told to just get on with it and to do the best job I possibly could. Those of you who know me, understand that that was quite a challenge for me. I am not known for being able to hide my feelings or refrain from loud criticism. But I have to admit the advice I got is solid and I believe it is one of the most important lessons for all of us. The difficulty is not taking something on, it is to do it to the best of our ability. This is easy when we enjoy what you are doing but we all know that’s not how it goes in life. So rather than saying: “Something must be done.”, we should just say “I must do something”. We will have a much better chance of achieving our goals if we take on the responsibility ourselves.
And finally, kindness. I believe this is one of the most undervalued characteristics of our time. It has also been one of the hardest one for me to master. Kindness is about how we treat other people. We live in the Twitter era where even presidents and politicians forget that you cannot take back what you have sent into the world through the Internet. Where many countries are being engulfed in nationalism and forget about the human aspect of other people’s tragedies. It would be all too easy to follow suit. We have some very kind people in our grade, those like Tomek D. who is always prepared to organize events or help out, my friend Victor who always smiles and supports me, or students like Igne trying every day to make the world a better place. It clearly comes more naturally to them. But for many of us kindness is a learning process. We have to take it one day at a time, or even one gesture at a time, if we want to go against the current tide that puts the individual first and contribute to building a kinder more compassionate world.
I would like to finish with some words of wisdom from the famous Dr. Seuss poem “Oh the places you’ll go”. They seem appropriate at this time in our lives. For those who are about to take off, this wise kindergarten prophet has some great advice when he says: “ And then things start to happen, don't worry. Don't stew. Just go right along. You'll start happening too. So, class of 2019 let’s go into the world, find our passion, be grateful, be reliable, be kind, be a little bit crazy and unorthodox and all of us will start to happen too. Thank you ASW for all you have done for us! Thank you, class of 2019, for being awesome! Congratulations."
- Felix Morenc, Class of 2019
Good evening and welcome parents, family members and guests, ASW Teachers and Administrators, and of course, the STARS of tonight's celebration, the American School of Warsaw Graduates of the Class of 2019.
My name is Lucas Gabrovic. I am honored to represent my class tonight. I have been quite fortunate to attend the American School of Warsaw since the 5th grade. My education at ASW started in elementary school, where I was taught mutual respect, commitment, and persistence. In middle school, we learned how to be proactive and contributing students and the value of teamwork. And, finally in high school and particularly in IB, we were taught the art of cramming, guesstimating, sleeping with our eyes open, and the powerful study benefits of a STRONG cup of coffee at 1 o’clock in the morning.
High school graduation is a wonderful opportunity for us seniors to assemble one final time. The last time we were assembled at Studniowka, we dazzled our parents and teachers with our one-of-a-kind dance moves. Tonight, however, there might be a little less twirling and prancing. Instead, we are here with our parents and loved ones (albeit wearing silly-looking caps and gowns) to celebrate our amazing academic, athletic, and artistic accomplishments during our 12 years of education. However, few of us would have made it to this ceremony without rock-solid emotional support and positive encouragement, which we students provided eachother day in and day out. Tonight, it is the proper time for us students to recognize and appreciate all that it took for us to get here.
While tonight is one of the best nights of our lives, one of our closest friends unfortunately did not make it to this glorious event. Niklas Seidel was our classmate and friend. Extremely smart, inquisitive, passionate and friendly, Niklas left us much too soon. While he is not with us physically tonight, we know that he is probably the captain of his own plane, flying above and saluting us all. I would like to take this time for a moment of silence to salute him as well. [pause]
Some of us have attended the American School of Warsaw for 12 years, while others have joined us just this year. How will we, the Class of 2019, be remembered? Maybe we will be remembered for our academic achievements. This year, the Class of 2019 has accumulated over $1.1 million in scholarship money. Moms and Dads, your bank accounts are welcome! Class of 2019 graduates have been accepted into the most highly selective universities around the world and next year we will be studying in about 10 different countries. Think about that - in ninth grade, I doubt we thought we were ready to leave our parents and live on our own, yet now we will soon fly across the globe to follow our dreams. Maybe future classes will remember us for our athletic achievements. As a class we hold 18 SCIS and CEESA swim records and lead the first ASW Robotics team to the FIRST competition in Detroit. Who knows, maybe future classes will remember us as simply the best-looking and most photogenic class to ever graduate from ASW. [look to right and left at my classmates]. Well...maybe not.
How did we become the tight-knit group of graduates that we are today? Some could attribute our tight friendships to the seemingly endless 18th birthday parties we celebrated together this year. Others might say it was the lunchroom conversations which brought joy in the middle of a tough school day.
