As my brother pointed out in his speech last night, he was not a stellar high school student. (Neither was I.) Family legend is that he got a 16 one quarter in Algebra. Or as he put it, his GPA would have made a better ERA.
Michael and I attended a top notch high school, had dynamic teachers and expansive course offerings. We simply were not engaged enough in our education to take advantage of them. Neither of us applied ourselves in high school, and didn't make the most of the incredible opportunities presented to us.
Our mom was very active in our schools; the PTA President and Booster Club kind of mom. In fact, when we first moved to Hopewell and attended the local elementary school parents complained that the playground was insufficient. My mom single handedly rallied parents, raised money and organized construction of a new one. One year in high school there were more pictures of HER in my yearbook than there were of ME. She never missed a sporting event for either one of us. She was that kind of mom.
She was amazing, and a force to be reckoned with. But she only had a high school diploma, and simply did not know how to help us make our school work a priority. Conversely, our father has a PhD in Organic Chemistry, but worked 12 hours a day and spent the majority of the rest of his time in his study as he steadily climbed the corporate ladder at a pharmaceutical company, eventually retiring as the Senior Vice President of Research and Development.
But by the time we were in high school our parents were divorced, we lived with our mom, and there was no focus on academics in our home. School remained a place where we were both connected through athletics, activities and friends, but we failed to thrive academically.
If we had been subjected to the rigorous high stakes standardized tests now inflicted upon students, I can only imagine how turned off we would have become. And if rich athletic programs had not been available, I wonder what would have kept us motivated at all.
There is no way standardized tests would have predicted either my brother or I were capable of future success in college or career.
But look at what we have accomplished.
My brother runs not one but two multi-million dollars restaurants, has cooked for four
presidents and a pope, and perhaps most impressively, he defeated Iron Chef Morimoto in an epic Black Fish Battle. He has become a nationally acclaimed master of his craft, as well as a devoted champion of sustainable fishing practices.
|With his chefs after defeating Morimoto on Iron Chef|
I helped rally my entire community to defeat an unwanted charter school that had been rubber stamped by the USDOE, and my epic battle was featured in the New York Times. I am running for my local school board, and look forward to working hard to continue to protect public education not only in my community, but my state as well. Diane Ravitch has named me to her honor roll, calling me a "hero of public education."
Not too shabby.
Michael has graciously agreed to allow me to publish his speech. I think it demonstrates that while some kids may not be advanced proficient or maybe even proficient on a standardized test, and may not even thrive in the classroom, we should never, ever count them out. Public education is an invaluable structure and support, especially for the kids who have not yet found their passion, and there is no telling what any one of those students is capable of achieving.
Just because a kid can't pass a test or get good grades in school does not mean they will not be a success in life.
There simply is no way a standardized test can measure which kids will be a success in college or career because the will, drive and desire to be successful can only come when someone finds their true passion. Michael found it in his 20's, I didn't find it until my 40's.
And that's OK. In fact, it's pretty damn great.
Without further ado, here's Michael's speech.
First, I would like to thank Principal Daher for bestowing this honor upon me. When my wife of 18 years, Cristina Echiverri first forwarded an email informing me that I had been chosen for this distinction, I have to admit, I thought it was a joke. Clearly, somewhere along the line, the administration had lost my high school transcripts. After a few emails back and forth it became clear that the administration wasn't joking. So now that I'm here, 26 years after graduation, what should I tell you that might be of use? Perhaps we should start here in the halls of HoVal.
I've already made it clear that I was not what one might call a model student. My GPA would have made a great ERA, but alas, we're not talking about baseball. There were subjects taught here at HoVal that interested me, like English and History, there were teachers, like Jim Byrnes who knew how to inspire me, but to be frank, I just didn't apply myself. The benefit of hindsight has made me realize that this was a mistake. I'm sure that there are some of you listening to me right now, who are bored with school, you're smart enough to be successful, but utterly disinterested. I would like to say to you that your best course of action is to stay engaged, stay involved and don't let these years pass without giving high school your best effort.
