Graduation Speaker, Edward "Smitty" Smith

This year's graduation speaker was Edward "Smitty" Smith. Below is Class of 2015 Mirsab Rose's introduction of Smitty, followed by Smitty's remarks. 

Mirsab Rose: It is my honor to introduce our speaker today.  Edward “Smitty” Smith is a friend of our graduating class and a friend of Philadelphia, where he spent a great deal of time working during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Smitty  - oh, by the way, he wants everyone to call him Smitty - worked with us twice this year. Once here at TPS – when he came to speak to us about issues related to our study of the Constitution, about his decision to follow a path of public service, and about his recent loss in the primary race for Attorney General of Washington, DC.

We also met with Smitty in April in Washington, where he hosted a discussion for us at City Hall about the constitutional issues and sustainability issues we studied this year.

Smitty is a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School.  He is a member of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s cabinet, where he focuses on both victims’ rights and juvenile diversion programs. 

Please join me in welcoming Edward “Smitty” Smith.

Smitty's remarks to the Class of 2015:

For several years, at the request of my "adoptive" mom, Lois West, my friend Mike Block (TPS Class of 1995) and I have hosted panel discussions for the 8th grade class as part of their annual trip to Washington, DC. We talk about all sorts of subjects, including technology, public policy, law, ethics, economics, and politics.

Since I’ve got the microphone and no one can disprove this, I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s definitely the best part of the whole trip.  I mean, guys how many paintings and marble statues do you really need to see to understand that our founding fathers were important, did some impressive stuff, and had terrible fashion sense?

However, when we meet, we talk about the serious issues that you care about today… except for Wiz Khalifa.

Now, I’m going to admit something to you that I have never admitted to any other class. I am always excited to talk with you, but I’m also always a little terrified.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had to “duke it out” with lawyers, city council members, even congressmen. But I am never more nervous than when talking with you. Why do you think that is?

Here’s what I think.

I’m excited because I know that I am going to hear creative new ideas and be energized by what you have to say. You have the most wonderful perspectives.

Unlike us “old folks”, you don’t assume that something is “impossible” just because you haven’t seen it yet. That is an incredible strength and in our discussions you speak with the boundlessness of possibility and show me something new every time.

But, I’m also terrified because you guys are really smart, so when we talk, I always have to bring my A game. We discuss subjects like police brutality, Islamophobia, children’s rights, Internet privacy, and the role of race in the legal system.  These are issues that confound and intimidate our greatest scholars, judges, and politicians. And yet you refuse to be intimidated, you refuse to be silent. You challenge convention, you challenge each other, and you challenge me. Don’t ever stop challenging.

Intellectual curiosity, fearlessness, a hunger for knowledge, an unwillingness to accept the answers you are given, and the courage to find your own answers; these will be your most valuable tools as you take the next leaps to high school, college, and beyond. These things make you terrifying and powerful.

I do not know exactly how each of you got here, but I do know that you have everything you need to keep succeeding. You have families that love and support you, the drive to work hard for your goals (ref performances), and a great school community with friends and teachers who will be looking out for you long after you graduate.

The Philadelphia School is a remarkable place, but what makes it remarkable is not the buildings, or the books, it is the people. Each and every one of you are pieces of why we love this school, from the smallest Kindergartner to the biggest 8th grader, the teachers, the parents and all. 

So, 8th graders, as you prepare to move on, and as each of the classes behind you take one step forward to try to fill those big shoes of yours, I want to share a few little suggestions:

1) None of you know what “cool” actually looks like, and it’s definitely not on TV, so don’t spend too much time trying to be or look cool. Whatever you think it looks like now will seem completely ridiculous in ten years.

2) Don’t make fun of the "nerdy" kid… that kid already knows what will be cool in ten years, just watch.

3) Put down your smartphone. The answers to the world’s problems, or really any problems, are not on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. Nothing of value is measured in “likes,” and you cannot retweet the secret to happiness.

4) Do not be afraid to ask for help. No one has ever achieved anything of great significance without help and anyone who claims they did just finished stealing something.

And, finally,

5) Do not be afraid to lead. You may be young, but you can still be leaders. Do not assume that leadership is reserved for old people. If old people are so great, then why are there so many problems left in the world for young people to fix? We are waiting for you to lead, hoping that you will, terrified of your strength, but excited because your youth and new perspectives may be exactly what we need to solve the problem.

So stand up, step forward, and be fearless in fulfilling your potential. Focus on making yourselves proud, because we’re already proud of you, and congratulations!