The Principal's Office
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This is the speech I gave to the Pequannock Township High School Class of 2020 at their Virtual Commencement Ceremony on June 19 2020. You can watch the video of the speech here: https://youtu.be/NsGKilAnM78
Good Evening Mr. Portas, Dr. Winning, Mr Blumert, Members of the Board of Education, Mrs. McCarty, Mrs. Mildner , Mr. Silipena, Pequannock Administrators, community dignitaries, Pequannock Township High School faculty and staff, parents, family members, friends, and members of the PTHS Class of 2020.
I’ve been giving speeches now as an Assistant Principal and Principal for the last twelve years. I’ve given speeches at award ceremonies, assemblies, pep rallies, community events, parent nights and graduations. It is a humbling experience and a responsibility that I take great pride in doing, knowing that I represent our students, staff and community. However, I have a confession to make. This graduation speech, my first as the Principal of Pequannock Township High School, is the hardest one I have ever had to write.
This speech was hard to write because what do you say to a class that will go down in history as the toughest, most resilient, class that will ever walk through the doors of Pequannock Township High School. With many of you being born within a few months of September 11, 2001 and now graduating in a global pandemic, you have demonstrated that through the toughest of times, the strength of friendship, family, and community can persevere no matter what lies in your way.
It is hard to write because what do you say to a group of students that I have spent portions of the last seven years of my life with, watching you grow, watching you learn, watching you become young men and women who are ready to take on the world. I remember many of you as 10 and 11 year olds, standing on the pavement outside of PV School with wide eyes, big smiles and an anxious energy that was contagious ready to begin your middle school experience…...and now here you are…..and I have to say goodbye.
Being your Principal this year has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional career. I don’t know how many of you know this but in July I received a tweet from one of you, and it said, “Can you come be our Principal?” It is one of those moments that I will remember for the rest of my life. I’m telling you this because that question that was asked of me changed the course of my career…..and my life. As the Principal of PV I had a choice to make. I could stay in a place where I was comfortable….or I could step outside my comfort zone and take a chance…..seize an opportunity…...challenge myself. I took that tweet very seriously and as I thought about the decision that I would need to make I went to something that usually provides me with guidance and inspiration…..I opened up a book and started reading. The book was entitled “Culturize.” It was given to me by my friend and colleague, Jimmy Casas. In the front cover of the book he had written a message to me that finished with, “Live Your Excellence….Your Friend, Jimmy.” I didn’t really have to read much further to know what I had to do. I think you know what decision I made because seeing your smiles and giving high fives and handshakes to all of you on the first day of school this year will be something I will cherish forever. Watching you cheering for each other at games and pep rallies, seeing you win championships in your activities, seeing you shine in concerts, watching you collaborate and create in your classes, raise awareness for a cause, and most recently to unite in support of our healthcare workers has made me so proud to be your Principal and made me realize that in order to continue to learn and grow, sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone. Those three words brought me here….to this moment.
Some of you may be saying, “I’ve seen “Live Your Excellence before.” Yes, you have. If you have been paying attention to the morning announcements for the last sixty days I end every morning announcement with the words “Live Your Excellence” flashing across the screen. It is my final piece of advice that I leave to you….to the class of 2020 as you leave behind the comfort zone of Pequannock Township High School and step out into a world filled with promise. So what does “Live Your Excellence mean?
To me Live Your Excellence means…
Now I know what you are thinking……”Wow, Mr. Hayzler, I never knew your morning announcements were so deep.”
In all seriousness, rather than saying goodbye to this wonderful class, I’d rather sign off like I’ve been doing in my morning announcements and say “Live Your Excellence.” Thank you for helping me live my excellence with you for the past seven years. I hope that when you look back on your career in the Pequannock Township School District you realize that you were surrounded by people who were helping you begin to Live Your Excellence. Your teachers, coaches, advisors, administrators, community members, parents, friends, family. Continue to surround yourself with people who will challenge you, motivate you, inspire you, support you and love you. You are part of a special family, one that bleeds blue and gold….that will always have your back…..that will celebrate your Panther Pride and are counting on you to Live Your Excellence with those wide eyes, big smiles and anxious enthusiasm that this Principal will always remember you for…...you are already on your way….. Congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2020! Let’s Go Panthers!