|Michael delivers commencement address at the |
Culinary Institute of America in 2011
I graduated in 1987 without much of a plan. I had always liked eating and grew up a fan of Julia Child and so I thought I would give professional cooking a go. Through my aunt I was able to set up an apprenticeship at a French bakery in Bethesda, Maryland. From there I moved back to Hopewell and was lucky enough to land a job at the Forager House in New Hope, Pennsylvania, just across the river from Titusville. It was one of the best restaurants in the area, and one that I had been to several times growing up. Once, at the age of 11 or 12 I was brought back into the cramped kitchen of the Forager House to meet the Chef, Richard Burrows. It seems I had impressed the Maitre d with my knowledged of French food, all learned watching Julia Child on PBS. Little did I know that years later I would find a mentor in Chef Barrows in that very same kitchen. Cooking in professional kitchens turned out to be the perfect fit for a young person like myself. The first few years of my career were some of the most exciting years of my life. I learned something every day, a new technique, a new skill, a new recipe. I thrived on the excitement of cooking in professional kitchens. I learned about the history of fine cuisine. I learned about language and culture, the history of ingredients, great chefs and great nations. I found that to learn about the Cuisine of Italy or France or Japan is to learn something of their culture, their language, their people and their history. It was all learning all the time. I loved it then and I still do. I continue to learn something new every day and I am so thankful to have found and fell in love with the Craft that is Cooking. The most important things that I've learned are the things I've learned about myself. I learned that that I did have the ability to be a good student and that I have abilities that didn't reveal themselves while in high school.
The recipe for success in school and success in the professional world share many similar ingredients such as hard work, dedication, perseverance and planning. My shortcomings in high school fell away as I entered professional kitchens and later as a student at the Culinary Institute of America. I became the type of student I should and could have been all along. The difference was me, I decided that school was important to me, worthy of my full effort and key to my future. Once I made my culinary education a priority my life and my career came into focus. Since graduating from school I have cooked in new York, Paris, Seoul and Japan, I have cooked for 4 presidents and Pope John Paul the 2nd. My wife Cristina and I have opened 2 successful restaurants in LA, where we employ over 200 people and we've had two beautiful children, Isabella and Dante. I can tell you without reservation, none of this would have been possible were it not for education. The education I speak of I received, for the most part, on the job in fine kitchens under the tutelage of great chefs. Education is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as follows: the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially by a school or university If there is one message that I can get across to you today it would be this; Life is an education, every hour of every day you are surrounded by knowledge. Don't squander opportunities to learn and make the most of the opportunities presented to you here at Hopewell Valley Central High School. (all emphases mine)One of the highlights of the evening for me was that Michael was introduced by my mentor, my high school art teacher, Dr. Robert O'Boyle. Without a word of a lie, were it not for Dr. O'Boyle (back then he was just Mr. O'Boyle) I would not have gone to college right out of high school. Like Michael, I was heading toward graduation with no real plan. Dr. O'Boyle and my mom practically tackled me and made me fill out an application to art school. I filled out one application, and one application only, and much to my surprise I was accepted.
Once I was accepted I think I just figured I might as well go...
Talking with Dr. O'Boyle last night was incredibly moving. He remains one of my biggest supporters and believers in my talent, which is touching beyond words. He came bearing a gift for me of a drawing pad and art supplies, intended to remind me of my talent and to continue to nurture it.
He told us that in one of his classes yesterday, after the assembly where Michael delivered his speech, one of his students remarked that hearing Michael's story made him realize that maybe there were more possibilities open to him than he had realized.
And to me, that's the crux.
This cockamamie idea that state Departments of Education can assess college and career readiness in kids as young as Kindergarten is, in my opinion, reckless and destructive. To tell a student they are not college or career ready at ANY point in their academic life is simply wrong. You never know when someone will begin to make that journey, and no one should be penalized for not doing it soon enough to please the a bureaucrat in Trenton.
Life is full of twists and turns. It is the role of schools and educators to be a constant source of knowledge, wonder and encouragement, like Dr. O'Boyle. A constant force for good, creating lifelong learners, pushing students to push themselves and be their best.
But ultimately the drive has to come from within, and it simply can not be assessed or measured.
To believe it can be is the folly of fools.