Play Well

Rochester Middle School 8th Grade Promotion Night

My speech to the final graduating 8th grade class from Rochester School

It is an honor to speak to you this evening.

Most of you were in the first kindergarten class I taught at Rochester School, and some of you were not. I’d like to think of your entire class as a collection of colorful Legos that can be interchanged with other sets and mixed and matched, because that is how it has been for you along the way as people have come and people have gone.

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When you entered kindergarten nine years ago, none of us imagined you would be the final class to graduate from middle school here in Rochester. It may not feel like being the final class to graduate from is an honor, but it is.

Here’s why… life happens. As much as we prepare ourselves for things by:

  1. Studying hard
  2. Doing our best
  3. Packing well
  4. Being as nice as possible

And so on...

The future is unknown. Hurricanes happen. Schools close. Stuff happens. Sometimes it doesn’t feel good.

In kindergarten, you needed to learn the basics: letters and sounds, number sense, how to walk in a line, etc. Even what “etc” means.

I taught you how to hold scissors and use glue (Just a dot Just a dot Just a dot… not a lot.) In one of your early days of school, you made something that looked like this.

Capital Letter T

Around that time, we had your first classroom celebration and parents joined our Teddy Bear Tea Party. You have built on that foundation since you were five. One block of knowledge at a time. The 8th grade projects you presented so well tonight all happened because you mastered your primary skills,

Ole Kirk Christiansen of Denmark —the inventor of Legos— started out as a woodworker because he loved to whittle and he was good at it. Difficulties plagued him throughout his life, yet Christiansen managed to invent a toy loved the world over by people of all ages. About 75 billion of these colorful bricks are sold per year.

Here are SOME of the things that happened in his life:

  1. His sons accidentally burned his first workshop and the family’s home to the ground. What did he do? He built everything again. Bigger.
  2. Then in the course of one year, the Stock Market crashed, his business folded and his wife died. What did he do? He continued to make cheap toys out of wood people could afford. His wooden duck on a string is collectable. Keep your eye out for that one. I hope I find one in my attic.
  3. He went bankrupt, but kept making wooden toys anyway. He named his company Leg Godt which means “Play Well.”
  4. During WWII, his factory was again burned down, by the Germans this time. What did he do? He built it again.
  5. Though plastic injection molding was banned in Denmark during the war, he bought a machine anyway and experimented with it. That is when he created what he called an “Automatic Binding Brick.”
  6. He was just developing his idea that all bricks should interlock and be interrelated from set to set when he died AND a fire wiped out the building. Again.
  7. So what did his sons do? They rebuilt the factory and decided to focus on plastic “Interlocking Bricks” so there was less of a chance of the building burning down.

My point?

These yellow and blue bricks I have given you tonight are in an AB pattern. This is a simple kindergarten concept. I remember teaching it and I remember you (those of you I taught) mastering the concept. Most kindergarten teachers drive this understanding home, so those of you I didn’t teach probably understand it too.

Why? It’s a building block for the rest of your education in and out of school for the rest of your life. Life is full of patterns. Some are easy to figure out and some are not. But you’ve got this!

Life is also full of things that “happen to you.”

You have a choice to see yourself as a victim, such as thinking “my school closed, poor me,” or like the inventor of Legos, just keep going. You now are given choices for where you can further your education. It’s an opportunity!

Don’t let  things life throws at you get in your way and please think of the word “Lego” when you leave us to go into that big world outside this valley.

The Legos (which are Rochester School colors) are from our kindergarten class set. I've washed them, don't worry. 8th graders, you may keep these Legos and blast off into your next adventure as Rochester Rockets. You can keep it handy (in your backpack or windowsill or pocket) to remind you that when things get tough, the answer to any problem is to remain as steadfast as possible and to Lego… or “Play Well.”

Play well with others out there and make us all proud!

I know you well. And I know you will.

Thank you.


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