Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Speech: in honor of a retiring middle school principal

My speech in honor of our retiring middle school principal, Bruce Vosburgh, delivered to the middle school students and staff.  From the awards assembly on the last day of school--June 11, 2012.

Your teachers are used to change—every year the faces of the students change. Yet we find stability in the fact that the newness is often limited to the unique features of your faces. A twelve year-old boy is a twelve year-old boy; a thirteen year-old girl from 1974 is quite similar to a thirteen year-old girl from 2012. As it is, teachers understand how to hold the attention of twelve and thirteen year-olds.

Students—you too—grow used to change. Your life is built on change. Every year you grow taller, smarter, more talented. You walk into new classrooms each year to find new teachers; fortunately, for you, adults have grown pretty predictable. You learn what makes us cranky and what keeps us pleased—you’ve trained us well this year.

However, the one change neither teacher nor student can comprehend just yet: who will hold the door open next for us?

This 8th grade class is about to walk through those doors and they will be sweeping Mr. Vosburgh out with them and onto a new stage of life. And the doors will close behind them.

Yet, many of us remain here.

Understand me, when you hold doors open for people, you do it so others may enter first. Mr. Vosburgh has done that for all of us in this room—he has never reminded us of how great he is, how many hours he is here, or how hard he works. He simply thought enough about us and held the door open.

The good news is that people like Bruce Vosburgh only leave buildings, they never stop working for young people, helping young people—they never stop holding doors open so others may achieve.

So, here, holding doors is a metaphor for creating opportunities. For everyone.

I’m reminded of all of the doors held open for your teachers—whenever teachers wanted to try something new in the classroom, such as add technology like the newest graphing calculators, Smartboards, or iPads he supported it. When teachers wanted to travel to conferences to learn about what others were doing successfully in their classrooms, he has supported it. Many of your teachers, in this room, were given their jobs by him—we’ve been guests in his home—actually, he has been in my home.

When a teacher builds an outdoor classroom, or plants a vegetable garden so others may eat, or collects books so young people in struggling communities may read for pleasure; when a teacher inspires students to bake cookies and collect letters for soldiers fighting abroad; when teachers create clubs to gather clothes and toys so that some families can have a holiday; when these things happen, they happen because the doors are open—opportunities to be great have resonated all around this building. And these opportunities still can exist.

I’m connecting some dots for you—these things only happen because someone held the doors of opportunity open for us…and he won’t be here any longer. He is leaving.

I need to tell you a little secret about the private pleasure of holding doors—you may never be first, but you’re never forgotten. Holding doors means you were not only on-time, but you were early, considerate, and selfless. When you learn to open doors for others, you show others where opportunity awaits—and you never slam it closed in anyone’s face.

Mr. Vosburgh will leave our building this month—and to the 7th graders, 6th graders, and teachers who remain, hear me when I say our building. A man with quiet dignity is leaving Patton, and leaving it our hands—this is our building now. Who will create the next opportunities? Who will seize this opportunity?

We can’t assume; we can’t leave it to someone else; and we can’t miss this opportunity Change is here.

So, do we sit on our hands and wait for the next principal to tell us what to do, how to lead, before we respond to the change before us? Or do we resolve ourselves this summer to be a part of the change, positive change, and follow in Mr. Vosburgh’s example to be better middle school students, teachers, colleagues, and people?

Finally, the next time someone hold a door for you out in public, see it for what it is…not as a chance to go first, but as a moment to say thank you.


  1. This is truly an amazing piece of work.The remarkable message it sends and the beauty of it embeded into the text makes this speech a wonderful treasure. The work you have put forth for this speech really shines through. You did an awesome job, Mr. Kelley. We'll really miss you Mr. Vosburgh. Thank you for all your hard and dedicated work you have done for the school.

  2. Great speech Mr. Kelly.

  3. Thank you, Mr. Kelly for these inspiring words! This has been printed to share again with our middle schooler and other children....so many awesome words of wisdom. Thank you, Mr. Vosburgh as well for your dedication to the children and the district!

  4. Very nice job, Brian. You captured how Bruce led the Middle School. I can picture him holding the door for me; saying hello with his soft, welcoming voice.

  5. I couldnt make it to the essembly but I heard this speech was memorable and so kind like and it is very good it is inspiring