Different ways of being excellent
This week, we conducted our annual Back to School Service. I would like to share with you the words that I delivered in my address.
Around this time of year, 34 years ago, as an impressionable young person I went to see Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
The film tells the story of Bill S Preston and Ted Theodore Logan who are informed that if they do not receive an A+ for their final History assignment they will be flunked and will not graduate from high school.
The consequences of this would be that Ted would be sent to military school and the friends’ dreams of success for their garage rock band, Wyld Stallyns, would be shattered.
The pair seemed to be doomed as they were presented as barely literate and totally lacking in the requisite skills to ace their papers. Their help comes in the form of a guide from the future called Rufus who presents them with a phone booth time machine.
Bill and Ted then spend the remainder of the film visiting various eras in history where they encounter significant historical figures such as Napoleon who they call ‘the short dead dude’; Socrates who they call ‘So-crates’; Joan of Arc; Genghis Khan; Sigmund Freud; Ludwig Van Beethoven; Billy the Kid, Abraham Lincoln and a neanderthal. They bring each of these figures back to modern day San Dimas in California where they assist in presenting a brilliant project.
According to the Internet Movie Database, Alex Winter who played Bill, said that he tends to receive two kinds of letters from teachers regarding the film. The first is from History teachers who want to thank him for enlivening their students’ interest in the past. The second is from English language teachers who chastise him for negatively affecting how their students speak.
For those who haven’t seen the film the characters speak in droll surfy style catchphrases and use air guitar to emphasise their points.
So why am I talking to you about Bill & Ted’s at such an important and formal event as the Back to School Service?
It’s because I see in this movie some aspects of what can make a school like ours great and some concepts that we can all gain from.
There are four main ideas that I take from the film – the first is the power of experiential education, the second is the valuing of different types of intelligence, the third is in the power of finding and following your passions and the fourth is the importance of being a great friend.
Bill and Ted are not what one would call booksmart. They have failed their previous tests and that is why they need such a good result to avoid flunking. They are not able to learn in a regular classroom environment. However, when they are able to travel in time and experience the eras that they are studying firsthand, they are able to make the necessary connections and understand the lessons from the past and how they have impacted the modern world.
At King David we invest heavily in experiential education whether it is in Jewish Life, Nitzan or our incredible camps and outdoor education programs. This is because we know and understand that many of you learn better this way.
Bill & Ted’s also shows us the importance of valuing each individual for who they are and not for what they are not. As I said, Bill and Ted are not what one would call smart, they are not set up with the skills that their school typically values. However, when they are able to use their natural skills – their integrity, humour, warmth and positivity – they are able to overcome huge obstacles and succeed. This shows that there are many ways to demonstrate intelligence and our school continues to strive to find ways for each of you to achieve excellence across many types and styles of learning.
Bill and Ted are passionate musicians. Their band, Wyld Stallyns, is initially not very good but after using the time machine to find the extra time required to learn to play, they become the world’s best band. In fact at one point they accidentally find themselves in the future after typing the wrong coordinates into the time machine. What they discover is that their music is so powerful and transformative that it has created world peace and a new philosophy based on their teachings. This teaches us that if we find something that we are passionate about and devote ourselves to working hard at it we can achieve incredible things. We might just change the world!
Finally, Bill and Ted are frequently featured on internet lists as among the best representations of friendships in pop culture. Their friendship is a beautiful one. They share interests, have one another’s backs, always treat each other well, celebrate one another’s successes and commiserate together when things do not go well.
I love this idea and want to challenge you to devoting yourselves to being the best friends and classmates that you can be this year. Each of you has an incredible power to make or break someone else’s day. Please do your best to do small and big acts that make others feel included, valued and appreciated for who they are.
This is reinforced in what I have always taken to be the most important aspect of the film and this is the motto that they awkwardly present when they are faced with their adoring future fans. They say “Be excellent to each other” and “Party on Dudes!”
If each of us look for our moments to be excellent to one another we will together create the community that each of us deserve to be part of.
I would like to encourage those of you who have not done so yet to ensure that you make a gesture to our new or existing students to make sure that each of us feel like we are a valued member of the KDS community.
This gesture might take the form of an act of inclusion and the Purim celebrations coming up will provide you with the perfect opportunity to ensure that all your classmates are included in dress up groupings. It can be a simple act of kindness where you reach out to someone who you think could use it.
Hopefully the lessons that each of us learn here can inspire us to open our hearts, and to use our networks of influence to inspire others to do the same too.
Keanu Reeve who acted as Ted, characterised the tagline saying: “the sentiment of it is really just be the best person, [the best] human you can be and if you do that then… you’re going to be safe you’re going to be supported you’re going to get the gift of giving, you’re going to get the gift of receiving and you’re going to get the gift of sharing.”
Alex Winter said: “I think it’s like: be kind to your fellow man but engage with the world. Be out in the world.”
There will be plentiful opportunities for us all to “Party on” in 2024. By being excellent to one another we can ensure that each of us can enjoy the highs together.