I had the privilege last weekend to address the GOAL Academy’s graduation ceremony, as well as to spend several hours with many of the school’s committed and passionate staff and board members the day before to talk about the school’s plans and the direction of online learning across the nation.



The graduation ceremony was a moving one and a reminder of the power of online learning to serve those who are literally not served by the traditional school system. To give a feel for the students that this Colorado public high school serves, of the 176 students graduating, 12 were over 21 years in age, 33 were parents, and a few were serving in the military. Ninety-five of the graduates said they planned to attend a 2-year or 4-year college, and 23 had earned college credit while at the GOAL Academy.



What follows is a copy of my speech at the graduation ceremony.

Thank you so much.

To all of you who are graduating today, you may not have known this when you started at the GOAL Academy, but you stand at the beginning of a revolution in education, and it is an honor and a privilege for me to be a part of this special day in your lives, and I thank the GOAL Academy for making it possible.

Some of you came to the GOAL Academy because the traditional school didn’t give you the attention that you deserve. You may have been like Liz Ochoa, who is graduating today. She told me, “In a regular high school it’s so hard in a class full of students where everyone is raising hands and asking questions. And I was so shy because I thought my questions were stupid. I didn’t want to look stupid, so I kept my hand down.” Others of you chose to attend the GOAL Academy because you had jobs or circumstances that didn’t leave time for the traditional school day.

Or some of you may have felt like Audrey Skrivan, from whom you heard earlier and is graduating today. She told me, “Honestly, I hated the traditional school. I learn faster than most kids. I was learning [the material], and they were spending time learning things I already knew. I was getting held back.” And still others of you had dreams of what your life could be, and traditional school got in the way. For many of you, a combination of all of these things is true.

And this is what is causing this revolution in education. We’re only in the beginning stages of it today, but 10 years from now, over half—50 percent—of all high school courses will be delivered online in some form or fashion. And you will be able to say that you were one of the first. You were at the beginning of this transformation in American education.

The reason this is happening is that the education system our great nation has today is, quite simply, outdated. It was created in the early 1900s and was built to treat every student in the same way—like employees in a factory.

But the problem of course is that none of us is the same. We all have different learning needs at different times. We all have different life circumstances. And, as a result, we need an education system that can personalize for those differences, which is what led you to online learning and the GOAL Academy.

Today, the number of schools, like the GOAL Academy, that make this possible is tiny. Liz Ochoa told me that whoever created the GOAL Academy is a genius. She may be right, but without all of you, it wouldn’t have been possible. You are the resourceful ones who went out and seized this opportunity to direct and own your high school educational experience.

And you did so because there is one thing that you all do have in common. You have dreams of your own, and you know that a high school degree is important—not for its own sake—but to realize those goals.

Kyle Spillman, who is graduating today, will use his degree to go to college so he can build his own business in the automotive industry. Audrey will now be able to study public relations in college, so that she can move to New York City or Miami and pursue a modeling career.

And some of you may have no idea what you want to do, but you know that a high school degree and, for many of you, going on to some form of college, will be the ticket to that better life. And that’s normal. When I was in school, I dreamed of being an astronaut. Then I dreamed of being president of the United States; after all, I grew up in Washington, DC. Soon after I dreamed of being a musician. Incidentally, I did dream of giving a speech at a high school graduation—and, thanks to you, that dream has now come true. But I never imagined that I’d write a book and start a company dedicated to improving and transforming our country’s education system.

Which brings me back to the revolution that you are all leading. You stand today at the vanguard of the future of education. At most schools, teachers stand in front of their students and tell them that learning has no boundaries, yet there are four walls around their classroom.

Having attended an online school, you know that schools do not need walls because there are no limits to what you can accomplish. You know that school does not need a bell schedule because time is your friend, not your enemy. You know that teachers can be so much more—in the right setting, teachers like the GOAL Academy’s Mrs. Palmeri, who Liz said was instrumental to her success, can be your coaches, your cheerleaders, your mentors, and yes, your friends.

And you know that, above all else, you can achieve anything you want. Every time you look at your diploma—when you go home tonight after your celebrations with your families and friends and from here on out—remember that what you’ve learned is not that you can accomplish one thing, but that you can accomplish anything. You may not do it in the traditional or conventional way that everyone says it’s always been done, but that’s because you are an innovator. You know how to chart new paths and make things work. You’ve done it with your high school education, and you’ll do it again. You are an inspiration to me, your teachers, and your families and friends in the audience today who are so proud of you.

Please join me now and stand and give a round of applause to those in the audience today who have supported you. (applause) Thank you.

By graduating from the GOAL Academy today, you show all of us—and you show yourself—that no dream you hold and no goal for which you aim—no matter how high—is outside of your reach. After all, you graduated from GOAL.

Distinguished guests, friends, and families, please join me in saying congratulations to the members of the class of 2011!

 


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