Dr. Jon Vogels’ Commencement Dinner Speech

Editor’s Note: This is the speech Upper School Principal Dr. Jon Vogels delivered at the Commencement Dinner.

Thank you, Colorado Academy parents and supportive family members. Thanks to our wonderful faculty.

It really has been a remarkable year in so many ways. From the earliest school days in August to these first few days in June, this Class of 2019 has set a high bar for attitude and achievement. While I could highlight any number of aspects of the class as a whole, there are two particular points I’d like to emphasize when it comes to this year’s Senior class, the Class of 2019.


First is their toughness. There’s nothing soft about this class’s competitiveness, drive, or determination. I mean, have you seen Mari Annest play soccer? Or watched the way Richter Jordaan tackles a complex math problem or English essay? Or witnessed Sloane Murphy give a closing argument in Mock Trial? Have you seen how Ari Fierer focuses when playing an instrument or swinging a bat or crafting a piece of wood? Or Monika Williams doing pretty much anything? Would anyone question the resilience we heard about in the many Senior speeches and 5Ups this year?

All of those examples and countless others speak to perseverance, grittiness, hard work, dedication to tasks, and the willingness to work through—not around—challenging issues. In some cases, that has meant that you have faced and overcome daunting physical or mental health circumstances on your way to graduation day. Through it all, you’ve not only survived, you’ve thrived.

So how did you come to be successful and tough, Class of 2019?

Well, for one thing, you are good self-advocates. Part of developing toughness is being able to speak up for yourselves when you need to. A gritty student must seek out what they need and ask for attention and guidance when they feel they should. They keep their eyes on the task at hand and work with their teachers, coaches, and directors to succeed. Self-advocacy is just as likely to be proactive as it is reactive, which shows maturity and strength of character.

Note that there is a difference between just whining about something—often with no sense of a more positive outcome—and actually taking action when you think you should. While you learned that self-advocacy does not always lead to getting exactly what you want, nevertheless the conversation is always worth having and helps you build confidence to apply to the next situation. We preach self-advocacy around here from the time students are in Lower School, and this class really showed why that practice is so important.

Strong leadership skills are essential as well, and you exhibited those in countless ways. So many of you took charge when you had a job to do, when you had a club or sports team to lead, or when you had an artistic endeavor to pursue. You mentored younger students, you led by example, you simply jumped in and did what needed to be done. At times you even carved out new spaces where student leadership hadn’t been a part of the equation before. And you did that respectfully through conversations with trusted adults.

Finally, your toughness also stems from the underappreciated trait of vulnerability. Sometimes, the truly tenacious also need to know when and how to be vulnerable—when to ask for help and seek support and guidance from others—when to reach out and say, “I’m in a situation where I could use some assistance.” That takes humility and courage, of course, as well as great wisdom.

As the psychologist Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is not about knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.” That quality of being “all in,” even when the outcomes are uncertain or a little scary is part of the toughness that defines the Class of 2019 and will make you highly successful adults, both in your professional and personal lives.

Generosity of spirit

The second overarching quality I see in the Class of 2019 is their generosity of spirit. You all show such enthusiastic support for others; that attitude extends across grade levels, as well, as you set the example for all 410 students in the Upper School.

In this Senior class we have budding actors, research scientists, professional baseball players, DJs, architects, vets, writers, teachers, lawyers, and computer programmers (hopefully not hackers). That list only scratches the surface and doesn’t take into account the large number of students who haven’t zeroed in on a specific interest yet but will nevertheless be leaders and agents for good in whatever they do. With all these varied interests, you, as a class, have supported and encouraged each other. There is a great sense of camaraderie in the group and a genuine attitude of acceptance towards your peers.

You are also proud and supportive siblings, caring family members, social activists, mentors, and allies. All of these roles require you to be someone who is willing to look beyond yourself. You can recognize there are others out there with needs or desires or issues that may be different than your own. Needless to say, these positive qualities will make you valuable college students, employees, spouses, friends, citizens. We can all feel better knowing that you all will be going out into the world to make an impact.

I believe this generosity of spirit is a direct result of this class’s high level of emotional intelligence or EQ. EQ is a quality that we have only truly come to appreciate in the last 25 years or so, thanks in part to the work of Howard Gardner, Daniel Goleman, and others. Being book smart has its place, but being people smart is just as, if not more, important these days. We now know that people with high emotional intelligence have healthier, more successful lives because of their capacity to understand and relate to other people and to better understand and regulate their own emotions. Class of 2019, I appreciate the high EQs you have developed and demonstrated all along the way this year. You’ve made all our jobs that much easier and more rewarding as a result.

So thank you, Class of 2019, for your toughness and your generosity of spirit. These memorable attributes have made you a great class to work with and root for. I often say that one of the most ironic parts of watching students develop is that after all the years they attend CA, they make it to Senior year and then, just when they all are getting really interesting, mature, and dynamic, they leave us. Alas, such is the way of schools. It’s time for you to leave the relative comfort and safety of CA and go off to the many different colleges and universities all around the country and the world. You are incredibly well prepared. Know that you always have a home base here at Colorado Academy, and we look forward to seeing you again in the years ahead.