OPRF commencement address: A great, evolving tradition

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By Steven Gevinson

The OPRF commencement address was delivered by District 200 board member Steven Gevinson at the OPRF High School graduation ceremony last Sunday, June 1:

I am grateful for the opportunity to help usher all of you graduates into the larger world. I want to thank the board president, John Phelan, for inviting me to do so, as our third and youngest daughter, Tavi, graduates from Oak Park and River Forest High School. I especially want to thank you in advance, Class of 2014, for listening eagerly and carefully to what I have to say, and for remembering it for the rest of your lives.

I should start by noting that my perspective on the high school and on Oak Park is unusual if not unique. OPRF was my first full-time teaching job when I arrived here in 1978, and I stayed until I retired in 2010, teaching English most of that time, and spending my last eight years here as English Division Head. Now as a school board member, I have come full circle and seen this school from nearly every angle.

First, let me apologize to River Foresters for focusing my reflections on Oak Park. I do so only because of time limitations.

Before I leave you with some unforgettable advice, I want to share some of my understanding about our hometown and high school. Today Oak Park deserves its reputation as an open, inclusive, progressive, tolerant, diverse community with great vitality — a wonderful place for anybody and everybody to live. But it wasn't always this way, and it didn't have to happen. Oak Park and OPRF, as we know them, were not inevitable.

When I came to OPRF in 1978 in my late 20s, I found Oak Park to be the most conservative, parochial place I had ever known. If you traveled west from Chicago, it was said, Oak Park was where the bars ended and the churches began. And, in fact, adults of drinking age couldn't buy liquor in Oak Park or drink it in any public place, except one fancy restaurant with the unlikely name of Philander's.

For nearly its entire history, until not long before I arrived, Oak Park, as you may know, was a restricted community, very white and very Christian. If you look at the 1960 Tabula, for example, you won't find any black faces in the graduating class or any black teachers. OPRF had no African-American teachers until sometime in the 1970s. By 1980 there were about seven, with about 50 black students in the graduating class. When I arrived in 1978, Oak Park was a community in transition, a proud community, an innovative community, and a nervous community. It took many smart, brave, committed Oak Parkers to help transform the village from a closed, segregated enclave of parochial privilege to the open, vital, diverse, pluralistic community we are today.

Maybe nothing quickly demonstrates the enormity of the change better than the results of presidential elections over the years. In 1968 Oak Park voted for Richard Nixon over Hubert Humphrey by almost 2 to 1, 61% to 33%, and not until 1980 did Oak Park vote Democratic, with Jimmy Carter narrowly beating Ronald Reagan. The winning margin for Democrats has widened greatly since then, peaking in 2008 when Barack Obama received a whopping 84% of the vote. That's a swing of about 50% in 40 years. It has been thrilling for me to watch the transformation of Oak Park, especially as the rest of our country has moved so far to the right politically. We embrace and celebrate humanity in all of its diverse forms and expressions. We are progressive – and it feels great to say it.

Now, a few observations about how your high school has changed over the years. OPRF has always been a great public high school. Hemingway received his last formal schooling here. He didn't need to go to college. The Tradition of Excellence walls of the Student Center are chock full of portraits of truly excellent alumni whom we nurtured in our classrooms and extracurricular venues. I hope that many of you will join them there in the future — we will build more walls.

In 1983 Esquire magazine on its 50th anniversary published a special issue called 50 Who Made the Difference with stories on 50 Americans who made the most important contributions to the culture of that day. Two of them — Hemingway and Ray Kroc — were Huskies, and I'm sure that OPRF was the only high school in the country that could claim 2 of the 50.

But while the school was great and quite sure of itself in the first century or so of its history, it was in many ways not open to the changes that were coming, which some felt would threaten its greatness. I'm being a bit vague here, but I'll say that in those nervous days of transition, the school was somewhat slow to embrace its growing diversity and to transform itself into a place that welcomes and looks out for all of its students. Some in the community and in the school feel that such problems still exist. But I want to notice and recognize what I would call the new greatness of OPRF. We are still a traditional academic powerhouse, and when many of you go off to college, you will find that you are far better prepared for your new world than most of your classmates.

But the best sign of the new greatness, I'd say, which only enhances the old greatness, is the sensational and amazing Spoken Word Poetry program run by Peter Kahn. When I started here in 1978, such a program would have been inconceivable. To have imagined something like the energy and spirit of a Spoken Word showcase 36 years ago would have sent legions of faithful DOOPers (Dear Old Oak Parkers) into conniptions, catatonia, and possibly early graves.