Looking back at freshman year in high school, I felt that we were timid, shy, maybe a bit scared of what high school had in store for us. But, it turns out that we were clearly 100% ready to take on the challenge. In ninth grade, we somehow managed to become partially independent sleeping by ourselves in tents and cooking our own food. To our surprise some of the food actually came out well, even though most of us were just “cooking” instant ramen. But by the end of 2016, we finished 9th grade, comfortable in our new environment called high school. Let's take a moment to think about that for a second, we started our high school journey in 2015!! Do you guys remember that in 2015 the world went into chaos over the color of a silly dress? Yeah that was 2015, we’ve come quite a long way.
Anyway, once we all agreed that the dress was blue and black and not gold and white, we were ready to take on sophomore year. 10th grade…. I can’t remember much of 10th grade. We weren’t being called freshman anymore, and we weren’t juggling the IB workload, which I think we were quite happy about. I think as we like to say, we were just “chillin”. On the other hand, we were also challenged, we had to resist running out into the street in search of Pokemons with our faces in our phones, we had to come to terms with the fact that the President of America is Donald Trump, and we also cried through the pain realising that One Direction was breaking up for good.
Then came 11th grade. 11th grade was as bipolar as the weather in Poland. It started like a nice sunny fall day, warm with a light breeze. The workload was deceivingly manageable, we still had time to go out with our friends and spend days after school on Youtube and Netflix. But as IB continued, with the IAs piling onto the EE, which piled onto TOK, which piled onto normal school work, that nice fall day turned into a raging blizzard with snow and wind that would smack you right in the face. We no longer had time to watch Netflix and spend time with friends after school, but we did it anyway. We sat in our rooms telling ourselves, “You got this, it can’t get any harder”.
Oh we were so, so wrong. The beginning of 12th grade was definitely a challenge for all of us. Coincidentally, 12th grade was also the year Netflix released the button to skip to the next episode with one click. Netflix - That was NOT fair!! We had to juggle all the work previously mentioned and apply to college while trying to figure out where and how we want to spend the next 3-4 years of our academic careers. For me, it will be 6 years in medical school, plus another 8 more years for training, which will probably be somewhere close to 14 years but who’s counting??!! However, through the challenges we faced in high school, we progressively grew closer together. The Senior Retreat was the first time we came together as a senior class. Knowing that this was going to be the last year we have together, we definitely made the most of it: walking our blindfolded friends into trees and gifting some of them with the opportunity to touch Mr Munnerlyn’s head. Then came Studniówka, a night which we will surely never forget. For the few of us that never really remembered it in the first place, trust me, we all looked and performed amazingly. Then, with Studniówka marking roughly the 100 days until that last day of school, that became our countdown. Those 100 days went by QUICKLY! Before we knew it, we were covered in colored powder, walking out of the ASW gates not to take another class on campus ever again.
But in the end, we made it. Through thick and thin, we kept pushing, and now we get to stand on stage with our heads held high in front of our family and friends and to be proud of ourselves and our fellow classmates, our closest friends, for making it to this commencement celebration.
On behalf of the Class of 2019, we would like to conclude by publicly saying “THANK YOU”.
Thank you dearly Mr. Sheehan, for creating such a positive academic environment, which fosters learning and independence.. . . A place where we were challenged to explore our interests, work on our weaknesses, and to help each other and work to achieve the lofty personal goals we set.
Thank you Mr. Munnerlyn and Ms Cuthbert, for supporting us during the scary, stressful and often daunting process of university selection and applications, and being there to celebrate the victories and manage the set-backs. I hope we have made you proud!
Thank you to the AMAZING Teachers of the American School of Warsaw, for gifting us with your passion, your time, and the knowledge and tools needed for us to go on to become musicians and economists, doctors and lawyers, educators and engineers, artists and diplomats. Our senior year has been enriched by Mr. Cokerdem’s UN-BE-LIEVABLE life stories, Dr. Kirkpatrick’s and Dr. Merritt’s biology jokes and many more.
Thank you Parents, your contribution to who we are today, as not only students, but as young adults cannot be overstated. I know we THINK we know everything, but please know that we very much value and appreciate your time, your emotional support, and your encouragement to help us reach this memorable stage in our lives.
