Graduation Ceremony for the Students of PS 58
On June 22, 2015, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy celebrated the 5th grade graduation of P.S. 58's bilingual program students. These students followed a bilingual education program in French and English since the beginning of their schooling, in New York City public schools. Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur addressed the students with the following speech.
Bonjour les enfants!
As the Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States, I’m thrilled to welcome you all: students, parents, teachers, and principals. We are very proud of this program, and all that you have accomplished together.
There is one individual who has been a great source of inspiration for us at the French Embassy. He’s someone who came to the United States a long time ago, and helped win the American Revolution: the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette was remarkable for a few reasons. First, he came to America when he was very young — he was only 19. Second, he spoke English and French, at a time when bilingualism was not that common. And third, he was very ambitious. Lafayette believed in the American Revolution, and he helped make it happen. He became a general in George Washington’s army, and then sailed back to France to convince King Louis XVI to support the revolutionaries. Later, Lafayette helped defeat the British at the Battle of Yorktown, ending the war.
The boat that Lafayette sailed was called the Hermione, and a replica of it will be in New York from July 1st until the 4th of July. I encourage you all to go look at the boat and think about Lafayette. Because without him, and without bilingualism, America might not exist!
So in celebrating your graduation, we celebrate three things. We celebrate France and America’s long friendship. We celebrate the growth of bilingual education, particularly in New York. And of course, we celebrate all the hard work that you, your teachers, and your principal have accomplished this year. Like the American Revolution, a bilingual revolution is underway in New York. And like Lafayette, you are its leaders.
You students are also very lucky — not only because you speak two languages, but also because being bilingual makes you smarter. Speaking two languages makes it easier to learn a third, and a fourth, and so on. It gives you a second perspective on the world, a different way of thinking. If your brain is like a muscle, then a bilingual education is like a workout.
A bilingual education also opens the world to you. People speak French in half of Africa, in Quebec, and in many other places in the world beyond France. When you visit Paris or Abidjan one day, all your friends will be jealous that you can speak French to that cute boy or girl in the café.
Today, we celebrate your accomplishments. But I also want to recognize the people who made those accomplishments possible. First of all: your parents, because without them, none of this would have happened. And now, inspired by the parents of this community, many other groups of parents want to establish bilingual programs for their children.
I want to thank the teachers. It’s not easy to teach in two languages, and I know that you don’t always have the material available. I appreciate all the work you put into translating, preparing and delivering your lessons.
I want to thank your principals. P.S. 58 has been a great part of gathering momentum for the bilingual revolution. In 2007, it was one of the first three schools in New York to offer a bilingual program. Since then, it has received a France Education Award from the French government for excellence in French language teaching. And today, it offers a world-class bilingual education just across the river in Brooklyn. I want to thank Katie Dello Stritto, you principal, as well as all the teachers, staff and parents who have built this legacy.
I also want to thank Jillian Juman, the principal of the School for International Studies. Jillian’s school is partnering with the French Embassy to become New York City’s first dual-language program with an International Baccalaureate program from Grade 6 to Grade 12. Jill, thank you so much for all of your efforts.
I want to thank my team, who have always supported this program, and especially Fabrice Jaumont, who has worked extensively with schools and teachers to promote bilingual education in New York.
Students: as I’ve said, you’re very lucky. You have received two great gifts: bilingualism, and the love of your parents and your teachers. Now, it’s up to you to consider your choices and then do what you really love. The world’s doors are open for you. And if you want to achieve amazing things, just think about the Marquis de Lafayette and you will know that anything is possible. Thank you.