This article originally appeared in the summer 2014 Harker Quarterly.
With words of advice about grace, friendship and handling fear, the Class of 2014 took their first steps down the path of their futures on May 24 at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga.
A picture-perfect day was the backdrop for Harker’s 13th upper school graduation. In front of a stage filled with the board of trustees, administration and faculty, Butch Keller, upper school head, started the ceremony with a few words about this year’s graduating class: “You have had the opportunity to lead through good times … and adversity … and you did so with grace.” He then introduced Kevin Duraiswamy ’14, the class valedictorian.
In his speech, Duraiswamy chose to focus on friendship. While each graduate has different interests and different paths ahead, and while Harker has provided a different set of skills for each, “Harker has given us each other.” Through class time spent working together, extracurriculars spent triumphing and failing together, and time spent just hanging out as kids, “our friends are the ones who keep us human,” he said. “In each other,” he concluded, “we have companions to last a lifetime.”
Duraiswamy’s speech segued beautifully into this year’s song sung by the 2014 Graduation Chorus: “We Are One” by Brian Tate, conducted by upper school music teacher Susan Nace. The lyrics perfectly complemented the valedictory address about standing together and forging lasting bonds.
The keynote speaker was Rahim Fazal, technology entrepreneur, founder of Involver and executive at Oracle, whose comedic timing, youthful energy and inspiring story resonated perfectly with the soon-to-be graduates. After gently teasing the class about the resort-like nature of the campus, he introduced his topic: “There are many paths to success.” Urging the students that following the conservative path was the way to future regrets, he said, “One thing that will rob you of your full potential” is fear … “the fear that makes you forget there are many paths to life.”
He related his own story: millionaire startup CEO by his senior year in high school, then rejected by all seven colleges to which he applied. An ego check, a stint at community college, and some hustling to meet academics who could help him resulted in a place as the youngest-ever MBA student without a university degree at Canada’s top management school. “Had I been in fear of rejection,” he cautioned, “in search for that one ‘yes’ after ‘no,’ after ‘no,’ after ‘no,’ I wouldn’t be here today.” It is creativity, which he defined as taking anything other than a predictable, safe path, that leads to all successes. “Put your ego aside and unleash your creativity.”
Even as his investors at Involver ousted him as CEO for lack of leadership, he stayed long enough to find and train a replacement and turn the company around. He says now of the reasons for his removal, “Fear of failure kept me from asking for help.” The lessons he learned were to be kinder to himself, take care of his health, nurture deep relationships and ask for help when he needs it. “Mistakes are life’s way of telling you that you’re trying hard enough,” he said, echoing a common Harker refrain that it’s the process that matters more than the product.
Chris Nikoloff, head of school, gave his traditional final address to the class, this year drawing on a cultural phenomenon for inspiration: the Disney movie “Frozen” and its ubiquitous hit song, “Let It Go.” Exploring what the “it” should be, Nikoloff advised the students to let go of the shadows that conspire to hold them back.
Victor Adler, the dean of the Class of 2014, had the privilege of reading the names of the seniors as they stepped forward to receive their diplomas and take a final bow in front of the supportive families and teachers who guided them through their Harker years. In the final beloved tradition of the day, the seniors processed through a gauntlet of those teachers and passed into the day as proud Harker alumni.