The seniors at my school graduated last Saturday. It is tradition for all the faculty to wear gowns and march behind a bagpiper playing “Pomp and Circumstance” with the seniors following close behind. The faculty lines up in two rows on either side of a red carpet. The seniors march between us and passed rows of folding chairs, filled with their family and friends.
Admittedly, after participating in ten graduation ceremonies like this, I felt a bit jaded on Saturday morning. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to all the pomp and circumstance this year. That all changed when I saw the seniors lined up, ready to walk. They were happy, vibrant, and genuine. I realized that many educators, families, and students must be having this exact same feeling. This special tradition, carried out in schools around the world can bring about emotions of catharsis in all of us.
The group of graduates across the country this year is unlike any other senior class. They had just started high school when the pandemic closed schools and sent them home. This affected them greatly. They were distracted, nervous in social situations, and needed constant stimulation. Most high school students try to avoid seeming excited about much of anything, but it was more extreme with this group. However, on their graduation day, they were alive.
As we filed into the activity center I watched them smile and spotted their parents in the crowd with tears in their eyes. I remembered what a big day this is. Why is it such a big day, though? What makes graduation special? The three seniors that spoke on Saturday gave me some answers.
Graduation is a time to stop and appreciate the people who have made an impact. Every speaker talked about a dorm parent that acted like a second mom, a coach who gave them confidence, a teacher who sparked curiosity in a new field, or even a tour guide that helped them feel welcome when they visited campus. They were clear that these educators changed their lives in a positive way and would never be forgotten.
Each graduation speaker also took time to appreciate the relationships they formed with their peers. They reminisced about the junior river trip and the senior camp out. None of them talked about their social media interactions. Instead, they recalled the mundane times in the lunch room or hanging out together in the dorms. Each of these seniors learned the value of the quality time they spent together.
Graduation is also a time to look back on the discoveries made over the course of a high school career. One senior learned that she wanted to study biology in college after being inspired by her AP biology teacher. Another, tried out for the swim team and saw that she had both a passion and a talent for it. The third, discovered his love of rocketry and spent his last few weekends on campus at high powered rocket launches.
Each of us educators has a role to play in this discovery process. It is our excitement, our curiosity, and the exposure to wonder we bring that lights the fire of a lifelong passion for students. We truly make an impact on their futures.
The graduation speakers also recognized the turning point in their lives that commencement marks. They would be leaving their high school community to join a new one, either in college or out in the world. Each senior hoped to continue to develop their passions, to continue learning, and they expressed confidence that their peers would make an impact on the new people they’d meet. They also noted how much they themselves had changed throughout high school, expressing pride in who they had become.
A Stepping Stone
After the graduation ceremony, I had the opportunity to talk to an alum of our school who had just graduated from college a week earlier. “When I graduated high school, I thought that I would learn everything else I needed to know in college but I feel like it was nothing. There is so much more to learn and I’ve only just scratched the surface.” To me, this was a sign of the greatest success – a student who didn’t see graduation as an end, but rather just as a stepping stone in the journey of lifelong learning.