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Fear not, class of 2011, embrace the changes

YOU, the class of 2011, are about to end one chapter in your academic and personal lives, and begin another. As you do, one thing, and one thing only, will remain constant in the world around you - change.

While today you finish something, tomorrow you are back at the starting line. When the race begins anew, success will find those of you who can not only handle classes in math, geography, biology or a foreign language, but those who can also manage the life-long course of change.

In the time since you began school, Shanghai has experienced a myriad of changes. Great buildings have risen from marshlands, reshaping the skyline, and the World Expo 2010 has transformed the face of our city. In the world, leaders and wars have come and gone, and a financial crisis has changed the way we do business. More changes are fast at hand.

I am a school administrator, not a professor of change, but I have learned a few things about change, as have a number of people I interviewed this week, including teachers, parents, administrators, a counselor, a gardener, a CFO and, of course, a student. This is what your community has to teach you.

Speaking with the longest-tenured staff member in one international school, I learned: "One has to accept that change is inevitable, and move on. Don't reject it!" While a popular young teacher finishing his first year in international education quoted Homer Simpson, "If it's hard, give up!" Then he more seriously added, "Embrace change. It may hurt you now, in a year or 10 years, but don't fight it."

An IB coordinator, and a parent of a graduating student, noted, "One should collect information about the changes happening and prepare for them." Meanwhile, an English teacher e-mailed me a poem by Rudyard Kipling, entitled "If." It features the timeless line, "Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs." When faced with change, he concluded, "stay calm."

A fellow school leader shared these thoughts, "Take stock of the situation. Be open-minded. Be ready to change the way you do things. Be committed to changing yourself." On a like note, a colleague I had a coffee with midweek offered this sentiment, "Don't wait for change to come to you. Be the change."

Graduates dreaming of riches might value the opinion of a school CFO. "In business," he said, "you have to plan for the best, and plan for the worst. The only way to be braced for change is to anticipate it." A school gardener added something similarly thoughtful. "Ask a lot of questions," he said.

Then there was the biology teacher who reminded me that "if animals don't adapt to change in their environment, they die." Failure to change can be fatal. A physics teacher offered a less straightforward, but equally compelling quote from Einstein: "If A is success in life, then A equals X, plus Y, plus Z. X is work; Y is play; and Z is keeping your mouth shut." This is what he does when faced with change.

What did the school counselor I spoke with have to say? "More often than not change is associated with fear, but if you get out of your comfort zone," he rationalized, "change becomes familiar."

When asked about change, a history teacher I worked with years ago quoted former US President Calvin Coolidge, who once said trying to make change was like uprooting a cemetery, "you never know how many friends the dead have until you try to move them."

Finally, I sought the opinion of a soon-to-be graduate, like yourselves, who told me he still "struggles to understand, and accept change." Fear not, class of 2011.

From my personal experience, I would add one more bit of advice: No matter how much things change around you, and they will ... stay true to yourself.

What conclusions can be drawn from these varied but balanced perspectives?

It is said that success in life is 10 percent the things that happen to you and 90 percent how you respond to them. Remember this when you look back on your years in China on the banks of the Huangpu River.

May this time of great transformation that you experienced in Shanghai remind you of the ever-present, enduring forces of change. They await your response now, and always. If you can ride their currents with a good education and the wind of a supportive community at your back, the journey from here will be, by-and-large, downstream, ending in a sea of opportunity.

Let it begin.


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