Monday, June 1, 2015

Address to the graduates of Worcester Technical High School

Note that this is now online. You can catch the speech at about 24:55

Among those we’ll remember tonight is Mr. Ted Coghlin, as the Godfather of the modern Worcester Technical High School, and rightfully so.
I want, however, to take you back to the original Godfather of Worcester Tech. While you’ve passed his image and motto for the school every day, he is someone you may not know much of.

I speak of Milton Higgins, the organizing force behind not only Boys Trade, but much of vocational education in the United States.

When Boys Trade opened in 1910, Worcester was a booming industrial city of 146,000,  having quadrupled in size in the preceding thirty years. Most of that growth was immigrants, such that the majority (?) of students either were born in another country or were born to parents who were. 

Those growing factories badly needed workers, but they needed workers who had some training; these were not jobs you could simply pick up on the factory floor. 
At the same time, the immigrant families badly needed everyone who was able working, so many children dropped out after eighth grade. They were not, however, qualified for the work available.

Into this space stepped Milton Higgins. Higgins was the first superintendent of the Washburn Shops at what became W.P.I.; he was a founder of Norton Company and he was a president of Worcester Pressed Steel Company.

And he essentially became a man on a mission. 

This is all, of course, extremely practical: there was an economic need by industry and an economic need by residents, and Higgins bridged the gap between the two. He did this not only in Worcester, but across the state and even across the country, tirelessly and fiercely advocating that a boy--and, yes, a girl--should have a clear pathway in which continuing in school meant a better job and a better life.

But Higgins wanted more for the graduates of this institution than simple fulfillment of economic need. In 1904, Higgins was asked to speak on the topic of “Industrial Drawing from the Standpoint of a Manufacturer” to art teachers from across Massachusetts. In his address, he said this:

The manufacturer, however, does not admit, does not know, that he cares much for art, culture, or beauty in his work. But in his own sphere he does care, and the greatest joy he feels is to get a thing right. Striving for excellence! That is what makes a workman love his work and succeed in it. He really becomes a creator, and when he succeeds he knows that what he has made is good.

To know that what you have made is good.

In your time at Worcester Tech, no doubt you’ve experienced that more than once: the animal that gets well; the water that flows where it should; the properly-built wall; the perfectly seasoned meal; the account that came out precisely to the cent.

Or maybe you experienced that outside of your trade class in a well-reasoned essay or well-constructed science experiment or even the perfectly executed athletic play. The work you have done, the skills you have developed, the things you have learned, all came together for that one well-made object, that one well-done moment.

And that is what we--not only those of us on the stage, but also those in front of us who have taught you and those sitting farther back who have raised you--have worked to bring about for you, and what we wish for you going forward: that you will have “the greatest get a thing right.”

We don’t want only for you to compete internationally in industry; we don’t want only for you to be available to fill gaps in manufacturing or other needs; we don’t even want only for you to make a living to support yourself and your family.

We want you to do work that you can take pride in.
We want for you to love your work and succeed in it.
We want you to be a creator and know that what you’ve made is good.

May you, therefore, class of 2015, care and get a thing right.
May you strive for excellence.
May you love your work and succeed in it.
And may you be a creator who knows that what you’ve made is good. 

Congratulations, and our best wishes go with you. 

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