Last, but not least, my fellow graduates: thank you for the role you have played to help me become the person I am today. You guys have opened my eyes to different perspectives and ideas, you have challenged me academically and athletically, supported me emotionally, and helped me in moments of cluelessness. I think this is what makes ASW so special - we are such a diverse group of people. We all come here with our own cultures, languages and life experiences. But, this place seems to do a darn good job of getting the best out of its students. It’s funny how our parents might have thought we wouldn’t amount to much, nor could we really picture ourselves standing on this stage preparing to close the first chapter of our lives . . . . yet here we are. I will never forget the memories we have already created together while at ASW. But the time has come to make memories of our own.
While we enjoyed the last four years in high school, society has made enormous leaps forward. We now have robots, which can do backflips even though most humans can’t. SpaceX brought the three principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle to space travel by successfully creating reusable rocket boosters. The technique of gene editing known as CRISPR was discovered and is being applied to help humans around the world with application in curing cancer, HIV, eliminating Malaria, and creating a sustainable food supply for the world’s population. The MeToo era began in 2017 and has continued to make its positive mark on society, fighting for the rights of women around the world. This list could go on, but it's not time to praise others for their accomplishments, but rather it is time for us, the ASW Graduating Class of 2019, to go out and discover, create, improve and invent by ourselves. With the passion and determination that I was able to see in each and every one of you during high school . . . I expect nothing less.
Good luck and Congratulations to the Amazing ASW Class of 2019!"
- Lucas Gabrovic, Class of 2019
"Thank you to the Class of 2019 for selecting me as your graduation speaker. It is quite an honor and I’m deeply touched. Welcome again to all the parents, guests, faculty, and of course, the 2019 ASW graduates.
As Tyrion Lannister said, “What people remember are stories,” so I’m going to start with a story.
It was December, 1914. Explorer Ernest Shackleton had just sailed from the island of South Georgia on his third Antarctic expedition. As the South Pole had recently been reached by Norwegian Roald Amundsen, Shackleton set out to attempt, in his words, the "one great object of Antarctic journeyings remaining,” a 3000 km cross-continental journey on foot. But only a month later, his ship, Endurance, was hopelessly trapped in the sea ice of the Weddell Sea. Throughout that Antarctic summer and the following winter, the ship and crew drifted with the ice, unable to free themselves. Then in October, 1915, the pressure of the ice cracked the hull and Shackleton and the 27 crew members had to abandon the sinking ship.
There were no radios, no cell phones, no possibility to communicate with the outside world. If they were to survive, they had to rely on their own skills and ingenuity. After spending several weeks camped on the ice, the floe they were on broke in half. Now their only choice was to cross 350 miles of open ocean in three lifeboats, each a 6 m long open rowboat fitted with a sail. After 5 harrowing days at sea, guided by only a chronometer and compass, they reached uninhabited Elephant Island. Although they were now on solid ground for the first time in more than a year, Elephant Island was far from any shipping lanes, and the chance of rescue from there by a passing ship was virtually zero.
So Shackleton and 5 other men set off again in the best of the lifeboats, the James Caird, for South Georgia Island, 750 nautical miles across the the most treacherous ocean in the world. They were in constant threat of capsizing from gale force winds and waves ten times the height of their boat, but they managed to navigate to, and land safely on, the shore of South Georgia. Historian Caroline Alexander called the voyage of the James Caird “one of the greatest boat journeys ever accomplished."
However, their ordeal was not over. The only town on South Georgia was the whaling settlement of Stromness Bay on the northeast shore, 50 km as the crow flies from where they landed on the southwest shore. Shackleton knew that the interior of South Georgia island had never been crossed on foot and was considered impenetrable, but their boat had lost its rudder in the landing and they couldn’t risk taking it back out to sea. So, again, there was no other choice. Shackleton took two others, without any climbing gear other than a carpenter’s adze, 15 meters of rope, and screws pushed into the soles of their boots for traction on the ice, and they set off to cross the 10,000 foot mountains and glaciers of South Georgia to get help from Stromness Bay. They intended to walk straight through until they got to the town, so they packed only food, water, and a campstove. No tents, no sleeping bags. They had a compass, but the interior of the island had never been mapped because it was a morass of mountain ridges, glaciers and crevasses. They started before dawn and by the following dusk, they found themselves in the fading light, astride a narrow ridge with the fog about to envelop them. Ahead they could see a steep slope descending more than 2000 feet into fog. They couldn’t stay where they were--they’d freeze to death in a couple of hours--and working their way down step-by-step was too slow.
The only choice was to slide into the fog. There could be a rock, a cliff, or a crevasse awaiting them, but they couldn’t stay where they were. After all agreeing they had no other choice, they pushed off and began a descent so fast they could hardly breathe. After a terrifying 90 seconds, they reached level ground and slowed to a stop in a snowdrift.