But we as a school, thanks in great part to Mr. Kahn, came to understand that Spoken Word, with its roots in hip-hop, spoke to many, many students on an essential level and provided them with an opportunity for expression that nothing else in our curriculum could.

And so the school established the first and only full-time position of its kind in any public school anywhere for Mr. Kahn: Spoken Word Poetry and Black Literature Educator. Mr. Kahn's work over the last 10 or 11 years is only the most visible and fabulously successful example of our new greatness, of the many efforts that your school has made in the last 20-30 years to meet the needs of every student in the school. It is a major change in the way we have thought of our school, and it is an ongoing challenge that we take extremely seriously.

So you're graduating from a special place, and you're bringing a remarkable educational legacy and experience with you into the world.

Now let me offer you some invaluable and memorable advice to take along as well because not every place is as nurturing and forward-looking as your hometown and alma mater. First of all, get serious. Fun is fine, but be a serious person. Read! Read and keep reading. Read good stuff. Read a good newspaper or consume responsible news in another form every day. I'd recommend the New York Times. Read good analysis of national and world events. Read serious literature. Feel it deeply. You will grow enormously.

Educate yourself on what's important. Inform yourself. Listen to all voices. And think! Think critically about everything that comes your way — including what I'm telling you right now. Figure things out. Come to your own independent judgments using your amazing, God-given brain.

Then act! Act! Do something good. Do the right thing. Be a good person on a personal level, and be a good citizen. Participate fully in this democracy — or we will lose it. This great democracy is just a fragile political experiment on a fragile planet. All kinds of people are trying to screw it up, and not just terrorists who hate America. More dangerous, I'd say, are a few incredibly, obscenely, super-wealthy Americans who are trying to distort, pervert, corrupt, and purchase the political system. But don't take my word for it. Read about it. Figure it out yourself. Whatever you do, don't waste your precious gift, which is you.

I'm going to tell a quick story here about your classmate and my independent-minded daughter, Tavi, from when she was 3 years old. On a cold winter day, my wife Berit tried to persuade her to put on a winter coat, which Tavi didn't want to do. Berit said, "Tavi, it's really cold out there. If I were you, I'd put on this warm coat." And our 3-year-old daughter replied, "Well, if I were me, which I am, I wouldn't, so I won't."  So, she learned something about cold that morning, but my advice still is: Be the actor, not the acted-upon.

As some people think of it — and as I like to think of it — we've all got a body, a soul, and a mind. The best advice I ever heard at a graduation ceremony was from Dennis Hutchinson, a professor at the University of Chicago. He advised graduates to "take care of your body as if you were going to live forever, and to take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow."

I love that advice — please follow it — and I would add: Take care of your mind as if what you think really matters, and act on what you know.

Congratulations, Class of 2014! Be good, be healthy, do good work, find love, follow your dreams, let your reach exceed your grasp, and stay wide awake. If you do all that, you will truly honor the great and ever-evolving tradition of Oak Park and River Forest High School.

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Kline Maureen  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 12:06 PM

posted below, and I'd love an update - this pegs his 2014 pension payout at $116,715 - I know the yearly increases are a bit more than the CPI. change during the time period: - By: Life in a bubble ] Posted: June 4th, 2014 4:57 PM To put Mr. Gevinson's comments in perspective, he retired as teacher in 2010 at the age of 59, and is currently receiving a $116,715 per year pension, with annual increases.

Tom Woods from Oak Park  

Posted: August 16th, 2018 9:42 AM

"This great democracy is just a fragile political experiment on a fragile planet. All kinds of people are trying to screw it up, and not just terrorists who hate America. More dangerous, I'd say, are a few incredibly, obscenely, super-wealthy Americans who are trying to distort, pervert, corrupt, and purchase the political system." This statement was pretty prescient, I'd say.

Brian from Oak Park  

Posted: June 16th, 2014 9:44 AM

@Not much: in the vapid world of news bites I guess your comments make sense. Following that logic, we should forget the IRS and Justice Department scrutinizing not-for-profits, Senator Durbin's demand for disclosure of names of republican donors, and the Obama administration's failure to faithfully execute the laws of the US. It's been to long ago to care? Oh, the IRS claims to have lost 2 years of Lois Learner's e-mails? Nice.

Not much to see  

Posted: June 15th, 2014 1:31 PM

Forget Fathers Day, David, it takes a special kind of person to still be complaining on a local message board about having their delicate sensibilities offended 2 weeks ago. They think if they keep posting it will somehow make everybody else care. We don't. Give it up.

Get Real David  

Posted: June 15th, 2014 12:22 PM

That troll is no worse than attacking a political party in front of a bunch of 18 year olds and their families. Gevinson is the troll of trolls.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 15th, 2014 10:51 AM

It takes a special kind of troll to attack a father on Father's Day.

