"Go out there and change the world"
by Anastasia Konstain
The International School of Luxembourg celebrated a very special graduation ceremony on Saturday. In the school's 50th anniversary year, first graduate Matthew Rhodes and Prime Minister Xavier Bettel were among the well-wishers, as students prepared to say their farewells.
It was a spectacular send-off as students were congratulated on completing this great step in their lives and excited anticipation filled the air.
The First Graduate
Before the ceremony got underway, wort.lu/en got the chance to speak with ISL's first graduate Matthew Rhodes, who received his Baccalaureate in 1980, when the school was still known as the American School of Luxembourg.
“This is the first time I’ve come back to Luxembourg since I graduated 36 years ago,” he said. “I was here for nine years,” Mr Rhodes explained. “When I started, there were around 30-40 students and when I graduated there were around 60-70 students. It was a very small, very close community. Very much like a family.”
The only graduate of his year, Mr Rhodes was privately tutored. “I got a lot of extra attention,” he said. “It definitely benefited me, and it really did change me for the better.”
Since then, ISL has grown to over 1,000 students. “It’s a whole different school, a whole different campus!” he exclaimed. “To see where it’s gone, in the 36 years since I left, is just amazing, and to see it doing so well is really heart-warming.”
And while the alumnus said he was envious of all the new technology available to the students he added: “That’s what I love most: they preserved the spirit, the dedication, and now they have the funding to give the kids an even better education. There’s been a significant investment in the kids, and that’s good to see.”
Being back in Luxembourg also brought back memories, such as his graduation speech 36 years ago. “I think one of my favourite memories was giving the graduation speech. It was the first time I’d ever spoken to such a public audience. I was quite nervous, but stepping out and giving that speech meant I was done; that I had succeeded. It was bitter-sweet, because I was about to leave them, and I didn’t know what the future was going to hold. It’s like for anyone else who’s about to graduate: you might think you know where you’re going, but you don’t know for sure.”
After a band processional kicked off the event with a buoyant arrangement, Chris Bowman, the school’s director, welcomed graduates and students for the special 50th anniversary event. “To see everyone here makes it even more special,” he said.
Reminding students how many children in the world do not have access to schools and education, Mr Bowman added: “It makes me realise just how absolutely fortunate you people are, sitting here today, to have the opportunities you’ve had, to have worked as hard as you’ve had, and to reach the places you’ve reached. And now it’s all up to you.”
The students themselves were confident about looking forward, such as student elected speaker Timothy Barker: “Looking around, there are now 78 people graduating from 28 different countries. It is this cultural diversity and interaction that has resulted in the formation of such strong friendships that will no doubt stand the test of time.”
These ties of friendship were also highlighted by faculty elected speaker Anna Thomassen who spoke of the close-knit community at ISL where “everyone is there for each other, and everyone is there to help everyone else.”
“You can’t connect the dots looking forwards,” she said. “You can only connect the dots looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.”
After awards and diplomas were handed to the new graduates, Mr Rhodes took to the stage to deliver an inspiring speech about his aspirations when he graduated and the barriers he faced to make his dreams come true.
“You must knock on doors until your knuckles bleed,” he said. “Lots of those doors will slam shut in your face. You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and knock again. It’s the only way to achieve your goals in life.”
“You cannot change the world; you just can’t. But don’t ever let that fact stop you from trying. Now go out there, prove me wrong, and change it,” he concluded.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel adding to the word of encouragement for the class of 2014. “Knowing a number of people who graduated from ISL, I am convinced that you are in good hands,” he said. “Today, you are at a turning point; sitting for the last time as ISL students with people you know so well. Tomorrow, ISL will be your old school, and you will be entering a new world.”
“By entering adult life, your childhood is definitely over now; at least your parents hope so.” Bettel jokingly added. “Don’t be afraid to take risks, and make the necessary sacrifices to reach your goals. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”
Sending the graduates out into the world, Upper School Principal Nicki Crush delivered some final words to the new graduates of ISL. “Yours is the earth, and everything that’s in it. So class of 2014, be amazing!”