Graduation Ceremony for the Students of PS 84 and MS 256

June 19, 2015 | By French Culture

On June 17th, 2015, a graduation ceremony was held in the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York City to honor 5th grade students from PS84 and 6th grade students from MS256. These students followed a bilingual education program in French and English since the beginning of their schooling, in New York City public schools. They also participated in a photography project, showing us the world through their eyes. The pictures they made were exhibited in the ballroom of the Cultural Services where the ceremony took place.

On the occasion, Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, addressed the graduating students with the following speech.

Bonjour tout le monde!

Welcome to the French Embassy. And congratulations on your graduation!

As the Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, my job is to build links between French and American cultures. So nothing makes me happier than being in a room full of inspiring students who have grown up speaking two languages.  

France and America have been friends since even before America existed. And there was someone a very, very long time ago, who came over from France to help the American Revolution.  Do you know who that is?  The Marquis de Lafayette.  He was an inspiring French army officer who learned English when he came to the American colonies in 1777. He soon became a general in George Washington’s army, and convinced King Louis XVI to support the revolutionaries. Lafayette helped defeat the British at the Battle of Yorktown, winning the revolution. Thanks to his bilingualism, Lafayette saved America. 

And do you know what’s going to happen a few days from now?  A replica of the ship he sailed on, the “Hermione,” will arrive at South Street Seaport on July first. I encourage you all to go see the ship – it is not a nerdy thing to do – it’s quite amazing!

It’s important for everyone, to remember Lafayette. Because without him, and without bilingualism, the United States would not be here today! So in celebrating your graduation, we celebrate three things. We celebrate France and America’s long friendship. Second, we celebrate the success of bilingual education in New York. And third, of course, we celebrate you! We celebrate the hard work that you, your principal and your teachers have done over the past six years.  Like the American Revolution, a bilingual revolution is underway in New York. And like Lafayette, you are its leaders and its heroes. Your hard work inspires those around you. It will strengthen France and America’s friendship, and it will help bilingual education expand.

Bilingualism helps you as well, and maybe you can already feel that today. I bet many of you can even speak better English than your parents! Sometimes I’m sure you even take the lead when talking with Americans and tell your parents, “it’s ok Mom and Dad, I got it!”

Speaking two languages also makes you smarter. If your brain is like a muscle, bilingual education is like a workout.

But a mental workout isn’t the only reason to learn French.

Speaking a second language makes you a citizen of the world. It connects you to people and places far away. When you visit Africa, Europe, Canada, or so many other places in the world, you will be able to understand and will be understood.

Plus, one day, when you visit Paris or Abidjan, all your friends will be jealous that you can speak French to that cute boy or girl in the café.

But learning French also connects you to people right here in New York. It makes me very happy to see that the 5th graders of PS 84 and the 6th graders of MS 256 have collaborated on this “Through My Eyes” exhibition. This amazing project really puts us in your shoes. Your photographs display who you really are. They show how, through bilingual education, you were able to grow and develop individually. So, today, we celebrate your success. 

We also celebrate the people who helped you achieve it: your parents, your teachers and your principals. For seven years, P.S. 84 has offered a world-class bilingual education right here in Manhattan. And now, thanks to its teachers and its principal Brian Zager, MS 256 offers a middle-school bilingual program. To all the people who have worked hard to carve a path for bilingual education: thank you a million times. The bilingual revolution is just beginning, and you are all its vanguard.

I can assure you that this will be one of my main priorities – to help all families and all schools, not only in NY but elsewhere in the US, who want to promote these dual language programs.  So we will continue to work hard!

I want to acknowledge and thank Fabrice for all the great work he’s done in New York.  I know that without his work things would be quite different today.  His commitment has really been an inspiration.

But next year, the revolution will have to continue without one of its fiercest fighters: Robin Sundick, the principal of P.S. 84, will be retiring after this year. Robin we owe you a lot. You understood the value of bilingual education early, and your determination helped make it a reality. So thank you so much. The past few years prove that you were a visionary. Wherever you go from here, you will bring the same zeal, passion and drive that you brought to school every day.

And students: you, too, are moving on to something new. Who knows what the future holds? I’m sure it will be very exciting.  You should feel confident: you speak two languages, and you have had a great education.  And that’s why each graduation is unique: because of all the limitless potential in each graduating class. You just have to believe in yourself, believe in your dreams, and go for it! With a bilingual education in your back pocket, you can achieve amazing things. Just ask the Marquis de Lafayette.

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