At the conclusion of my first year as high school principal in a small west Texas town, I was handed the proposed outline for the commencement program. It took only a glance to know that I didn’t like it. I informed the senior class sponsor that I would get back with her after making a few changes. Her expression told me, “Oh, sure. The new guy is gonna come in and try to change everything!”
There were several things that I thought needed changing. The most important was the fact that the diplomas were to be handed out toward the beginning of the program followed by the usual salutatorian and valedictorian addresses, a guest speaker, the announcement of scholarships and awards, a musical number and etc.
The school band was to be seated front and center on the large stage in full view of the audience while the graduating class was to sit in the theatre seats down below with the parents looking at the back of their mortar boarded heads.
When I handed the revised program to the senior sponsor she was visibly upset with me. “But we have ALWAYS done commencement that way! You’re proposing to change everything. I don’t think the community is going to like it!”
I tried to explain my reasons for the changes. “Once the diplomas are handed out,” I said, “everything else on the program is anti-climactic. And besides that, the parents aren’t coming to watch the band squirm on the stage. I think the graduates should be seated front and center where their accomplishment can be admired by their parents. Let the band be arranged off to one side somewhere.”
Several people warned me that the school board would be less than pleased with my changes and stated menacingly that “We have ALWAYS done it that way!” After four graduations done “my way,” I moved on to another school in another community. One day I happened to be talking with a colleague from the former school.
“Do you remember the flack you took from some people when you modified the commencement program?” he asked. “I sure do,” I replied. “Well,” said he, “shortly after you left, a principal wanted to change your program outline. Guess what they told him. ‘But we have ALWAYS done it that way!’”
Louis L’Amour wrote, “I fear there will be no future for those who do not change. When there are no new ideas things can remain the same, but strangers are coming with different ways—.” He also said, “A ship does not sail on yesterday’s wind…”