Mr. Portas, as Principal of Pequannock Township High School, it gives me great pleasure to present to you, the graduating class of 2020!
Ten years ago this past Thursday the photo on the left was taken at John Theuer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey when I was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoblastic T Cell Lymphoma. Ten years later and the shirt on the right may have faded a bit, may have a few cracks in the graphic and might be a little tighter on me, but it is a symbol of all those who fought the fight with me. It sits on the top of my shirt drawer as a daily reminder of the doctors who helped save me. It is a reminder of my why....my wife, children and family. It is a reminder that you are stronger than you think when you are faced with a challenge.
We all have challenges that we face in life that can really "punch you in the gut." These challenges can cause us to doubt, cause us to question, cause us to worry, cause us to feel like giving in. It is during these times that you need to realize that there are people around you to lift you up. Family, friends, colleagues and maybe even total strangers. I remember the Superman sign being posted on every classroom door at PTHS as I battled cancer. I remember it hanging in the school offices. I remember my son wearing his Superman cape when I came home from the hospital that first week. I could feel the support and encouragement giving me strength to do what I needed to do. I was much stronger than I thought I was because of all of the love and support from everyone.
There are many of our students (and even our colleagues) that are going through challenges....some bigger than others. Some are open to sharing what is happening (like I did) while others choose to deal with their challenge differently. How do your students (and your colleagues) know that they have someone behind them no matter what? You don't need to have a Superman sign on the door in your classroom. But you can be a smiling face, a hello in the hallway, a conversation after class to a student. You can be a pat on the back in the faculty room or note in a person's mailbox that says, "Hey, I saw great things happening in your room when I walked by" to a staff member.
Our most challenging students are most often the ones that need people in their corner. They need that someone (or group of "someones") to come out of nowhere to save their day or even the class period. But it can be ANYONE that is going through something. Keep building relationships with your students. Every one of them could use a Superman or Superwoman. Don't miss out on those moments to help your students believe they are stronger than they think. In ten years, they may look back on that moment, smile, and give thanks. I know I did.
This Thursday night, my high school held the first of two "Shoot for the Cure" games to support one of our staff members whose son, Scott, was recently diagnosed with with Multiple Sclerosis. It was an emotional game for the DeBell family, the basketball players and to be honest, everyone in the crowd. The boys played with intense passion, purpose and drive. Coach DeBell was full of spirit on the sidelines and the crowd cheered with each basket made. While we were there to watch a game, we were also there to support a young man and his family experiencing a difficult situation. Throughout the process Scott has been following his treatment protocols and taking one day at a time as he regains strength and focuses on a mindset that every day, every hour, every minute matters. If you win that minute, that hour or even a moment. You win the day.
Life is like that for many of our students and quite frankly, for ourselves every day. Everyone is carrying something. Students walk through our doors with the "invisible backpack." Teachers, Administrators and support staff do too. We all need to support each other as we look to "win the day." A student pointed out to me on Friday that she loves it when a teacher says hello to her in the hallway. She feels cared for...she feels important. It makes her feel like a winner. Too often we get caught up in the "busyness and business" of life that we don't relish the small victories that happen to us on a daily basis. As we head into a long stretch run of school following this break, remember to celebrate the small victories, the "little moments," the one on one conversations, the fist bumps, the high fives, the warm "hellos" in the hallway. You never know who "wins their day" because of it. It may help them do better on a test, participate more in the classroom or just make them feel a part of something bigger.
I know that for a few hours on Thursday night the boys did more than "win the game." They helped a community "win the day" for a family that deserves it and hopefully for a young man, help him realize he's not alone in this fight. Every day is a day worth winning. What are you you doing each day to win the day? How are you helping other's win theirs? Let's continue to help those around us (and ourselves) realize that we are part of a larger team and we are in it to win it. #wintheday
I remember sitting in the back of my parent's station wagon on a trip to my grandparents' house and asking "Are we there yet?" five minutes into the ride. My dad would always tell me, "When we pass the Rockaway Mall we will be halfway there." I remember as a kid getting excited to see the mall and all the cars. It gave me something to look forward to as I did like listening to the music my parents played in the car and I knew we were getting closer to seeing my grandparents.. Sometimes though I also thought, "man, we still have 30 minutes to go? Why is this taking so long?
