To Our 2016 Graduates

You never forget seeing your mother cry.

Everyone who’s met my mom loves her: she’s kind, she’s capable, and she makes everyone around her better. However, growing up I’d sometimes find her sitting alone late at night, tissue in hand, quietly sobbing. It could be because she had a son who just doesn’t know how to listen, but I always thought it was because it was really hard to be a good person.

The engine driving civilization is competition—from birth we’re taught to achieve, to be better than others, to have more than others. Schools compete with one another to see which can better teach students to be knowledgeable, to be obedient to the rules of society, and to make money. In a world where everyone is trying to race to the top, it can be difficult for those like my mom who want nothing more than to stay behind to lift the needy.

She’d mentioned that kindness is an infectious disease; once you get close enough to someone who’s infected you can’t help but also be kind. My mother was certain that one day this kindness virus would spread faster than our collective immune system of selfishness could handle. I wasn’t so sure.

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to serve as your principal and seeing first hand at 102 how love and kindness and courage and hope can flow and multiply from one individual to another and from one room to the next, I can finally say what every boy has always wanted to be able to tell their mothers: Don’t cry; everything is going to be just fine. I can say that now because I have you all, some of the finest young people I’ve ever come across, as proof that we here a 102 can indeed make the world a better place. The world just got a little kinder because you are all now in it.

When I see you comfort one another on high school admissions letter day, when I see you volunteer time and time again, whether it’s to paint faces or to clean up, and when I see you time after time fearlessly challenge anyone–including yourselves—without a moment’s hesitation, I can’t help but feel hopeful for a future you’ll all shape.

But I’m not going to lie to you: life is hard. Really, really hard. Reality can be disappointing and people often forget about the light they had when they were young. Gradually, some learn to accept the world for what it is, and not for what it could or should be. I promise you there will be times when you’ll feel hopeless, when you’ll feel you’ve been taken advantaged of one too many times, when you think you can’t possibly stomach yet another rejection, and you want to just give in and be less than what you can be. When that happens–and it will happen–try to remember what it felt like to be at a place where everyone around you also cared and also tried, a place where people believed and a place where it was the most normal thing to do to lend a helping hand whenever one was needed.

Remember what it was like to be at 102.

Think about all the amazing teachers you’ve had and everyone who believed in you, reminisce about the joys and adventures and heartaches and triumphs with your friends, smile at the messages they wrote to you in this book, and I’m sure you’ll know what to do next. Once you’re infected, that little 102 virus will always be with you.

Thank you for making my first year as principal as incredible as I could ever hope for.


William Ko, Principal