Happy Father's Day  

Posted: June 15th, 2014 9:10 AM

To Mr. Gevinson, no doubt the greatest father in his own mind. Your silence is deafening and your arrogance unwavering. May your one term be over soon!

Board of Education  

Posted: June 14th, 2014 12:15 PM

@OPRF Achievement ... I agree that the OPRFHS Board of Education needs to respond to the public. As the invited speaker and a board member, was Mr. Gevinson representing the viewpoints of the Board of Education, or speaking as an individual? How was he introduced? By remaining silent, the Board of Education leaves the public to speculate on whether they share Mr. Gevinson's viewpoints, which reflects poorly on themselves. Either way, the Board is responsible for publicly clarifying this issue.

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 2:45 PM

So, lets not blame the person "Invited" to give the message for a while. Lets shift Equally or it not more to blame the people who provided the invitation. For what was the reason the President of the School Board and the Superintendent. Again, what is that all about???

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 12:39 PM

For the record, Ray Kroc dropped out of OPRF, so he never attended a graduation ceremony there, unlike Hemingway.

What would Ray Kroc Say?  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 11:40 AM

Mr. Gevinson reference to Ray Kroc as an exemplar Huskie appears to be contrary to his claim that "a few incredibly, obscenely, super-wealthy Americans are trying to distort, pervert, corrupt, and purchase the political system". If Mr. Gevinson read his preferred NY Times obit on the super-wealthy Republican Mr. Kroc, he would have learned that in 1972, he donated $250K to Nixon's campaign, so as to influence Nixon's position on lowering teen-age wage limits, of prime importance to McDonald's.

Winkie Ilic from Seven Fields, PA  

Posted: June 11th, 2014 10:29 PM

Are we still talking about Hemingway and Kroc? I'm a 1985 OPRF grad. Hemingway was suicidal and Kroc changed the world by spreading the evil hamburger and farming techniques that are necessary to mass produce it. Was Tavi unique in her three-year-old refusal to wear a coat? Is this the best example of enlightened autonomy to share with young adults? Flattering students and convincing them of their exceptionalism is not helpful, either. After this speech, I am sad to think about OPRF.

D Houlihan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 11th, 2014 8:08 AM

Re: Haley's query about OP books--Stan West, et al. SUBURBAN PROMISED LAND, 2009; Marcy Kubat BEHIND THE BADGE, 2011, and 33 other titles (both books and DVD's) listed in the online catalog used by both the Oak Park and River Forest Public Libraries. Next time, call 708-383-8200 or 708-366-5205 for any information you might need. Happy to help.

Terrence from Elmhurst  

Posted: June 10th, 2014 10:58 PM

To quote Mr. Kroc "Its easy to have principles when you're rich. The important thing is to have principles when you are poor" Taxes and people like Mr Gevinson are the reason I moved out of Oak Park. Get off your high horse and thank God River Forest parents choose to send their kids to OPRF; you arrogant, elitist narcissist.(part 2)

Terrence from Elmhurst  

Posted: June 10th, 2014 10:47 PM

I find it strange that the speaker chose to single out Ray Kroc, a life long Republican in his speech. According to the speaker's values, Kroc, a business legend and major job creator would not be the type of person that would be welcome in today's Oak Park. Possibly the school board can have Ronald McDonald address next year's class, he can't do worse than the clown they picked this year. (part one)


Posted: June 7th, 2014 2:03 PM

I was at the commencement and thought that Mr. Gevinson's speech was too political for the event. He was also too full of himself & his daughter. He embarrassed himself and thoughtful liberals. BTW-My politics are that I lean left but don't fall down.


Posted: June 7th, 2014 6:33 AM

Does Fenwick teach you that 'a lot' is two words and not to confuse 'it's' and 'its' before boasting that you're smarter than others due to your schooling there?

Aspiring PrinciPAL from Oak Park  

Posted: June 6th, 2014 12:15 PM

Maybe next year we could just let the Rev. Jeremiah Wright give the commencement speech. It would certainly be less divisive than this year's!

Peter from Oak Park  

Posted: June 6th, 2014 11:57 AM

John Butch Murtaugh - as is typical of your postings and faux intellectualism on many issues it is clear you consider very little of what others say, preferring instead to read your own voice. When a tree falls in your echo chamber, how many times do you hear it make a noise?


Posted: June 5th, 2014 7:45 PM

Well done muntz! Maybe next year instead of a BOE speech they should have a Spoken Word presentation!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 5:10 PM

I did not realize Jean Guarino had written a book about OP until I came across it earlier this week. Flipped through it. It's now on my list.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 4:52 PM

Peter -" I included the qualifier "many" to avoid just the type of minutia mining in which you participate." I now got it -- you meant few not many!

