9 Life Lessons for SET High Class of 2023

SET High Principal, Dr. Neil McCurdy, gives a speech at the 2023 high school commencement ceremony at Spreckels Organ Pavilion

9 Life Lessons for SET High Class of 2023

Who doesn’t love a motivational graduation speech? The tradition to host the School for Entrepreneurship and Technology (SET High) graduation at the majestic Spreckels Organ Pavilion continues. Our ceremony always draws in the San Diego community, joining the celebration of our free public school launching a fresh batch of trailblazers into the world. 

This year, our Principal and Founder, Dr. Neil McCurdy, realized that in our fast-paced technology-driven world, that old adage of “Respect your elders” gets lost. These life lessons that Dr. McCurdy presented in this year’s graduation speech stem from the legacy that Assistant Principal and CBO Darrell McClendon leaves behind.

1. Race only doesn’t matter when it matters

It’s important to recognize the injustices others face, especially when we take it for granted. “Race only doesn’t matter because McClendon makes sure that it doesn’t matter.  He works hard to erase stereotypes and he works even harder to forgive ignorance. He doesn’t make a big deal about the racism that he faces, but as his friend, I should, I do, and I will continue to do so.”

2. All of us should work on first putting others at ease

Another way of putting this  –  practice pause when faced with adversity. Rather than reacting or giving into anger, put your ego aside and ensure that the people around you feel safe. The outcomes benefit everyone.

3. How you present yourself matters, and it matters more for some than others

Some of us walk the earth from a privileged place. Some of our colleagues and comrades have to put extra effort into presenting themselves as non-threatening, approachable, respectable human beings to trust. Pay attention to how you present yourself and show up.

4. The details matter

A good school and community leader looks for the tear in the eye, nervous twitch in the neck, fidgeting fingers, tense shoulders, or quivering lip giving away the rest of the story to a person in need. Channel Sherlock and key in on the details. They always matter.

5. Tell the truth

When you establish the habit of always telling and expecting the truth, soon enough those around you learn there’s no use speaking any other way. Truth begets truth. Truth builds trust, opens doors to incredible opportunities, and may even save lives.

6. Look for the root cause

We’ve heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by the cover.” Caring enough to know someone’s backstory helps us understand the deeper meaning behind an action or reaction. One angry burst, misstep, or ghosting might be just a symptom of a larger problem. In building trusting relationships around you, and knowing their past, relationships, and intentions, you can help people by looking for the root cause of their pain and support from there.

7. Use repetition and establish tradition

Repetition creates tradition and tradition builds community, reinforcing the “us” in groups. Our Assistant Principal excelled in establishing traditions, such as saying “thank you” after taking a snack and clapping at his presence. “McClendon walking into a classroom requires mandatory applause followed by a ‘Hey, my people’ or ‘Best today ever’. It is fun to see students who are shadowing for the day, clapping along with the students … because the human desire to belong is so strong; because tradition is strong.”

8. Fill your life with humor and generosity

Spread joy. Be the one people turn to. Be the one everyone knows will handle any uncomfortable conversation with disarming, inclusive humor. Pay it forward with boundless generosity. Do the right thing to help someone out without expecting any reward. Besides, who wants to be around selfish people?

9. Be reflective

We said there would be only eight lessons, but Dr. McCurdy threw in a ninth one. “Lesson 9 is perhaps the most important of all of our lessons today, because only by being reflective can we truly grow. McClendon would not have been the incredible human being that he is, if he didn’t constantly reflect on his mistakes and vow to be better tomorrow.”

There are many reasons to love our high school. Are you reflecting on your past year and desiring a customized education that reignites your love for learning? This is an opportune time to make that 9th-12th grade commitment to yourself. Enroll in SET High for 2023-2024 today!

About SET High 

SET High offers each student individual attention from multi-talented, highly qualified  teachers. Students build a healthy camaraderie with classmates inside an intellectually rigorous environment that brings out their talents and personality, helping them develop their individual character and direction in life. With a wide variety of electives, flexible scheduling, dual enrollment college classes and more — our students regularly exceed their academic and personal expectations. Enrolling now!