It’s the season of moving up ceremonies, graduations, commencements, and end of year celebrations, so it’s not surprising that I came across a thought-provoking commencement speech on youtube tonight.  I love graduations.  I really do.  I love what they represent.  The culmination of all of the hard work.  The pride.  The joy.  The unknown but limitless futures ahead.  The hope.  The trepidation.  But the best part… an inspirational speech.  I absolutely love a good graduation speech.  Below is my summary of Dean James Ryan’s 5 Essential Questions in Life that he shared as part of his remarks at the 2016 Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Presentation of Diplomas and Certificates.
In his speech, Dean James Ryan encourages the Ed School graduates to cultivate the art of good questions.   He tells some great anecdotes that illustrate his advice to begin by focusing on finding the right questions to ask because “an answer can only be as good as the question asked.”  He shares, “Einstein famously said that if he had an hour to solve a problem, and his life depended on it, he would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.”  Below are his 5 essential questions:
  1. “Wait, what?”  In this question, Ryan stresses the importance of inquiry before advocacy.   He explains that it’s important to understand an idea before you choose to advocate for it or against it. The “wait” part of the question “Wait, what?” serves as a reminder for us to slow down to make sure understanding sinks in.  As a community, what are some ways that we can nurture this type of thinking at Park?
  2. The second question is “I wonder.”  There are two paths we can take with this question.   “I wonder why” is the beginning of  question that sparks curiosity about the world around us, and  “I wonder if” can be a way to start thinking about how we can improve the world around us.  The Cambridge Science Festival’s Curiosity Challenge that our Park students participated in last month is a great example of these questions.  Please take a moment and share with your Park colleagues in the comments below opportunities where you have encouraged students to ask “I wonder why” and “I wonder if.”
  3. The third question starts with “Couldn’t we at least…?” When we’re feeling stuck, we can use this question to help us get unstuck.  When we’re not sure where we will end up, this question can help us begin.   When implementing a new innovation or trying something new in our teaching practice, this can be our launching point.
  4. The fourth question we must ask ourselves and encourage our students to ask themselves is “How can I help?”  Ryan emphasizes the importance of being careful about how we offer help, because “how we help matters as much as that we do help.”  He explains that when “you ask “how” you can help, you are asking, with humility, for direction. And you are recognizing that others are experts in their own lives and that they will likely help you as much as you help them.”
  5. The fifth and final of Ryan’s questions is “What truly matters?”  We can use this question personally: “What truly matter to me?”  We can also use this question as an institution: “What truly matters to Park?”  This question can help us focus and get to the heart of the matter.  This question reminds us to  reflect on Park’s mission and values.
Dean James Ryan concludes with, “So these are the five essential questions. “Wait, what” is at the root of all understanding. “I wonder” is at the heart of all curiosity. “Couldn’t we at least” is the beginning of all progress. “How can I help” is at the base of all good relationships. And “what really matters” gets you to the heart of life.”

You can watch Dean James Ryan deliver the “5 Essential Questions in Life” from his 2016 HGSE Commencement Speech below:

To watch the entire Commencement Speech, click here.

To read the speech, click here.