“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes “Ahhh!”
Congratulations, Crusaders! Canterbury School of Florida Class of 2018...You are fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...your futures are the blue center light about to pop... and, we cannot wait to go “ahhh!” Because your pop... oh, it will be brilliant, awesome in fact. When we hear and see that pop, it will be you lighting the world.
Good afternoon, I am Kanika Tomalin, and I wear many hats: Deputy Mayor and City Administrator of the best city in the world! Daughter; Sister; Friend; Leader; and Follower...but, the hat I am most proud and happy to wear is that of mother of two amazing children Kai and Nia Tomalin. And, we’re so lucky, Kai, Nia and I, because I’m not just any mom, I’m a Canterbury Mom. Other Canterbury parents will know what I mean when I say...Being a Canterbury Mom means that our children have shared the wins of their worlds at flag with Mrs. Herzik, Mrs. Hobby and their peers since before they could tie their shoes. It means they learned the beauty of song from Mrs. Dailey and Mr. Davis; and the power of words and the sacredness of the books that hold them from Mrs. Garrison. It means they learned to paint the world from Mrs. Stenov and Ms. Rosario and learned from Ms. Yeager and Mr. Johnson to love all of the people and cultures in it. It means Mr. McGourin, Mrs. Bridge, Mrs. Sweeney, Hall, Heath, Wintrip and Smith expanded their knowledge in exponential ways...made them smarter, stronger... better people. I’m a Canterbury Mom - which means my boy is mastering Mandarin at the expert guidance of Mrs. Fiola while Nia, my girl, learns to own the stage with the gifted brilliance of Mrs. Quellhorst. It means Miss Patty, Miss Camejo, Ms.Walker, Whiteman and Norris have kept things together for them until I could. (Thank you!) It means Ms. Cieutat, Mrs. Swanegan, Mrs. Hehn, Ms. Young and so many others will ready them for what comes next and Mr. Hall will keep good care until they get there. Being a Canterbury Mom means my children have been blessed with the best
education our community offers since they were four-years-old. It means that more names than I could possibly call: Ms. Ossenmacher, Mrs. Esposito, Mr. Gomez and so many others, have loved them, most of their lives... all of our children... as we do. In ways we know and ways we may never see. And, for that, we are forever grateful.
So, as a Canterbury Mom this is a special speech for me. I am honored to stand before you today, educators, on behalf of all these parents and loved ones to say thank you! And, to tell you, graduates, how proud we are of each of you.
You are well on your way. You will make a difference in the world. The character, integrity and honor associated with being a Canterbury Scholar tells us this about you. Whether you’ve been a part of this family for 14 years or 14 months - you are prepared to make our world a better place. Thanks in advance for all you will do. Because it will be huge. A great many things...And, it will be amazing. As you make your marks on the world that waits for you, I hope you’ll consider this small request.
Be an explorer, not a colonizer. A collaborator, not a conqueror. Consider, then master, the differences between the two, guided by a compassionate awareness of the world and the way we share it.
Historically, when someone has discovered a new land he or she plants a flag to lay claim to that place and let all others know they’ve been there. Now, you could plant flags everywhere you go: banners that broadcast your brilliance... or, you could plant seeds. Seeds of hope, seeds of change, seeds of courage and character...and water them with your work, letting the flowers of your efforts, the blossoms of your brilliance tell your story, stake your claim, be your flag. There’s no better legacy than impact. Make a difference and the whole world, even if it’s one person at a time, will notice that you were here. Let the difference you make be your flag.
As you encounter new experiences, new people, places and things, always bring your best. Always offer all you have and all you know, but, always remember that we know nothing...given all there is to learn. Go into these new experiences with an open mind, and an open heart, ready to learn as much as you have to offer and you will always grow. When you encounter difference...whether it be a different belief, experience or goal, stand fast in the principles that have brought you to that place, but be free to abandon the fears that might keep you there. And, you will always grow. Diversity of opinion, thoughts and beliefs, they’re all okay... in fact, they are required for growth. People do not have to think, feel, live and pray as we do to be right and worthy of the space they occupy. There is no responsibility to conform. Or even agree. We are equally endowed with the divinity of life inherent in this shared experience. By that grace, we are all worthy. But, there is a responsibility to respect. A responsibility to love, to lead when example is necessary and helpful, to be kind. And, a responsibility to listen. Especially to listen.
Because you listen you have already heard such wonderful things so far in your lives... explore the world and be sure to hear much more. Many more languages, many more lessons, much more laughter, much more love.
And, as you listen, know that we filter our world through a privileged lens for which you should never feel guilt, but always show gratitude. And, the best way to show that gratitude may be giving to others, in keeping with the gifts you receive. Becoming a graduate of the Canterbury School of Florida makes you one of the world’s most
privileged citizens. Not only of our city, state or our nation...not even our continent or hemisphere, but, one of the most privileged people in THE WORLD!
That truth, is special, without question. But, it doesn’t make you better. It doesn’t make you worse. It makes you privileged. And, with great privilege comes great responsibility. Sometimes challenges make us question our privilege...all of us. When we’re having a hard day, or something we really care about doesn’t go our way, or we see other people enjoy favor that is not ours to count, we can’t imagine ourselves as advantaged in the ways that matter most. But, remember this, while there will always be people who enjoy greater privilege than you, you are definitely walking in the grace of privilege greater than that of many others. This is almost always true, no matter our circumstances.