In schools in the Northeast, it is right about the end of the second marking period, the "unofficial" halfway point in the school year. We are actually finishing up day 86 at our school (but who is counting.) I had to look it up. I'm not one to count down days....I make days count. It is a time to reflect on the many things you have accomplished with your students but also to look forward with anticipation and excitement for what is to come. Yes, there are going to be days where you feel like asking "Are we there yet?" and there will be days when you wish that you had more time to get in what you need to with your students. Take advantage of each day. Capitalize on the bright spots and grow stronger from the difficult ones.
Remember that our students probably feel the same way. The goal is... how can we all work together to get each other to the top of the mountain? Before we know it, June will be here and we will be saying, "Wow, that was a quick trip to the top." Don't forget to enjoy the trip. You only get one opportunity with the group that sits in front of you. Don't tell them to hang in there.. Show them how to do it through your passion, energy, enthusiasm and desire to see them succeed. When your students believe that you will help them get to the top, you are never going to have to ask "Are we there yet?" You will be there.
You are already halfway. Keep going. Enjoy the trip.
Veterans Day has a special meaning to me. My grandfather, George Hayzler, served in World War II and was involved in D-Day. I remember him telling me stories about his time in the war and even showed me some of the medals he earned, including a Purple Heart. My best friend growing up as a child, Tom Baldwin, served the Navy proudly upon high school graduation to just last year when he retired. My wife's grandfather, Anthony Mongiello, also served in World War II and was always so proud to share his stories because he cared so deeply about our country. They continue to be heroes to me for the sacrifices they made because they believed so strongly in making a positive difference. They were called into service and did it with every ounce of their being.
In researching about Veterans Day, I came across an interview with Jeffrey Courter from Chicago, Illinois. He had served his country as a Marine, a Navy Reservist and an Army National Guardsman. When talking about his time of service I was struck by the comments he said about his time in Afghanistan. “My deployment to Afghanistan changed me in many ways. It opened my eyes to poverty, oppression, and human need. I saw children standing barefoot in snow. I saw old villagers afraid of terror. I saw families of Americans providing toys, school supplies and clothing to poor Afghans. I saw bravery, kindness, and evil up close. I saw suffering on a scale I had never encountered before. People asked me whether I made a difference being deployed there. I would say, “A very small difference, but if everyone makes a very small difference, in time it will make a large difference. Service is the gift we give to the world. It’s what makes us human. It is also what gives our lives meaning. Serving my country is part of serving humanity.”
What difference can I make? It's a question that I ask myself a lot. We are called into service each and every day working with students. We believe in what we do. There are days where I walk out of school and say, "Did I make a difference?" However, as Jeffrey Courter reminds us, "even if I made a small difference, and everyone on the staff did the same, in time it will make a huge difference." Right now, our school is a great place and every time each of us makes a small difference, it makes the school even greater. When Monday rolls around in your school and you are not sure if you can make a difference, change your mindset because you WILL make a difference! Imagine the possibilities that await your students!
I had the opportunity to present to a group of 8th graders in another district this week about our high school Academy program and at the end of the presentation their counselor walked up and said, "Wow, you are high energy, you had those kids engaged the whole time!" After I said thank you and got back to my car I reflected on what she said. The more I thought about it, "Isn't that our job?"
As administrators and teachers WE are responsible for the energy we bring into the room. Yes, the students are responsible too, but if we aren't energetic, passionate and engaging, how can we expect our students to be? Students are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. They know when a teacher or an administrator is just going through the motions or aren't connected to a particular lesson. We've all been there. It happens. However, the students know too. I may not be all jacked up to talk about SGOs or standardized test data but the energy that I bring is not based around those topics. It is based on what those topics are about.......student success. The energy that we bring into the school and into the classroom must be centered on every student, every day, whatever it takes. (Thanks Jimmy Casas!)
