Thank you for giving me the opportunity to stand here today. It means a lot to me.
This is a big moment for you kids. Your lives are about to change in a major way. You 5th graders are leaving PS 20 for a completely different school. You are moving on!
Raise your hand if you feel you are going to breeze through middle school, to high school and then onto college.
NOW raise your hand if the future is just a little bit scary.
Now raise your hand if you think you’re going to face a lot of challenges along the way.
[many hands shoot up]. That’s a lot more realistic.
That’s what I want to talk to you about. About challenges and about how kindness will help you.
I want to talk to you about you being kind to OTHERS and about people being kind to you in return. All this is really, really important to your future.
When I was your age—in 5th grade—some girls in my class were very unkind to me. Girls I thought were my friends.
They made fun of me at school in a very cruel way. They imitated the way I walked, with my feet pointing out. They did this in front of everybody, in the hallway, during a break. Everyone was laughing at me. I got really upset. My face turned red. I was humiliated.
I knew I’d had a touch of polio as a toddler. I knew I had flat feet. I felt defective. I felt betrayed. I felt really angry. I felt really unsure of myself. I felt ashamed. Now that’s a whole lot of bad feelings! I was facing this challenge all on my own. I didn’t even tell my parents. I didn’t want to go back to school. And this act of unkindness ultimately led me to mistrust people. This feeling lasted for a loooong time. Like 20 years. But during that time I learned an important lesson: You can’t help what you’re dealt, but you can help how you deal with it. [applause from adults].
Let me say that again: You can’t help what you’re dealt, but you can help how you deal with it. I couldn’t help that those girls were mean to me but I could chose not to be mean back.
After a while, this single act of meanness made me realize how much I needed people to be kind to me and how I needed to be kind to people myself. Because I now knew firsthand just how it felt to be treated cruelly and I also knew how good it felt to treat someone with kindness.
Here’s another thing to remember: Kindness is the glue that sticks people together.
I always regret being mean to someone. Anyone. But I never ever regret being kind to someone. It makes me feel really good. It makes me feel peaceful and calm. And I see the person’s face light up—or relax. And my act of kindness caused that. I helped that person feel a little better. That’s the best feeling in the world.
How many of you have this feeling when you are kind to someone? [hands raise]
When you walk down the street past someone who looks a little sad or out of sorts, Do you smile and look at them? I do. Their faces light up! I feel good! Everyone wants to connect in a positive way.
There are other universal lessons you’ve undoubtedly learned from people at PS 20—your teachers, your classmates, Principal Barbera, the coach, and the rest of the staff. I’ve been in the halls and classrooms of PS 20 for quite a long time, a couple of years. I see you kids and I’ve watched you grow up. And I see a lot of kindness going on here. Take that kindness with you to the next school, and then the next school and out into the big world.
I don’t recall having a 5th grade prom. How was that prom? Did you dance up a storm? [screams of joy from the graduates] Are you exhausted today? I don’t remember if I had a 5th grade graduation either. I guess I did. And I don’t even remember those mean girls’ names.
WHAT I DO remember is the cruelty of those girls. If I were to run into them today I would say ‘Hey, I taught myself how to walk right. See?’ And I would smile. I would forgive them. I bet they regret what they did.
Have you been mean to anyone? Do you regret it? I bet you do. Because you always have a choice. You can’t help what you’re dealt, but you can help how you deal with it.
Just turn to the person next to you. Give them a smile, a hug. Shake that person’s hand. [all adults and graduates hug, kiss, laugh, chatter] Choose to be kind to that person—today or tomorrow or sometime soon. They’ll be kind back I bet!
You’re going to face all kinds of challenges in your life. You’re going to need all the kindness you can get. And if anyone’s really, really mean to you—the best way to get even—kill them with kindness.
That’s absolutely the best revenge.
Thank you kids. Thanks for listening.