Graduation Speech: Jane Swift

We were privileged to have Jane Swift as our graduation speaker this year. Swift is the CEO of Middlebury Interactive Languages. She served as the 69th Lieutenant Governor from 1999 to 2003 and as Acting Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from 2001 to 2003. She is also a Pine Cobble parent. Below is the transcript of her speech, which was a wonderful, thoughtful reflection on leadership.

Jane Swift with her husband Chuck Hunt, and her three daughters (left to right), Lauren, Elizabeth, and Sarah

Elizabeth, Lauren and Sarah have BEGGED me to be brief (and not to dance) which is actually pretty good advice – the best speeches are usually the shortest – and I probably am not as good a dancer as I think I am.

Pine Cobble has given each of you a wonderful foundation to be leaders – leaders in every part of your life. I have been fortunate to have some extraordinary leadership opportunities in my life – in my community, in political service and now in the private sector – and I am equally blessed to be able to teach about leadership at Williams which has helped me to put my experiences in context in order to continue to improve my leadership skills.

My advice for each of you as your continue to emerge as leaders is that it is critical for leaders to develop a strongNARRATIVE and then be guided by that narrative, in concert with clear communication and thoughtful actions, to achieve their goals & the respect of their peers.

What is a narrative? I won’t give you the definition I give my Williams students on the first day of class. It might be an easier concept to grasp if I give you some examples of people you are familiar with who have a compelling narrative:

*President Obama’s narrative in the last election was actually defined by one word – and I bet you all know it. (pause)HOPE. It incorporated his compelling personal biography, and what he wanted the country to believe in and what many citizens craved in a time of great economic uncertainty.

Here’s another one, closer to home:

*Mrs. Wells: a teacher, mentor, coach and leader who is passionate about the education opportunities provided by Pine Cobble School who has dedicated her professional career to strengthening the school while staying true to its wonderful history.

So, hopefully you get what a narrative is. The harder question you need to consider is: How do you create your own narrative?

Through what you say and do – but also by knowing who you are and what you wish to be.

One of my Williams students this spring was really struggling – not academically, but socially and emotionally. I had tried to help as best I could, and in turning to my best confidante and advisor, my husband Chuck, he made a comment that allowed me to reflect on all you are given here. He said, in effect, “Why can’t he just be himself?”

And the answer I gave him was, “Not everyone, and particularly not teenagers and young adults, have a clear sense of self.”

That clear sense of “Who am I” is an extraordinary gift given to you by this school one that strikes me each year at graduation as I listen to your speeches and those given by the teachers who know you best – the gift your parents, your teachers and advisors – have blessed you with, have labored mightily to imbue in each and every child who attends school here.

So what do you do with that gift? It definitely puts you on the way to developing a narrative and being a leader in all your endeavors. A powerful narrative has a few key components:


It reflects your PASSION,

and it RESONATES with others.

Each of you has that authenticity today. As a parent of students in the grades below you I think I speak for all the parents here when I thank you for including all the younger students in the things which you truly care about. Whether that is Emma helping with dance choreography, or Slater putting up a smelly tent at an outdoor adventure camp or Hannah patiently answering the dumbest question with that irrepressible smile or Annika’s determined passion on the playing fields and unabashed joy singing — each of you has made Pine Cobble a better place and you will be sorely missed – particularly by the students you see here today who have so looked up to and enjoyed your sincere & authentic friendship.

Not every community – educational, social or work-based – that you join will place the same high value on authenticity and individuality that you have here. And sometimes, it will definitely seem the right thing or the best thing to do to conform to the norms. Fight hard against that temptation. Always, always be true to yourself and your values.

Another component of a compelling narrative is that it must reflect your passion. Throughout your childhood and at Pine Cobble you have been given extraordinary opportunities to explore your passions. Your parents made a commitment to send you to a place that has made that easy and the norm. Continue to pursue your passions and find new ones.

Another hallmark of a great leader is that their narrative resonates. Resonance is about doing work that matters both to you and to those around you – or as you have learned here, leading a purposeful life. There may be times that your passions and your authenticity, your sense of self, pull you away from that which ‘most people’ care about. This is one of the great challenges of leadership – figuring out how to focus on what matters to those you are tasked with leading while being true to what matters to you. There is no perfect answer as to which to prioritize. I think the most important thing is to value the importance of both and to consciously know which path you are following. If youALWAYS choose to go with the crowd, do what is most important to the majority, your leadership narrative will be that of being a pleaser, who perhaps is devoid of strong beliefs. If you NEVER choose to support and pursue the priorities of the majority, you will seem out of touch, stubborn and you will likely lose the privilege of leading.

And lastly, as you move on to high school, and college and your life, and build a narrative and emerge as leaders in many spheres –

Don’t lose the JOY you have experienced here at Pine Cobble. One of the enduring images I have of this school is of the field hockey team, arms linked, skipping through downtown Mystic, Connecticut singing and giggling during the Pine Point trip. My three girls were deep in the silly stage of adolescence and I remarked to Mrs. Wells, “Gee, I thought the silliness ended before 9th grade?” And she wisely said something to me that I try to remember every day, she said, “That is why we send them here – so they can stay silly as long as possible.”

That resonated with me …. It was deeply authentic …. And it reflected, in a moment, her passion for this school. The world is such a serious place and all of you will have the opportunity with your strong educational foundation from Pine Cobble to do important work. But don’t forget to have fun and celebrate every day. Even celebrate with a dance – at least until you have teenagers of your own.

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