They finally reached Stromness Bay in the late afternoon of the second day, and that same evening, a whaler went round the island to pick up the other three men. But it took three agonizing months and four attempts before Shackleton was able to sail a ship through the ice to Elephant Island to rescue the other 22 men he had left behind there. Despite it all, every single man had survived the ordeal. Why? Because Shackleton made it his highest priority to take care of the people he was responsible for.
Why did I tell you this story? Well, in part, because this was my favorite book while I was growing up. I read Alfred Lansing’s account of the ill-fated voyage of the Endurance many times. It was the only book I took with me when I left home. And I often think of particular bits … especially the slide down the mountain. That took an enormous amount of courage, but they also knew that to stay at the top of the ridge or to try to descend slowly would mean they would freeze. So it wasn’t really a choice, but they embraced what they had to do with every ounce of their being.
I hope none of you ever have to face such a life and death choice, but all of you will face choices that will test your courage. Sometimes you won’t like the options you have to choose among. Most times, you won’t have enough information. And you’ll never know what would have happened if you’d made a different choice. Still, you have to make the best choice you can with the information you have--without looking back, without second-guessing what you should have done. You must embrace your choice with every ounce of your being.
Dr Merritt and I faced such a choice when we accepted our jobs here at ASW 4 years ago. I had a tenured faculty position at a university--tenured means that my job was guaranteed as long as I wanted it. I loved my job--it was a lot of hard work, but the students were great and I was in the early stages of an exciting new research direction. But Merritt was not happy at his high school where he’d been for 17 years. He needed to make a change and he had his heart set on moving overseas. I had been teaching for 36 years at the university level, but I had never taught in high school. For an overseas move to work, I needed to get a teaching certificate, which required a year of education school classes and a stint of student teaching at one of the local inner city high schools. I had no idea what teaching at an international high school would be like, and I had to walk away from my tenured position. I was terrified. We sold our house and car, gave away everything else, and we jumped off the mountain. I’m very grateful for the really gentle landing here in Warsaw, where we’ve had some of the best teaching experiences and made some of the best friends of our lives.
No life path is straight. Shackleton wanted to be remembered for being the first to reach the South Pole. But someone else got there first. Then he wanted to be remembered for leading the first team to cross Antarctica on foot. Clearly, that didn’t work out either. But he is remembered much more for the leadership and courage that he demonstrated in bringing his men home. His priority changed from his own fame to getting his men home safely. His story is now synonymous with such exceptional leadership that courses based on his approach have been established by the University of Exeter, the US Navy, and the US Congress.
No life path is straight. Be courageous enough to change what you’re doing if you know it’s not what you want. You can’t know where any path will lead you, and you can’t know how your choices will turn out. But you can do your absolute best at whatever it is you are doing. Always give more than what is expected; always do more than you think you can.
No life path is straight. When I graduated from high school, I had no idea that I would study biology or that I would be a teacher. As I went through my undergraduate program, I took some biology courses, but I still was not focused on biology. I was interested in horticulture and soil science--biology related, but not biology. Similarly, Merritt was a computer science major as an undergraduate, and intended his career to be in programming. Neither of us expected to do what we do now. But both of us switched our interests to biology in graduate school, which is where we met. Graduate school is also where I found out how much I love teaching. So both of us completely changed our career goals when we were in our late 20s.
Now we’re going to change directions again. As most of you know, Merritt and I are retiring from teaching at the end of this year. Next fall, we’re going to do something entirely different--we’re going to Nicaragua to attend a Spanish language immersion school and, we hope, become functional in Spanish.
Then we want to travel around Central and South America. But while at the school, we hope to volunteer in some capacity, perhaps helping students with research projects, but communicating in Spanish and in a totally different culture. It’s a scary prospect because I’m terrible with languages, but once we leap off the mountain, we’re going to give it all we’ve got, and hope for a soft landing.
Shackleton never planned to do what he did. And he is now held in much greater esteem by the British public than any other Antarctic explorer. You will undoubtedly have choices to make and you will undoubtedly change your path. When you have those choices, make the best decisions you can with the incomplete information you have, embrace what you’ve chosen, and give it all you’ve got.
Oh, and while you’re at university, do remember to brush and floss every day, and visit the dentist twice a year. And your parents will really appreciate it if you call, now and then, not asking for money.
Thanks, to all of you, for everything."
- Dr. Betsy Kirkpatrick, HS Biology Teacher