Graduation: when everyone is special

Good morning colleagues, parents, alumni and families watching from around the world, and most importantly, our Graduates.  My name is Damian Bacchoo and I am the High School Principal for the class of 2023.  I am honoured to have the closing words today. 

Amazingly, one of our Graduation Class of 2023 walked across the stage today as our 2023rd East Campus Graduate. That combination has never happened before and can never happen in the future. This means that at least one of you today is truly special!

The Incredibles

You won’t be surprised to hear that my best memories all year have involved students. The Grade 12 class in any school is special: the group that students look up to, that teachers think most about, and the group that our whole community is aware of as key milestones pass. In fact, you remind me of my favourite animated film, “The Incredibles,” where each character possesses unique and incredible superpowers.

Maybe you are a Fearless Leader – like Mr Incredible? We have enjoyed watching many of you grow as natural leaders throughout your time here. You have demonstrated courage, determination, and an unwavering commitment to your classmates, school, and community. You have inspired your peers, organized events, and advocated for change.

Or perhaps you are a Compassionate Caretaker – like Elastigirl?  Many of you have shown an innate ability to care for and support those around you. Your empathy, kindness, and understanding have created a nurturing environment where your fellow students have felt heard and valued. You have stretched yourselves to make meaningful connections and been a lifeline to those in need.

Or a Creative Thinker – like Violet, the invisible girl?  Some of you have a knack for thinking outside the box and finding creative solutions to problems.  You have embraced your unique perspectives and have made a lasting impact on our school community with your innovative ideas, artistic talents, and original projects.

Perhaps you are an Energetic Enthusiast – Like Dash, the speedy superhero (my personal favourite)? Many of you are full of energy and enthusiasm. You have injected life into our school community with your spirited involvement in your activities and services. We’ve seen how your passion and drive has inspired others and contributed to our vibrant school culture.

Or finally, (because I’ve run out of names) you might be one of the Problem Solvers – Just like little Jack-Jack, who possesses an array of powers that help him navigate the world, and who demonstrates exceptional problem-solving abilities. Your adaptability, resilience, and resourcefulness have allowed you to overcome challenges and succeed in various aspects of your school experience.

Overcoming difficulties

This year we have 17 graduates who joined us in K1 – could you give us a wave? But whether you joined us in K1 or G11, we are so proud of how you have developed into young people of character, who are kind and compassionate; who understand that it’s good for everyone when we all look out for others, as well as ourselves. You really are an incredible group of young people.

Parents – We’ve done our best for your wonderful children over these years; we have seen them grow into the fine adults we see here today, and we are as proud of them as you are.   We hope you see in them everything you had hoped for when you entrusted them to us.   Graduation day is tough for parents.  Even if our children are 18 years old, as most are, they’re still kids until they leave school, right?  Well, today’s that day; so we come here as parents, and we leave, after eighteen years of child-raising, unemployed.  Grads, now it’s over to you – and we are excited to see what you make of your lives.  

The High School years are intense ones for many reasons, and you’ve all had your difficult moments.  I hope it was worthwhile; that the highs felt even higher for the occasional lows.  Yes, it was hard at times.  In fact, if it was not sometimes hard, then we were not doing our work well enough.  It’s not meant to be easy.  You did not choose us for easy, and we did not give you easy. The many alumni here today, our contact with them over the years, and the numbers who constantly visit us suggest that the tough times were worthwhile.  But I also want to acknowledge those who have found it especially hard.  You are not alone.  For all the heroics, the world-saving, the special powers, the Incredibles were all also very human.  They all struggled, emotionally, personally, socially, as friends and as a family.  And so too have you.

For that, we’re especially proud of you and your achievements today.  We hope you are now even better equipped to face whatever life may throw at you.  So please know that we applaud especially you, not despite the difficulties, but precisely because of the difficulties.

Now though, as you think about what is ahead for you, Graduates, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you.

“When everyone is special, no one is”

I’ll stay a little longer with the Incredibles if I may. My favourite moment in that film actually comes from a frustrated Dash when he gets in trouble at school; on the car ride home, Dash says “Our powers make us special,” to which Helen (Elastigirl to you) says, “Everyone is special, Dash”. Dash retorts back to her, “Which is another way of saying that no one is.”

Let me try and paraphrase Dash – “When everyone is special, no one is”.

Oops, that’s a bit awkward, isn’t it?  

