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Commencement Address 2014

We live in a scientific age, one where our culture is infused with the theories of science and its offspring, technology. In 2003, scientists mapped the human genome, the set of instructions necessary to build an entire human being. In 2008, NASA’s Phoenix lander touched down on Mars, and soon thereafter found ice on the red planet. And in 2009, an amputee learned to control a biomechanical hand connected to his arm’s nerves with electrodes, by thought alone. With each new stunning discovery, invention, or advance emerges a new challenge to education. For if our culture is infused with science and its products, then that is where the challenges are, and it is the language of science and technology that our students must increasingly learn to speak.

It might seem as though this overlooks the arts. What about artistic design, what about music, and dance. Aren’t they immune to the reach of science and technology? But in those fields too, technology is an essential part of what people do. Artists are experimenting with holographic paints and poured resins to make artifacts that are more lifelike and compelling. Mastering a sound recording and producing it are today highly technical enterprises requiring a battery of specialists, and consider the technology that goes into lighting the stage at a performance, the sets that are built using computer assisted design, and the electronics that go into sound amplification. Even cooking has not been immune, with chefs exploring molecular gastronomy, using physics and chemistry to alter the textures and tastes of foods.

It used to be thought, and said, that our students don’t do well at this sort of thing, that they don’t have the ability or mindset to do well in science or technology. But that is a myth! It’s simply not true!

SAP, the giant German software company, has an international program to specifically train individuals with autism for positions within the company. SAP recognizes that those on the spectrum have many qualities, sometimes extraordinary qualities, which others might not have. They see clearly that our students often are extremely detail oriented; they might have fine visual discrimination, or be adept at recognizing and capitalizing on patterns that they see. They often make great software testers, they can write manuals which require very precise instructions, and are able to assess and assign customer-service queries or direct work order flow. SAP says that by 2020 they plan to have 1% of their entire workforce made up of those on the spectrum. Freddie Mac, the U.S. mortgage giant is also a trainer, hirer, and supporter of those on the spectrum. It has offered career-track internships since 2012 in IT, finance, and research. They say that their interns do very well in testing and data-modeling. What’s worth stressing about these two examples is that both of these international companies made the decision to initiate and support these programs not out of any sense of duty or charity, but because it made sound business sense.

Village Glen has responded to all of these developments with a clear decision to provide our students with a range of cutting edge classes that educate them for the 21st Century. In the fall of 2012 we offered our first class in Robotics, in 2013 our first class in AP Statistics, and we are just at the beginning. With the purchase of a 3D printer, there are plans to integrate 3D modeling and printing into the curriculum, to offer AP Environmental science, and computer programming, to participate more actively in competition in robotics and science beyond the school, and to establish links with businesses in the community to better support the evolution of our students in college and career.

These students on stage here today, the 2014 graduating class, are beneficiaries of these first forays into infusing science and technology into the curriculum. I have heard more than one of these students express an interest in engineering as a career, and in science and technology, and that in itself is an extraordinary advance. And so I wish you all well, wherever your path may take you, and much success and happiness.

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