Often I end my school year on a high, feeling each student’s gain as my own, each of their successes intrinsically linked to my doing. Well, perhaps that is a bit egotistically, but I do work very very hard all year long, meeting students where they are, and helping them make steps toward their goals, so often I celebrate their favorable results. Equally true is my sense of loss when they don’t hit the mark.
But this year, there is no meter or measurement that could calculate as it once did. While in dismissal, so many students worked through remarkable challenges to attend google meets whether on their beds, on a Spring-time sunny deck, sitting in isolation while in noisy kitchens, or even driving in a car, and often times with confusion and worry etched into their faces. Yet together we moved into unknown territory to find meaning and hope and the value in learning, despite uneven odds. There is little to discuss about school prior to March, as what followed was so unprecedented, but all the work I did (and teachers around the globe did) to keep students’ trust, to reenergize their enthusiasm, and to maintain consistent pathways for them to work remotely, were crafted and put solidly in place, and that speaks volumes. Students, many who were at first melancholy over everything they lost, gained strength from each other, from this new community, and worked diligently until the end. I am proud of their integrity and resolve.
This day, when our seniors cross the stage to receive their diploma, always causes me to reflect on the meaning of Graduation. Meaning that I find monumental and liberating but also frightening and paralyzing. I watch with a degree of envy as the Class of 2019 steps out of the solid world they have known forever to embrace all the newness of tomorrow. From time to time I consider my own ‘graduation’, although a few years off, certainly on the horizon. I wonder, how will I step forward? How will I face inevitable challenges and happy surprises? All the unforeseen and unplanned despite my best calculations? I watch each high school senior mount the stage, study the surety in their stride, follow their upward gaze, listen as they cheer each other on, and wonder, can I emulate their optimistic adventuring spirit? Can I be that audacious? Smile at each dawn?
A few years ago I wrote about graduates. In the ensuing years I thought that was all I ever wanted to say about that topic, that edge of time, that walking off process, that bravery. Until now. Because as wonderful as the notion of moving on is, it is also terrifying. Often impossible. Sometimes only accomplished by crawling. And stopping. And being nudged until you crawl forward again. As we applaud those who boldly walk and do so with ease, there are many who can not. Theirs is a walk of anxiety and missteps. Of not showing up. Of hanging back. Of not joining in. Of fearing what lies ahead far more than driving on. Their achievements seem to pale in those celebratory moments. What of them? I wondered as I sat in the packed gymnasium filled with graduates and their families.