I’ve had to remember this myself as I adjust to the challenges of life as a single mother after the sudden passing of my husband two years ago...it’s a role I never saw for myself, and on most days it feels everything other than privileged. But, on a recent trip to Africa, an inspiring reminder of the role perspective plays in privilege helped me forever understand. My family and I spent time at a school in rural Uganda called Hope North. Many of the principles of honor, character and academic excellence at that school reminded me of our own beloved Canterbury. And, while there was much about our schools that was the same: a daily flag ceremony; an emphasis on art and culture; talented student body and commitment to the surrounding environment, there were also striking differences.
The students of Hope North are former child soldiers, orphans and victims of the longstanding civil war in Uganda. The school exists to help the students achieve peace and success through education, inspiration and personal development. But, what they have in hope...they lack in all other resources. Their uniforms were worn, torn and tattered with the test of time. Their classrooms and dormitories, stark structures with the barest essentials. Their annual treat for academic excellence: a bottle of Coca-Cola (oneCoke) and a small piece of chocolate. No individualized lockers, or books, or even personalized supplies of paper and pencils. Just the opportunity to gather safely every day and learn.
By every measure of our standards we would see this school as challenged... a place where resources are scarce and obstacles are plentiful. I remember a young boy, maybe four years old, met us dressed in his Sunday best. He wore shoes three sizes too small but was grateful and as proud as can be to have shoes at all. The children of Hope North were the students... but, my family left with the lesson. Even given the challenges of their circumstances these students were all hopeful, confident and optimistic about their futures because they had an opportunity to learn in a safe and clean environment. They had clean water to drink. A safe place to sleep. They considered themselves the privileged ones... compared to the lives they’d left behind in a war torn countryside where young children are kidnapped in the middle of the night and forced to fight with guns that weigh as much as they do. Yes, they were grateful for the privilege of life. And the opportunity to learn.
It’s a reminder that privilege comes in many measures and we are all graced with lots of it. If those young people could recognize their privilege, surely we can recognize ours. It is our responsibility then, to do so and advance the opportunities of others when and how we are able. When we use our advantage to bring opportunity to others, in a way that is not based on obligation or pity, but instead, duty, strength and honor - our world exponentially expands in the way of truth and right.
And, sometimes, you might find, that even with all of your preparation and good fortune, with all of your kindness of heart, talent and well-intentioned honor that you will be the one in need of help. You will need someone to exercise their privilege on your behalf. Welcome that love and light with the beauty and purpose of its intention. Asking for and accepting help when you need it is not defeat. It is the pathway to victory. Accept love from others and always remember to love and help yourselves. Throughout your lives, run as fast and as far as your dreams demand...but, if life ever knocks you down and you find your feet won’t run the way you need them to, remember the life and sentiment of inspiring artist Frida Kahlo. She suffered with illness her entire life... Polio left her bedridden as a child and challenged as an adult. And, when her body wouldn’t work in a way that matched her spirit, she had this to say about this defining, but never determining circumstance of her life: “For what do I need feet, when I have wings to fly?”
When your feet fail to carry you all the places you would go. And, at times they might... Just fly Crusaders...fly! Go for it, take off, worry not about your feet and float like a feather on the breath of God to your destinies... like exploding spiders against the stars... like fabulous roman candles that light this world afire. Your light, the one within, will guide you always.
I know this, because I know you...even those I’ve never met. I know the people this school does yield... even if you don’t know it yet. You. Will. Be. Great.
I know Grant will be great. He was born to lead. The definition of a good friend, a good boy, and, now a good man. When there’s work to be done, or service to offer, he’s the first to arrive. The last to leave. You’re a class that will make your mark, some near home, others rather far...Alexandra - your Valedictorian, will find more greatness at
Hopkins... count on Tori and Hannah to become stars. Josh, he’ll own the FAU pool and Tinsley and Stephanie you’ll be awesome at Ole Miss; Maria and Jacob I know you’ll stay woke at Wake Forest while Julia, Peyton and Anthony will consider all of this... and, so much more!
Then decide their path to greatness, and we all know, there’s no rush...the options before you are infinite...if you can dream it, it’s just a matter of time until you touch... your next awesome achievement, like Carly and Jared, they’ll explore our state’s natural beauty at Florida Gulf Coast while Catherine and John are headed to Boston - to
Northeastern, my alma mater!...a decision I’m loving the most. And, then there’s Auburn, Alabama, UCF and FSU...every campus, all of these will all be made better with the Canterbury crew. Grace, Ryen, Abby, Marina, Grant and Cam too. De’Laun will study theater, Nathan will become a volunteer - as will Michael, though they started giving long ago; In Tennessee they’ll plant new roots and already a giant of a man, I can’t wait to see how Michael grows. Tariq will light up St. Leo with his swagger and his wit, Connor and Will head to Institutes of Technology, while Zion decides whether Dover or LaPlume will be a better fit. But, here’s the good news...the best news if you ask me...every one of these schools will be made better by these members of the Canterbury Family. Angela will make a difference at USF and Jessica, (congratulations on the Hough Award!) will change the world at Wash U... Kurtis will redefine boundaries in Nova Scotia and Madelyn, a standard setter here, will be a scholar at Emory too... All of you graduates will shine in your next chapter. It’s true, one of us can’t wait, until the rest of the world discovers what we’ve always known. You, have been. You are. You will be great!
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May he make his face to shine upon you.
Congratulations Canterbury School of Florida Class of 2018! You did it! In a few moments you’re going to walk across this stage. That feeling that swells in your belly and comes bursting through your hearts...that. That is the blue center light Jack Kerouac wrote about all those years ago. When the last of your names is called it will go POP! And, the whole world... especially those of us in this sacred place, sharing this moment with you... we’ll all go "ahhhh!"