More than a Diploma

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A Prayer for the Class of 2015

I used to make the following remarks, or something very much like them, to my senior Political Science students on the last day of class each year. Now that I am no longer teaching at that level, I guess a print version will have to do.

Odds are I will not see any of you again until graduation festivities.  Those will come and go in such a blur that I will not have the opportunity to wish you a proper farewell at that time.  So let me take a few minutes to tell you something very important and absolutely true.

Since faculty gets to sit down front, we can see the many expressions that float across your faces.  I have studied seniors from that spot 28 times now, and I always see a mixture of the same emotions.  Some of you will not want to leave that stage you look so beautiful sitting upon.  For some, the notion of leaving home to start a new life with strangers, including roommates very much unknown to you, fills you with a dread you may not wish to admit.  Especially if you have been here for twelve years, the unfamiliar may seem frightening.  And so deep down, some of you may want high school never to end.

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At the other end of the spectrum are those for whom the end of senior year simply cannot come soon enough.  You will sit on those hard chairs under those bright lights straining to hear your named called, desperate to get your diploma, flee the stage, and start a new life.  I have noticed a few of you for whom the time of leaving seemed to come in February or March.  I am not sorry to have detained you until May, but am glad for you now that the time for ending is actually here.

The majority of you feel some mix of those two emotions.  I watch you smile as a close friend gets a graduation award.  That smile is born of union, a feeling of shared experience, that is so real to you now but may well prove elusive in the future.  A part of you wants those relationships to last a while longer, if not forever.  But then when your name gets called, your smile turns into a beam, revealing a pride in accomplishment, a deep sense of completion, and the willingness to move on.

Whatever your frame of mind is that Friday, you must know this.

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The faculty members have been seated in front of you for a reason.  Given the investment they have made in your growth, they deserve to get one last really close look at you.  I want you to stop and think for a moment what must be going through their minds – through my mind.  We practice this craft because we love you, or more precisely, because we love watching you grow up.  I know, I know, “those that can, do; those that can’t, teach.”  That may be true for many teachers across this country, but it rarely applies to any of us here.  And even if it is the case in some degree for some of us, the incontrovertible truth is that we feel intense satisfaction at helping you grow from first graders (Glenda Holbrook once called you “worms on a hot sidewalk”) to the accomplished and confident seniors we see before us.

Consider for a moment what Mrs. Warn must be thinking as she watches her third-grade girls, now so mature.  Think of what Mrs. Wallace is feeling as she watches those men on the stage that used to be runny-nosed, shirttails-out little boys in 4A.  Think about how Mr. Horstman took you into his world cultures class but really into his life.  Think about the endless hours Mr. Watson spent coaxing you, driving you, to be brave enough to present yourself for who you really are in dance.

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Remember the countless times Coach Duffy “bumped” you in the halls, and what that knuckle-to-knuckle contact stood for.  And as for me, I remember as if it were yesterday when many of you first walked into Room 239 and were confronted by me with Xeno’s paradox.  Watching you wrestle with that unexpected problem on opening day was delightful.  I have kept tabs on you more than you might know, delighting in your intellectual growth, and celebrating your accomplishments.  But it is seeing each one of you grow over the years into a person – strong, outgoing, and so optimistic – that fills me up and pleases my soul.  As you leave the stage I will try my best to avoid direct eye contact with any of you, for I have no interest in bursting into happy tears just at that moment.

So when that recessional tune you have picked begins and you rise to your feet one last time, feel the wave of support the entire faculty has for you.  Ride it as long as you can, down those aisles and perhaps even out into the courtyard.  The wave will recede quickly enough. But please, please realize that you will leave that stage with much more than a diploma.  You will also carry all the love, the pride, and the earnest hope for your continued success that each member of this faculty can give you.

Upper School Graduation, Friday, May 29th, 2015.

So this is goodbye.  Be well. Be good.  Don’t be a stranger. And as you go forward, make me, somehow, even prouder of you than I already am.

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