Lila B. Lohr Graduation Speech
June 8, 2013
In lieu of inviting a no doubt famous, erudite, or at least remarkably witty speaker to share a few words of wisdom, this school has what I think is a wonderful tradition of inviting the Head of School to share a few brief thoughts with our Seniors. I am so pleased to be able to do that this year for I have become very fond of these girls in a very short year.
Seniors, you look beautiful, and please know that all of us are so proud of all that you have accomplished to get to this place at this moment.
As I’m sure most of you know, each year our Seniors choose a theme around which they often decorate the Senior room, focus their yearbook, and find ways to weave it into many occasions and traditions throughout the year. Knowing this class as I do now, it seems fitting that by choosing Dr. Seuss, they were able to find a confluence of both childlike joy and what I would suggest is a profound, albeit not in your face, commentary on the struggles and accomplishments, ups and downs, and disappointments and victories that characterize most of our everyday lives. I will treasure the signed copy the Seniors gave me of Dr. Seuss’s, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, a book that has become the iconic graduation gift all over the country.
Around the world and for decades, so many people have responded to and enjoyed the antics of Thing 1 and Thing 2, the reassuring warmth of The Cat in the Hat’s striped hat, and the delightful whimsy and powerful beat of Dr. Seuss’ lines. Beneath those sing-songy lyrics, Dr. Seuss’ underlying concern for the environment is not lost on adult readers of The Lorax. A close reading of that graduation staple, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, will reveal a clear recognition of the challenges and disappointments our graduates and all graduates are likely to face. In Seuss’ own words: “though your enemies prowl,” and “face up to your problems whatever they are,” “alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot,” and perhaps most poignant, “you’ll be playing games you can’t win cause you’ll be playing against you.”
Although these comments are often chirped by some fuzzy endearing figure you might want to hug, that doesn’t take away from Dr. Seuss’ clear recognition and commentary on the struggles of daily life. I would suggest that some events in Dr. Seuss’ enormously successful life might both shed some light on this philosophy of life, as well as offer some food for thought for the Class of 2013.
Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Ted Seuss Geisel, credits his Mom with his ability and wish to create the rhymes and chant-like quality of his writing. Apparently his Mom chanted rhymes to Ted and his sister when they were very young in an effort to get them to sleep each night. His mom had worked in her father’s bakery in her youth, where she had a daily ritual of memorizing the daily pie specials and chanting some little ditty to try to sell them. I would like to suggest that Dr. Seuss’ Life Lesson #1 could be simplified: Listen to your Mom. You’ll soon discover that, no matter how far away you may go to college, her voice an her advice are now in your head. Pay attention to them.
After high school Ted went on to Dartmouth College, where he especially enjoyed serving as the Editor-in-Chief of The Jack-o-Lantern, the college humor magazine. Early in his college career he made a poor choice and was involved in a party where alcohol was served, which was both against the law and school rules. Part of his punishment included giving up his position as Editor-in-Chief.
Life Lesson #2: There are usually unpleasant consequences for poor decisions, especially when they involve rules or laws. Life Lesson #3 follows quickly and could perhaps be best summarized as: Once you’ve made a mistake, live with the consequences and get on with your life.
Ted could no longer be the editor, but continued to contribute articles to the magazines, and in an effort to not draw any more administrative attention, he began for the first time, signing the articles and drawings with just his middle name, Seuss.
Following his graduation from Dartmouth, on his father’s insistence, Ted agreed to go to graduate school at Oxford University in London. As he had anticipated, his studies bored him and he dropped out before finishing his degree. However he did meet his future wife at Oxford, who was impressed with Ted’s classroom doodling and encouraged him to join her in the world of children’s literature.
Life Lesson #4 was perhaps best expressed by Amelia Barr: “The great difference between voyages rests not in the ships but in the people you meet on them.” The Class of 2013 clearly understands and treasures the relationships they have had at SPSG. It’s not the ships you travel on; it’s about the people with whom you travel.
For the next fifteen years or so, Ted pursued a very successful career in advertising, primarily with Standard Oil. His first foray into the world of children’s literature came when he was hired to illustrate a collection of children’s sayings. The book wasn’t a commercial success, but a great illustration of another life lesson, # 5: Success isn’t always clearly labeled.
What initially had all the markings of a failure, in this case a badly reviewed and unpopular book, proved to be a real break for Seuss and served as an important entre into his future career. I trust that you will find, as many of us have, that some things that initially are very disappointing turn out to be remarkable opportunities. Like the fairly trite and, therefore sometimes annoying cliché; when one door slams in your face, the updraft of the slam can pop open a window.
Following the financially unsuccessful publication of the collection of children’s sayings, Dr. Seuss finished his first children’s book, called, And To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Following the advice given to many aspiring authors, Dr. Seuss tried to write about something he knew well, for several of his characters and the setting of the story were clearly reminiscent of the town where he grew up.
His manuscript was rejected by 27 different publishers, which had to be enormously discouraging. Then, as the result of a chance meeting with a friend from Dartmouth and the notice his illustrations in that earlier, unpopular book received, his first book was accepted for publication.
Life Lesson #6 harks back to the importance of the friends you make along the way, remember the college friend who made this happen and the power of tenacity and resilience. Believing in yourself and in your dream, as clearly Dr. Seuss did, is often a critical element in whatever success you have. Resilience allows you to have the strength to send your manuscript to the 28th publisher.
In truth, and I’m confident that many of you have noted, these 6 Life Lessons offered up by Dr. Seuss’s life aren’t unique to him nor are they new for you. You’ve already been given and will continue to have innumerable opportunities to learn and re-learn these lessons. Understand the power and impact of the voices of the people who have raised you. For you, it may be your mother’s, your father’s, your older sister’s or your grandmother’s. It doesn’t matter; it only matters that you continue to hear them.
Don’t break a lot of rules, but when you do, be prepared to take your medicine, live with the consequences, and move on.
Continue to choose your friends carefully. As they have had here at SPSG, they will have a profound impact on your life.
Success comes in strange wrappings; be willing to look for it. Don’t be a quitter. Most things that really matter are worth the hard work and patience they will demand. Believe in yourself and your capacity to live your dreams, whatever they may be.
Travel far and wide. Come back to share your stories with us. May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.