Friars Forever from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 4:00 PM

Like alot of well intentioned people these days, the speaker is confusing progress on liberal issues with societal progress. Excepting the speaker's disdain for conservative ideas and presidents, its an average public high school speech. Yes, kids, read. Duh. Some of those kids might think that drinking in Oak Park (and not RF) is societal progress. Fenwick grads are smarter, and know better.

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 4:00 PM

Album of Oak Park Views (W.F. Arnold & G. S. Vallette, 1893), Halley's Pictorial Oak Park (William Halley, 1898), Picturesque Oak Park (J.E. Kent, 1900), Early Ridgeland (Butters, George, undated), Early Days in Oak Park (Philander Barclay, 1933), Historical Survey of Oak Park (Gertrude F. Hoagland, 1937), The Domestic Architecture of Oak Park: 1900-1930 (Elizabeth H. Dull, 1973), Yesterday when I was Younger (Lee Brooke, 1989), Yesterday: A Historical View of Oak Park (Jean Guarino, 2000).

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal Wednesday Journal Employee

Posted: June 5th, 2014 3:28 PM

What are the good books on Oak Park's history? The earliest one I know of, and it was a little fluffy, was Little Old Oak Park by (??Emma Mae Cooke). Jean Guarino wrote Oak Park: A Pictorial History which was published by the old Suburban Bank on OP Ave. My old neighbor Carole Goodwin wrote a dissertation that turned into a book called The Oak Park Strategy: Community Control of Racial Change. Doug Deuchler, our longtime theatre critic has done two books on Oak Park. Lee Brooke, once a WJ salesperson, has written a number of very focused books on aspects of OP history. And then there is David Sokol's more recent history. What am I missing?

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 3:25 PM

John- I just may saunter on over to the library today and look at dystOPia's recommendation in that treasure-filled locked bookcase.

Peter from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 3:12 PM

John Butch Murtaugh - I included the qualifier "many" to avoid just the type of minutia mining in which you participate. One doesn't need fact based links to sources you ratify to acknowledge the truth in Gevinson's statements, e.g. change in politics of many OP majority of OP residents, the "dry" to more alcohol friendly status, etc. Please - if you hold me to this standard hold the rest as well. So far you seem to selectively apply your microscope.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 3:03 PM

Bridget - Maybe an OP History Book Revival is about to be begin!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 3:02 PM

Thanks Dyst - I will check it out. Another quality book on race in Oak Park is: Racial Roadblocks: Pursuing Successful Long-term Racial Diversity in Oak Park. The book is dated 2007 and was written by OP resident Denise Rose. The book is based on extensive surveys she did in the village on race issues. It has a very strong focus on OP education.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 2:48 PM

1)This speech was a heaping of opinion, w/kernels of facts/truth to give the writer's opinions some legitimacy. Arguing opinions, well, not my thang.// 2)The rebuttal to questioning if something should be said, "But it's the truth!" shows lack of wisdom and maturity. It being true is just one criteria of whether something should go beyond your own grey matter.

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 2:41 PM

@JBMurtagh ... for the best read on OP, I would highly recommend Arthur Evans Le Gacy's 1967 dissertation, "Improvers and Preservers: A History of Oak Park, IL 1833-1940". The theme is the underlying tension between those who want change (improvers) for a better future (1833-1901) and those that want to maintain (preservers) the status quo (1902-1940). It is a 'have vs have not' story that remains true today. Copy is kept in at OPPL's Reference / History locked bookcase..

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 1:56 PM

Peter - Public statements deserve and need factual support. That is as true at WJ Comments as it is as the New York Times. Your statement" "On MANY of his (Gervison) larger points he is factually correct on how OP has changed." You acknowledge in your quote that not all of Gervison's points were facts based. That is a very important qualification. I'd suggest that before you attack poster that have provided "facts" that you should do some historical research that supports Gervison's points, large or small. A starting point could be the string you posted on. Bobby Raymond, an authority, author, and leader in discrimination, diversity and human rights reform posted a reminder of what was accomplished long before Trustee Gervison's arrival. You might also consider reading Oak Park ?" The Evolution of a Village by David M. Sokol. The book written three years ago by a village resident is the most complete and detailed history of Oak Park.

