2019 Convocation speaker encourages Prairie students to “do,” not just “be”

By Rachel Shuster | all school, Alumni, Student Life


  • a large formal assembly of people.
  • the action of calling people together for a large formal assembly.

Prairie students were likely not expecting an English lesson when they entered the Johnson Athletic Center on Tuesday morning for Convocation, TPS’ back-to-school celebration for 2019-20. But the theme they discussed used some of the grammar lessons with which they have become so familiar: “Be the verb, not the noun.”

That message came from guest speaker Kanwar M. Singh ‘85. The Prairie alumnus prompted students to think about all of the occasions when they have considered what they want to be when they grow up.

“If I tell you that you should be a dancer, what does that make you feel like? Does it sound fun, or does it sound heavy?” Singh asked. “But if I said, ‘just go out and dance,’ maybe you’d go out and you’d try something new.”

“Right now, there’s all this pressure to fall in love with and be good at and focus on one thing,” he continued. “I want you to think about what happens if all you do is what makes you come alive, instead of doing what you think you have to do to fit a label.” 

If anyone could brag about all of the “nouns” he has been, it is Singh. After graduating from TPS, he earned degrees from Northwestern University and Boston University Law School. His professional pursuits have included several positions as an attorney and a businessman; at his current post, Singh serves as a Managing Director within Private Wealth Management at Merrill Lynch, providing financial advice and guidance to ultra-affluent individuals and families.

But Singh says it was the breadth of opportunities — academic and co-curricular — that he experienced as a Prairie student back in the day, that have formed him into the man he is today.

Prairie prides itself on shaping graduates who are “Scholars, Artists, Athletes, and Leaders.” The school’s mission aims to “[nurture] the creativity, interests, and abilities of every student, inspiring each to explore, thrive, and add value individually and in collaboration with others.”

Singh acknowledged the pressure young people face to blend in, but encouraged Prairie students to focus on thinking independently to find their best selves.

“There’s a big difference between belonging and fitting in,” Singh shared. “Fitting in means you make yourself something you’re not just so that people can accept you; belonging means you show who you are, and then you become part of a group. You’re a lot more alive, you’re a lot stronger, and you’re going to have a lot more fun if you seek belonging instead of simply fitting in.”

“Here at Prairie, you’ve got this great laboratory to experiment and prepare yourself for what’s to come after this,” he concluded. “Be you, be here, be the verb not the noun, think independently, and see real belonging.”