May and June are traditional graduation months for universities and high schools. At the time of his high school graduation on Thursday June 26, 1879, Edward Stratemeyer was attending Public School No. 3 on High Street in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was a few blocks from the Stratemeyer family home at 24 Palmer Street.
While attending school, Edward engaged in amateur printing using letterpress equipment owned by young peers in the area. He may have also been involved in printing at school.
The school was led by William David Heyer, a Confederate Civil War veteran from New Orleans who taught English and rhetoric. One source indicates that after graduation Edward took additional studies in these topics under Heyer. Years later, when his writing career was established, Edward sent copies of some of his books to this mentor.
There were three students in the graduating class of June 1879. Edward was the only male and gave the valedictory address with the title “Experience is the school where man learns wisdom.” Like other commencement speeches, it contains reflections and a look ahead on the future life of graduates.
It also gave a glimpse into his struggle to find his place in the world. In retrospect we know that he had a desire to learn a living from his pen and brain. Yet, his father seems to have expressed doubts, considering this aspiration a waste of time. Only when Edward was able to show the $75 check from Golden Days was father convinced that perhaps his son could earn a living by writing.
“Experience is the school where man learns wisdom.”
A young person starting out in life has no experience and does not, at first, feel the necessity of it. He is filled with a desire to accomplish some great thing which will render his name famous in the annals of the world.
With this object in view, he starts out, but is soon brought to a standstill by a want of experience. Without it he finds that he is at the tender mercies of all who see fit to take advantage of his ignorance. And yet a young person cannot help [but] lack this essential quality for his extreme youth has not made him capable of observing and reflecting on the daily events that transpire around him.
And thus it is with ourselves. Wisdom cannot be taught us, we cannot buy it, neither can it be procured in a single day, for true wisdom is not made up of the mere forms of a schoolboy’s life but consists in applying our daily vocations the principles which were inculcated in our minds during our schooldays.
Experience is the foundation of wisdom and common sense and we should therefore, take advantage of all things which may possibly tend to increase our stock of knowledge and make us better able to help ourselves and our fellow men. Sometimes an experience is of a pleasant character and then we are inclined to repeat it, but one that has a sad ending, has generally the most effect upon mankind. Take, for instance, the case of a young child, who, not knowing the action of heat, puts his hand upon the stove. Of course the consequence will be that he is burned, but he will have received something more than the mere physical pain. He will have received a lesson from his experience, a lesson which he will remember throughout the whole course of his life.
Take another case, that of Benjamin Franklin. What did experience teach him when he was a young man?
It taught him that he was nothing and could be nothing without he exerted himself to gain a position in the world! What was the result?
That question needs no answer for everyone knows that Franklin became one of the greatest and best men this country has ever produced! And thus it is that sorrowful experiences often teach us the most important lessons of life, and although at the time of them taking place we may not know of their usefulness, yet, as we grow older, there will come a time when we appreciate them and be glad that they have happened.
It may seem a sad thing to the quality of persons that we must all pass through the rough and thorny path of experience, but they must remember that as a smooth sea does not make a skilled mariner, so a life, devoid of experience would fail utterly of its object, and as the object of this life is to fit us for a better one, we should endeavor to apply that experience which we have acquired in the schoolroom, limited though it may be, to the important concerns of life, and let me hope that our experience here may fit us for better lives, and finally find us worthy to sit beside the throne on high!
On the eve of separation from our fellow classmates we may be pardoned for indulging the hope that our future experience may not be less pleasant than that which we have already enjoyed and that, whatever be our lot in life we may always look back with kind feelings to our school associations!