Dr Coffman Speech Excerpts

Each commencement address delivered by Dr. Coffman in the spring of 2017 contained messages of community and relationship building, and how these things give greater meaning to our lives. 

Excerpt from 4th Grade “Moving Up” Ceremony, TPS Class of 2025

One of the great traditions of the primary school is the Fish Bowl.  When you see a student being exceptionally generous and kind you put his or her name in the fish bowl.  At the end of the month Mrs. Boero celebrates with everyone whose name made it to the bowl.

Every month has a quote and this month’s we learned that founding father Thomas Jefferson believed that everyone feels good when helping someone else.

We also help other people because it makes them feel good.

And perhaps the most important reason we help other people is because it creates community and strengthens our relationships.

Strong relationships bring meaning to our lives

Coming together and contributing to a community brings us purpose.

As you grow and move into middle school you need to keep helping, your fellow students, your family, your teachers, your neighbors, …. your community.

Excerpts from 8th Grade Commencement, TPS Class of 2021

In 8th grade we study US history and perhaps the most important date in our history is July 4 1776.

On that date the continental congress signed the Declaration of Independence and they also appointed a committee to design an official seal for this new country.

The Committee had three members Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Jon Adams and Mr. Thomas Jefferson.

Their first draft submitted on August 20 included symbols for the six European countries the majority of colonists immigrated from and the motto:

E PLURIBUS UNUM – Out of Many One

Two committees and multiple drafts later, the great seal was finally approved in 1782. The motto stayed but the meaning behind it changed to represent the 13 colonies becoming one country.

We still use the great seal today.  It appears on all foreign treaties and presidential proclamations as well as on the back of the one-dollar bill.

235 years later Americans come from all over the world and we still live that motto.  As you age through high school and college into adulthood, I encourage you to remember that motto and work to build relationships and come together in shared purpose with your peers and the adults in your life.

It is our relationships that bring meaning to our lives.  Working with others to strive for excellence is both fun and rewarding.  You will do amazing things if you take the risk to get involved, help others, and ask for help even when you don’t think you need it.

I leave you with the words of poet Jon Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Excerpts from Upper School Commencement, TPS Class of 2017

I would like to return to the beginning of our ceremony when Nathan urged his classmates to seek out communities where they can be servant leaders and Dr. Wheeler’s request that we surrender to the vulnerability of awe and something larger than ourselves.

It is through shared experiences, hopefully awe filled shared experiences, and helping others that we create joy and build meaning in our lives.  Humans are social animals and when we collaborate to pursue shared goals – we accomplish amazing things and have a lot of fun in the process.  Here at Prairie you have joined your schoolmates, to produce countless projects, performances, and academic experiences.  You have had many successes and a few failures along the way. Through these shared adventures both positive and negative you have personally and collectively grown and built relationships that will last a lifetime.

Out there in the world today it seems like everyone’s first instinct is to attack and criticize – to find differences and push people apart.  Sometimes this comes in the form of raw aggression and at times, as Dr. Wheeler points out, we resort to humor and irony followed by a “just kidding.”

I urge you to work against this rising tide of hostility and detachment.

As you begin the next stage of your life there is one thing I am sure of – wherever you go and whatever you do there will be other people.  Reach out and find ways to connect, help them and let them help you, build shared goals, experience awe filled moments together.  You and they will be stronger, happier, and more fulfilled as a result of your shared experiences and believe it or not, the world will truly be a better place.


As an avid historian dedicated to helping students understand how previous events affect present circumstances, each commencement address delivered by Dr. Coffman in the spring of 2016 contained a theme of “misunderstanding the past” while referencing a famous historical speech.

Excerpts from 4th Grade “Moving Up” Ceremony, TPS Class of 2024

On always challenging yourself…

My third-grade teacher, Mr. Borman, taught me nothing worth accomplishing happens without a struggle or without help from others.  We learned that you need to try every day to get better, to always look for ways to help others and be willing to seek out support when you need it.

His philosophy ties into a quote we’ve been talking about in Primary School.  Olympic medalist, and former world record holder, Bonnie Blair said, “Winning means you’re doing better than you’ve ever done before.”  Mr. Borman, and our teachers here at The Prairie School, agree.  Solving an easy problem is not nearly as rewarding as unraveling a challenging one.  Even though you will make mistakes working with the harder problem – you will learn from those mistakes and be better for them.

On the importance of continual learning…

Your brain is a muscle and every time you ask questions, try out new ideas or search for knowledge, you grow and strengthen your brain. So this summer and next year, try new things, ask challenging questions and work with others to find the answers.

Excerpts from 8th Grade Commencement, TPS Class of 2020

On the group’s upcoming class trip to Washington DC…

When you go to Washington next week, pay attention.  When you come home, get involved.  Figure out what you believe and what you stand for.  What should the role of government be and how can it best accomplish that role?  This is an election year, and although you won’t be able to vote, I hope you will take the time to develop nuanced and informed opinions on each of the issues.  Can you do this for me?

Excerpts from Upper School Commencement, TPS Class of 2016

On how Prairie parents play a vital role in their child’s academic success…

Before we end our ceremony, I would like to take a few moments to add my thanks to the parents and families of our graduates.  Prairie is not easy – and without your support these graduates would not be here today.  The faculty and I thank you for partnering with us to prepare them to succeed in college and lead lives of purpose.

On the importance of understanding context…

As you head out into the world, I urge you to always pay attention to context.  Too often in today’s society we look for mirrors instead of windows and, metaphorically, we think every problem is a nail because we have a hammer in our hand.  Remember – context matters.  Every situation and the people involved in it are unique.  When you are faced with a challenge, slow down, observe the situation, ask questions, and reflect.  Use the context to help you understand and solve the problem in front of you.

On living a life of happiness and satisfaction…

For those of you headed off to get an education that will help you earn a lot of money, remember that your financial success is a means to an end and only the beginning of your duty to society.  I hope that all of you will use your resources, time and skills to make a difference in the lives of others.  You will be happier and more satisfied than you can imagine.