I know it is hard. I know that the students may not be motivated. I know that some are missing work. I know that there is grading to do. "I can't possibly have all this energy you are talking about Rich." Yes you do. It's inside of you. It's why you are a teacher.
If it were easy, everyone would be a teacher. As you prepare for the next day, next week or even the next teaching period, bring so much energy into the room that you don't need light to illuminate it. Work will always be there. There are a zillion things that I have going on too, but there is nothing more important than igniting a fire of learning in a student.....and if the other things we have to get done are important for student learning, they will get done too. Bringing positive energy into our school and classrooms is our job. In fact, it is our responsibility.
While the weather still feels like summer, this past Monday signified the first day of the fall season. The quote above is a reminder for me of the opportunities that this season brings. It is an opportunity for us to let go....to try new things.....to be willing for the "newness" of the school year to take hold and make way for exciting things for our students.
I am always humbled and honored to have the opportunity to work with our future. Below is the graduation speech I gave to the PV Class of 2019. Thanks to David Geurin, author of "Future Driven" for the inspiration.
Good Evening Dr. Winning, Members of the Board of Education, Dr. Scelso, Mr. Seborowski, Pequannock Administrators, community dignitaries, Pequannock Valley School faculty and staff, parents, family members, friends, and members of the PV Class of 2019. Here we are, gathered together in a beautiful air-conditioned auditorium (Thank you Dr. Scelso), to celebrate the accomplishments of some very talented young men and women. We are here to share in the joy, the excitement, the enthusiasm and the energy that I have had the pleasure of witnessing in the hallways and classrooms of PV School for the past three years.
Now parents and family members, I don’t know about you but over the past several weeks in preparing for our 8th grade activities I found myself asking, "Where is the time going?” It seems like yesterday we were all sweating together in the 6th grade hallway at summer orientation as the students were decorating lockers with wallpaper, chandeliers, lights and shelves ready to embark together on a journey into their future…..and now…..here they sit in blue and gold caps and gowns and their lockers empty....…..The future is here….”Where is the time going?....The time is here…..Their time is now.
The journey that has been the last three years for the PV Class of 2019 reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite novels, ‘"The Lord of the Rings,” that says, “It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The young men and women that sit behind me have gone on quite a journey over the past three years… Whether it was in the classroom as one of the first classes to be part of our 1:1 Chromebook program, being active participants in our STOMP OUT BULLYING initiatives, winning county championships, raising awareness for sustainability, building a school garden, being recognized for community service, earning Superior ratings at music festivals, collaborating with your peers on house days, designing your own TED talks in Social Studies or leading fundraising efforts, you represented Golden Panther Pride with your individuality, your intelligence, your determination, your character, your passion, your talent…….your Drive.
One of the many things I will remember about this group is that you challenged me to be better Principal. You are learning at such a rapid rate. You have knowledge and skills with technology that amaze us everyday. You are doing things in classrooms that to be honest, your parents and I were probably doing in high school…. You made me think about how we could make sure we are preparing you for your future. You challenged me to learn. So I did the only logical thing I could think of….no, I didn’t ask Amazon Alexa “How to Make School Better?” I did the the “old fashioned way.. ...I opened up some books and started reading. A book that I picked up was called Future Driven: Will Your Students Thrive In an Unpredictable World.” The book encouraged me to make sure that you were ready for not just what you need to do in the classroom, but what you need to do to be successful in your life. The author, David Geurin, gave some simple advice…..advice that I would like to share with you tonight as “our future.” The advice is……... Be ready…
Be ready to serve. The actor, Jim Carrey, in a graduation speech to college students asked them two questions. “How will you serve the world? What does the world need that your talents can provide?” “Come on Mr. Hayzler….we are only in 8th grade. I’m still developing my talents.” My answer to you is very simple. “How can you help serve the world?” Follow your heart. Rely on the things that PV has taught you. Go out into the world and transform it with your love, your kindness, your intelligence, your creativity, your courage, your passion.
Be ready to empathize. Not everyone has the same experiences that you have had. Not everyone has been fortunate to live in a great community, go to schools where your teachers care for you and desire to see you succeed. Embrace the opportunity that you will have as you move on to high school and beyond. Instead of putting others in their place, put yourself in their place.