Marion Bell from Bensenville  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 1:27 PM

As a pround grandparent I sat in 90 degree weather to hear a School Board member insult our intelligence. This could have been a great speech if he just used the first, and last three paragraphs. I had six children gratuate OPRF between 72-81. This was the 4th grandchild from here. Never were the politics of the speaker used before.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 1:21 PM

Peter -


Posted: June 5th, 2014 1:20 PM

Perhaps Mr Gevinson would appreciate this spoken word poetry translation of these comments: The taxpayer, he ain't no player, the union be the slayer. Anxiety, the escalating catastrophe, of my property taxed out from under me. Runaway pension, too much dissention, Fiscal responsibility, ain't none for thee, looking down upon me. We will not accept defeat, from the political elite. You say we're all in this together, but we know better, your gold-plated retirement unfettered. We out.


Posted: June 5th, 2014 12:57 PM

Count how many times he said "I".

Peter from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 12:54 PM

(cont'd): Many of the people commenting here may as well be throwing stones at themselves. Intolerance? Bias? Please - look in your mirrors.

Peter from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 12:50 PM

I didn't hear Mr. Gevinson's speech live or in person. Certainly no speech is immune from criticism. After reading it and the many comments here it is striking how intolerant and biased many are in their views of Mr. Gevinson's own supposed intolerance and biases. On many of his larger points he is factually correct on how OP has changed. He celebrates it - you may not - but he isn't wrong. Re: the influence of the rich in politics he identifies neither right nor left as culprits, many infer.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 12:09 PM

Dee - More important than how Gevinson became the OPRF Board's commencement representative is how he got elected to the board in the first place!

Marty from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 10:21 AM

As a life long Oak Parker. Graduate, father of , now, two grads and two current students of OPRFHS. A graduation ceremony was not the proper venue for Mr. Gevinson's political lecture on diversity. When he was finished I sat waiting for the conservative rebuttal.

taking Gevinson's advice  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 10:01 AM

Mr. Gevinson claims; "a few incredibly, obscenely, super-wealthy Americans who are trying to distort, pervert, corrupt, and purchase the political system. But don't take my word for it. Read about it. Figure it out yourself." So I did. As per the Better Government Assoc. Pension Database, Mr. Gevinson received an annual pension of $116,715 in 2013, after only 34 service years. As per the 2012 U.S. Census, mean retirement income in Oak Park was $34,647, or less than 30% of Mr. Gevinson's pension.


Posted: June 5th, 2014 8:04 AM

After reading the speech, I think he accomplished his intended goal. He pissed and dissed Oak Park/ River Forest on one of the biggest platforms of the year "graduation". My question is " did anybody know his views of Oak Park when they picked him to deliver the commencement speech? It takes more than his speech to shock our young adults of this generation. I would say he reached his intended target audience without sacrificing his benefits/pension. You have to give him credit for creativity.

What property values?  

Posted: June 5th, 2014 2:35 AM

Well, folks, there goes the neighborhood. This is the worst advertisement for OPRF EVER. Who would want to move here and pay these ridiculous property taxes to put their children through school at OPRF after getting a gander at this load of crap. The cluelessness and shallowness and hypocrisy and arrogance, oh my! Pitiful for Tavi. Hope they learned not to have a parent of a graduate give the address for starters lest she end up mortified and humiliated on her special day. DAAAAAADDDDD!!!!!!

Chairman Mao from The Peoples Republic of Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 9:44 PM

Well, at least he didn't give a shout out to Bill Ayers....


Posted: June 4th, 2014 9:07 PM

Southside, it's a slow news period. There isn't much else for the Legions of Complaint to whine about so they've chosen this.

Bobbie Raymond from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 8:24 PM

In 1971 I wrote a three part newspaper series about early African American residents in Oak Park, dating back to the 1800s. Some of their children attended the high school, and on the Tradition of Excellence wall you will see photos of Faith Jefferson Jones and Lewis Pope, graduates in the 20s and 40s. And there were many other African Americans who were students.. As a 1955 graduate I was happy to see a freshman, Percy Julian Jr., at our school, and he went on to a great legal career.


Posted: June 4th, 2014 8:17 PM

All you critics are whiners. This isn't Montessori where everyone is a winner and all games are a tie. His insight and advice is for the graduates, not for you. Get over yourselves.

Arrogant Preacher  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 7:54 PM

Well the good news is that the man will now only have one term to spew this crap. Yes, Parker. He told kids to read. Revolutionary! They'd be better off reading US Weekly than the NYT. He was right about rich people taking over politics. He is making well into the 6 figures on his pension so he had mad money to campaign to get his spot on the BOE.

Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 7:46 PM

Then he counsels good physical health, attention to spirit, a mindfulness that we should all aspire too. Give the man his due. There are elements of the speech we can disagree with, and there are parts that are vintage advice to graduating high school seniors. Focus on the positive.

Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 7:42 PM

First, I wasn't there so all I know is what I read in the WJ. Here's my takeaway. The man knows of what he speaks having taught and administered to other teachers and now serving all of us on the school board. Second, the power of the speech derives from his advice to grads, not his politics or reading of village history. His advice to read and read and read cannot be undervalued. And then he encourages the Athenian ideal of action, right minded action for the betterment of others.


Posted: June 4th, 2014 6:36 PM

I wish my children, far removed from OPRFHS, had a speaker that told them this "take care of your body as if you were going to live forever, and to take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow."

Parent of a graduate  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 5:26 PM

The first oversight was asking Mr Gevinson whose political views and approach toward them is well known, to represent this class and his daughter, who is a bright and talented young woman, but who has not contributed to high school life as a typical student. (No disrespect to her intended). I'd have rather heard Ginger Brendt, current OPRF English teacher and mother of Jonah Philion who spoke representing his class. I feel that would have been a more relevant tribute to both parents and graduate

Life in a bubble  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 4:57 PM

To put Mr. Gevinson's comments in perspective, he retired as teacher in 2010 at the age of 59, and is currently receiving a $116,715 per year pension, with annual increases.


Posted: June 4th, 2014 4:57 PM

Some of this speech was definitely inappropriate, particularly completely ignoring River Forest. I think that those of you who are offended by what you perceive to be a negative connotation towards republicans, was in fact stating that there is a more liberal mindset now that accepts people from all backgrounds. Apparently he was not correct, based on how offended commenters are that anyone would call them open minded or accepting of diversity.


Posted: June 4th, 2014 4:49 PM

The speech given by Mr. Gevinson was excellent! He told the truth.

OPRFHS mindset  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 4:49 PM

Mr. Gevinson introduced himself as a full-time teacher at OPRF from 1978 to retirement in 2010, the last 8 years as English Division Head, and now a school board member. Having read to what amounts to a terrible speech in every sense, including being prejudicial against those who voted a certain way since the 70s, is he representative of other OPRF faculty and board members? Is this the current mindset? Time for faculty and board members to either support or denounce Mr. Gevinson's viewpoints.


Posted: June 4th, 2014 4:04 PM

Read comments b4 this transcript -- got as far as the line about River Forest. People are crazy. The guy said that time constraints led him to limit comments to Oak Park. And he apologized. Geez. Not exactly the same as being dismissive.

Brian from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 3:30 PM

Personally, I guess I didn't mind the speech, now that I've read it, except, his bias toward the left. It's fine he leans left, but he shows his "Broad lawns and narrow minds" mentality by not encompassing and promoting diversity of thought. It appears he came as a liberal and stayed as a liberal, and I fear he has taught as a liberal and not an educator. For that I am glad he retired. I have to assume he will never understand that personal failure of leadership.


Posted: June 4th, 2014 3:14 PM

Perhaps the uproar is he hit a nerve and we are too insecure to listen to anything but how wonderful OP is with FLW etc. Rather than getting our underwaer in a bunch, we can step back and consider his points - either way, shaking up the OP is NOT a bad thing - we need it if we accept it or not


Posted: June 4th, 2014 3:10 PM

Here we go! someone in OP dares to comment or make bolod statements and we are all over him like flies on crap. Honestly, what mad OP great was ability to think/ to consider and be bold. Now it is collective group think where you will placed outside the bubble if your dare say something we dont agree with (even if the truth).

Dreamer from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 3:09 PM

The more comments I read,the more amused I become.Of course his speech was inappropriate.But no one seems to care,that as a former teacher,he is reflecting what 95% of the teacher's believe,and brainwash our kids with everyday!Talk about intolerance and a lack of diversity.The teachers at OPRF are just as dismissive and intolerant of opposing viewpoints,as Mr. Gevinson.This does a great disservice to the students.Propaganda is not education.


Posted: June 4th, 2014 3:01 PM

Wow, this guy was the english teacher? Speech was awful and inappropriate

Grandparent from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:49 PM

Unbelievably one sided and self-righteous. "More dangerous, I'd say, are a few incredibly, obscenely, super-wealthy Americans who are trying to distort, pervert, corrupt, and purchase the political system." I suppose the billions of union dues that are collected and given as political contributions to democratic candidates aren't used to "distort, pervert, corrupt, and purchase the political system." Are you for real? This was a high school graduation ceremony, not political rally. Shame.

OPRF Grad from Chicago  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:47 PM

*From below, *Arena (in place of area).