Of course, all of us here are special…everyone is awesome!  I mean, we have to be, don’t we?  Isn’t that why we are all here – to celebrate our specialness?  

But really, Dash is… whether we like it or not…right isn’t he?  It is not possible for everyone sitting here to actually be the smartest person, the kindest person, the most attractive, the fastest, the strongest.  That’s just not the way it works.

Graduates, it’s not your fault.  We have spent so much time telling you and encouraging you to stand out from the crowd –  to be more remarkable than others – more committed – more qualified – more credentialed – than the next person, to show how special you are, particularly to those Admissions folk out there, that’s it’s really hard to switch out of that mindset.   

…instead of worrying about being special (you are, you are), I would like you to think about doing special things.   And as you leave here today, I want you to attend to how you might just make a difference in this world.  

You all can.  It might not look the same.  But you all can.  For me, it’s all about changing the world by impacting the people around you, throughout your lifetime.

Change the world by impacting people over your lifetime

Graduates, that bastion of truth and reliability, ChatGPT, tells me that the average adult will meet about 10,000 people in their lifetimes.  10,000.  

Now, follow my maths…  If you assume you will reach 100 years old (and you should) that’s about 80 years of meeting people ahead of you.  That’s about 125 people a year.  If you made a positive difference to just one person a year then you could be quite happy to have changed the lives of over 100 people.  That is incredible!

But what if you made a positive difference for 3 people each year?  And those 3 people in turn each made a difference to another 3 people.  And each of those 3 people went on again to make a difference for three more people.  If you did this, then you might be responsible for changing the lives of over a million people before you hit 30.  Not bad, eh?

Hey, Graduates, this is just the same as when your parents keep trying to tell you to start saving money now so you benefit from compound interest!

Compounding will change your life, folks.  If you want to get rich, you’ll need to do it with your money.  If you want to change the world, you’ll need to do it with people.  (Parents out there…I can hear you…”do both…”)

The gift of noticing

So how do we change lives?  How do we make an impact?  I guess I could write a book on this (and some of you will I am sure).  Some of you in here probably have.

Your teachers are in the room here today.  They are as proud of you as your parents are.  Do you know why?  It’s because of how much they have invested in you.  Teachers do not measure their success in life through the size of their bank accounts.  We are in the business of changing lives.  We try to change the lives of our students, so that you can, in turn, change the lives of others.  I know very few here in this room will go on to become classroom teachers, that’s OK, we get it…we can’t all be special, can we?!  

But if you have been paying attention at school, (when you’ve been in), I hope you will have picked up (arguably) the greatest gift that we have for you.  

It is the power of noticing.

The author, Ali Smith says that “to be noticed is to be loved”. I think she’s right.

Why does noticing people matter?  Well, my belief is that when people feel that they are noticed…

  • It helps them to feel seen and known
  • Which makes them feel loved
  • Which makes them feel like they belong

And when people feel seen, known, and loved…well…they can do incredible things.  They can change the world.

Noticing means…paying attention to the people in front of you.  Noticing means stopping for people, holding the door, listening without judgement…asking how people are feeling…noticing means you remember a name…noticing is about noticing who is not being seen.  

So yes, teachers are here to teach us math, words, and things.  But the incredible teachers? The incredible ones are the ones who noticed you.  That’s true, isn’t it?

They smiled at you, and you smiled back. You wanted to share something, and they stopped and listened to you. You were not feeling great, and they knew already. You were excited about something, and they wanted to know. You needed a hug, and they already had their arms wide open.

So if you want to change the world, you can. Pay attention to all those people you will meet in your lifetime. 10,000. Try and actually notice them.

The point

Graduates, so here we come to the point. If you want to be truly special. An Incredible. You can. Just remember:

  1.  It’s not about you.  It’s about you changing the world.
  2.  You can change the world by impacting people over your lifetime.  
  3. You can impact lives by noticing people.

Trust in you

Finally, I know I speak for the entire College when I say it has been a pleasure, and a privilege working with you. As well as the great hopes we have for you, we have even greater trust in you.

As you leave the auditorium today, do take a moment to enjoy the film of you all walking the corridors of East campus for the very last time. Good luck and always remember you will have a home here at UWCSEA.

Distinguished guests, please put your hands together for the final time, for the class of 2023.


This speech is dedicated to my good friend Sanjay Perera, who passed away this week. He was a thorn in the side of privilege, and a champion for the nameless, and I hope that he would have enjoyed today’s message for his graduates.

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