Be ready to be an engaged citizen Get off your cell phones. Communicate face-to-face with people. The greatest ability we have as people is to develop relationships. Talk, laugh, work together…..get involved.
Be ready to think. The world needs thinkers….they need doers. You have so much at fingertips that will give you information. Use it to change the world for the better. Think about ways to do things differently...to think smarter….and harder .than anyone else.
Be ready to take risks….Risk takers set goals and in spite of all obstacles do everything in their power to successfully attain them. Taking risks means making mistakes and having an understanding that in order to succeed you have to be willing to accept the fact that you may fail. As NBA player Michael Jordan states, “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying.”
Be ready to be an Upstander, not a Bystander. It is tough growing up in the world today. We have to be in this together to make the world a better place. Strong people stand up for themselves….stronger people stand up for others.
Be ready to dream. Set goals and when you reach them….go further. Have the courage to take a chance on yourself or for something you feel is right. I have watched many of you pursue things you were passionate about. Whether it was a project, a school rule, a sport, an activity…..you took a chance. In the words of Walt Disney “All our dreams can come true...if we have the courage to pursue them."
Finally….Be ready to create hope...Don’t ever believe that you can’t make a difference. It is our hopes that shape our future. I have watched you for the past three years make a positive difference at PV and you have left a hope in all of us for a brighter tomorrow through your accomplishments together. You have lived our motto of "Knowledge. Spirit. Promise" with a Future Driven Mentality … You have made school better for all of us.
So….as the door to PV closes and you step out onto the road, it doesn’t matter where you get swept off to. Use what you learned at PV. Explore...Think...Discover….Hope.......Dream…...Live Your Excellence……..and …...Be Ready…..We believe in you. Congratulations!
This blog post was inspired by a Twitter post by Rich Czyz, author of "Four O'Clock Faculty." Thanks Rich for the inspiration!
Are my grades in? Did I turn in my PDP? Do I have my Safe Schools training certificates printed out? Did I call parents of students who failed for the year? Is everything labeled for the custodians? Did I save all my work to my Google Drive? Did I take down my bulletin boards? Is all student work returned? It's a mad dash to get all of the items on the end of year checklist done so that when the last bell rings, summer can officially begin.
But what about the "real" checklist? What about the "end of year" checklist that requires attention paid to the biggest responsibility we have as educators? Before the last days of school are over did you remember to treat students as individuals? Did you give students opportunities to reflect on mistakes as part of the learning process? Did you let students take chances? Did you empower students to take control of their learning? Did you inspire your students to be better people? Did you teach students to ask questions? Did you do everything you could?
What if this was the "end of year" checklist that was required to be completed in order to leave for summer vacation? How many of the checkboxes would you be able to to check off? If you still have a chance to check off some boxes this week, which checklist will you use?
As we come to the conclusion of the standardized testing portion of our year, it got me thinking about all the great things we do with our students. Unfortunately for the past two weeks our students have had a very linear approach to learning. "Open up your chromebooks, enter your testing ticket username and password, answer the questions that appear on your screen. You have 60 minutes." While the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA) does give an example of what our students "should have" learned, it is certainly not the end all-be all of what they did learn. Our students are much more than a test.....and learning is much more messy than an exam on a computer.
I love the picture represented above. Weston Kieschnick, author of Bold School, tweeted out the picture this week. As teachers, administrators and parents we all want our students moving from point A to point B as quickly and as successfully as possible. However, we all must realize that learning doesn't work that way. In fact, it shouldn't work that way. Learning should be messy. It should involve loops, twists, turns, dips, curves and yes...more loops. It's like five rules of dodgeball.....dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge. (I hope you all get the Dodgeball movie reference). Learning takes time. It isn't often demonstrated in 45, 60 or 90 minutes.
As we finish up the school year, I hope you reflect on the "messy" year your students had. I also hope you reflect on your learning this year as a teacher or administrator. Hopefully you find out that your path and the path of your students was very much the same...…We should all be learning and growing together....and it can get messy!
I am very proud of how the students did for the past two weeks on the NJSLA. They worked hard and gave their best. Now it is time to get back to making a mess!
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.