Mike from River Forest  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:46 PM

If Mr. Gevinson could not find time during his speech to address the whole body, then why address any of it. I have given many commencement speeches and it is normal to address others, such as parents, vs. graduates but to purposively cut out 20% of the graduates because he had limited time, then I say don't talk on that topic, if the topic is not for everyone. Just like his advice to READ. That is a topic for everyone! Bad judgement on Mr. Gavinson part and he and the Board should apologize.

OPRF Grad from Chicago  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:44 PM

While there were some true comments within the speech- "you're bringing a remarkable educational legacy and experience with you into the world," the blatant writing off of a large portion of the community from the start is plain disrespectful 2. (to echo many others) political biases have no place in this area. As an OPRF grad, I was taught to be, or at least seek out "Those things that are best," and sadly this sending off of the current class fell short of that.

diversity with extreme prejudice  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:35 PM

Mr. Gevinson's publicly stated prejudice concerning political affiliation is contrary to the Oak Park Diversity Statement (adopted in 1973): "Ours is a dynamic community that encourages the contributions of all citizens, regardless of race, color, ? political affiliation, or any of the other distinguishing characteristics that all too often divide people in society. ? We reject prejudicial behavior towards any group of people."

Oak Park Transplant from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:34 PM

Praising the diversity of the school for having the only teacher with the title "Spoken Word Poetry and Black Literature Educator" on a stage without a single black kid among the top graduates was a poor choice. His dismissal of (and apology to) all the the River Forest residents graduating and in attendance was just weird. His statement that the wealthy are "more dangerous" than terrorists was flat-out offensive. Terrible commencement speech from a man representing the school board.

Parent from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:31 PM

Gevinson's speech was an insult to all. He was supposed to be speaking on behalf of the BOE. He started by excluding RF from his consideration and then went on to discuss the history of OP in the context of his own life. The number of times he used the word "I" may have exceeded the number of graduates. Sadly, he's not just a BOE member but also a retired OPRF teacher. So this is what we get when we pay $$ salaries and $$$$ pensions? Ughh

Ginger Lang from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:29 PM

I was at graduation, and the speakers were outstanding, except for Mr. Gevinson. It was, in fact, outrageously embarrassing for our entire OPRF community, and completely inappropriate for the graduates. I pray someday he will understand the irony of his comments

Mr. Middle from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:28 PM

As for the Speech..well I am as progressive as the next guy and I was never more insulted in my life. He began by dismissing RF as an after-thought even though my community gives more per student to OPRF. He referred to Christians of 1970 OP as divisive. He then pointed to progress that 81% of OP voted for Obama as a welcome and needed change. He suggested that the NYT be the only paper you read. He did an outstanding job of showing how some Liberals are really closed minded.

OPRF Parent from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:26 PM

No debate here. Mr Gevinson's comments were without question out of line. There is NO ROOM for political statements at a High School graduation ceremony. He frequently referred to "old" Oak Park as "the home of parochial privilege" until we were able to get to the point where the village voted overwhelmingly Democrat. Mr. Gevinson, you can't tell kids to think for themselves while you hammer your thoughts into their heads. Also, once any group is 84% anything, you can no longer call it diverse.

Kay from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:24 PM

At least someone was smiling at BOE Member Gevinson after the political, pompous speech he offered. After beginning his remarks with the comment that he would not discuss or talk about River Forest, only Oak Park it continued to go downhill. He was trying to make a point about diversity, but ended up sounding divisive (white, Christian, non-drinkers, Republican voters, and rich people were cast in a negative light). It was terrible speech for this occasion.

Matt from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:23 PM

I was appalled by the retired English teacher and current school board member's political rally speech. A commencement speech is by nature designed to inspire the graduates to go forth in life, work hard and help improve others and our society. Instead, this small angry individual targeted the audience to discuss his disgruntled life and small contribution he made short of the 1% . A political campaigne speech at a graduation ceremony ?

Disappointed Parent from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:14 PM

I don't think I could write a more divisive and arrogant speech if I tried. As a representative of the School Board, the views he expressed reflect on the Board directly. This was a graduation ceremony, an a-political event, which he chose to politicize. It polarized the discussion after the event and took the focus away from the graduates themselves. It was their day Mr. Gevinson ?" not yours!

Southeast Side  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:14 PM

Thank you for printing this speech; it needed to be in the public forum. Now if you would be so kind as to print the text of Jonah Philion's speech to his peers. That is what a commencement address should be. Everyone should also view David Foster Wallace's commencement speech at Kenyon University on YouTube.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 2:04 PM

Using his daughter as a punching bag, Gevinson told the story of his three year old daughter refusing to dress properly for the winter. The point he made in his speech was that he did not get very upset with her as his life view was and still is, "Be the actor, not the acted-upon." The actor quote provides great insight to a statement in the penultimate paragraph of his speech at the OPRF Graduation Ceremony. He tells the OPRF Graduates to "Take care of your mind as if what you think really matters, and act on what you know." The advice certainly was not in use when he cited that Oak Park was a closed, segregated enclave of parochial privilege community before he arrived in 1978. It was also not in use when he implies that the "Doopers" probably would have suffered conniptions, catatonia, and early graves if they knew the great changes that would be manifested by the "78's". In ninety degree heat, the families, friends, and teachers and administrators suffered thirteen minutes of a display of ego, power, relevance, omnipotence, and inflated self-esteem. Kabir, an Indian Poet, wrote "Do not praise yourself nor slander others; There are still many days to go and anything could happen."

Dreamer from Oak Park from oak park from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 1:48 PM

Why would this speech upset or surprise anyone?It is the same propaganda my four children were taught by the "faculty" at OPRF for their tenure there.The true lack of diversity is not the lack of color among the 18 scholarship cup winners;it is the lack of diversity of opinion and tolerance of opposing political viewpoints amongst the faculty members(criticism of capitalism,no dissension or discussion on climate change and promotion of redistribution of wealth being constant classroom themes.

Concerned Parent - 1 from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 1:37 PM

I came to this site to log my concern about Mr. Gevinson's commencement speech as representative of the Sch Dist BOE. Thankfully others have already done so, and in numbers that I hope send a message to Mr. Gevinson and the Sch Bd. Either the Sch Bd was complicit with his speech and found it satisfactory or they didn't bother to read it. I think what we all learned from Mr. Gevinson's speech is that diversity means (con't):

Concerned Parent - 2 from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 1:36 PM

(con't) - you must be tolerant of those with other views - so long as they are liberal views. If you are white, affluent, conservative, Christian, or prefer not to drink, you are part of the problem with society. I found his speech to be divisive, arrogant, and utterly inappropriate as a parting message to graduating seniors. I believe Mr. Gevinson to be an extremely intelligent and articulate man. Surely he would not have allowed such a one sided speech go unchecked in his classroom.

Paul from oak park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 12:55 PM

The progressive changes in Oak Park that Mr. Gevinson spoke about didn't start in 1978 but at least a dozen years earlier -- and involved residents of both River Forest and Oak Park. The Wednesday Journal has written about this a lot -- most recently in February -- http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/2-4-2014/Our-finest-decade/. The push for open housing by brave residents of both Oak Park and River Forest in 1965 led directly to the diverse body of students Gevinson spoke to on Sunday.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 12:48 PM

I was in attendance and the delivery of his speech was over-the-top arrogant, His glee at talking about people who would die if they knew about the Spoken Word class was outrageous. As though it was a badge of honor to have a class that "Drove people to their grave." Hi brush off line of RF that pays more per student in taxes was unacceptable to someone who represents both communities. For a graduation it was wrong...for a DNC speech it was just fine.


Posted: June 4th, 2014 12:48 PM

All other issues aside, this is a badly written speech. Was this guy really responsible for teaching English to our kids?

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 11:59 AM

There were in fact three or four African American students at OPRF in 1968-1969.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 11:58 AM

It's unfortunate that Mr. Gevinson felt led to focus on Oak Park,even though the school is to serve two communities.I guess this was supposed to be a,"We are so awesome, look how far we've come regarding diversity and inclusivity" speech.Ironically, he didn't talk about the value in living around and listening to folks who share different views from one's own.Instead, he praises OP for now being on the other extreme of the political spectrum from the side it was when he first came here in 1978.

Ernest Goes to Camp from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 11:31 AM

Sheesh. Why make a graduation speech so politically divisive?


Posted: June 4th, 2014 10:39 AM

If you feel compelled to lead off a commencement address with an apology to a large group of the graduates, you should consider scrapping your speech and starting over.


Posted: June 4th, 2014 10:28 AM

Wonderful speech, Mr. Gevinson! Makes me chuckle at some of the negative responses now. Kudos to WJ for getting us the text, too.

To: Steven  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 10:25 AM

Why was your daughter (daughter of a school board member) allowed to break the rules and wear a short dress? Is there no respect for authority? While it may seem unfair, being a pubic official requires even a higher standard than the average.

Friar Tuck from OP  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 10:08 AM

Thanks for the transcript. I'll read, then comment. But, in Reagan's spirit of "Trust, but verify", I think an unedited audio/video version of the speech should also be posted ASAP. Context and tone is as important as the words in this case.

Thank You  

Posted: June 4th, 2014 9:52 AM

Thanks OP.COM, now we can make our own conclusions.

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