Category Archives: Graduation

Guest Post: “Believe the Bird” Commencement Address by Anna Schuleit Haber

This year’s Commencement speaker, chosen by the graduating class of 2014, was visual artist and MacArthur Felllow Anna Schuleit Haber. Ms. Haber has graciously given us permission to post her full speech here. “Believe the Bird” was delivered at Stoneleigh-Burnham School’s 2014 Commencement Ceremony on Friday, June 6th in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

 

BELIEVE THE BIRD

Anna Schuleit Haber delivers the 2014 Stoneleigh-Burnham Commencement Address.A squirrel appears on a lawn and sees a nut lying out in the open. Carefully, it looks around and assesses its surroundings. When it feels ready and safe, it moves into the open, aiming for the nut. It reaches it, scoops it up and hurries back to safety. In his book on the brain, “The Master and His Emissary”, Ian McGilchrist describes the kind of attention the squirrel uses here as “open attention”.

Later, when the squirrel sits down with the nut, to crack and break it down, it uses an entirely different attention, a kind of attention that can be understood as “narrow attention”. Both are needed to navigate through this world; both are indicators of the interactions between the two hemispheres of our brains: left and right. The right brain hemisphere is connected to open attention: our skill of taking in an entire scene and making sense of it. The left brain hemisphere is responsible for breaking things down and categorizing everything.

Dear graduating seniors, dear parents, trustees, faculty members, families, and friends — I am honored to be here with you today and to celebrate your graduation. For the past few days, I was sitting in the garden of a friend, thinking about this special day and about you, and I decided that I would speak to you about attention, and types of attention, intuition, about the time during and after high school, and—most generally—about happiness in life.

Walking across a campus like this reminds me of being a student like you. When I was in boarding school, an ocean away from my family and childhood friends, my days seemed to be made of nothing but school matters: assignments, books, late night studies, basketball practice, bakery duty, stacks of vocabulary cards, so many words that I didn’t know. High school in a boarding school, away from home, equaled more than high school had ever meant to me up to that point: it was a sense of school as pure possibility. An opening of the self. It was, to me, the highest version of high school: higher than any place I’d known before, a place of higher learning, higher knowledge, and high growth.

In boarding school I finally became a curious student. And you, too, might have been feeling this same progression in you: that over time you have become, in fact, the kind of student for whom this place was originally created, for whom it had been made ideal. For whom all these buildings had been built and for whom the curriculum had been developed. Each of you is a young woman with a full-fledged story from where you come, who your people are. A story with details, and details with facets of humanity, each one of you different from the next. This place was created for bringing life stories like yours together and making more layered, more evolved, more deliberate stories out of each of you, stories of conscious growth. A place for a community of girls, a place for you who graduate today.

When I was here last October and met so many of you, I felt that this was a special place. I loved your energy. It made me think that high school is truly a place that puts the student at the center of the universe and surrounds him or her with the possibilities of life and knowledge, a place for you to learn to embody the personal and to then to head out to touch the world with and through your life —your lives.

After today most of you will go on to college, and you might think it’s similar, but it’s not. College is bigger, less intimate, more speedy, more layered, crowded, and complicated. Somehow, as you move from high school towards the next step in your journey, you become a more public person. Your career starts. High school is the necessity on which everything gets built, but it isn’t your outward career yet. It is your private career, your chance to learn who you are. You’ve had a most exquisite chance here on this campus, of learning more than the basics. Now things will speed up, and speed you into the lanes of adulthood, which are speedier, riskier, and less neat.

And so I want you to pause here for just a moment longer, pause and celebrate inwardly and with each other, and then take the best of what you’ve been building and making here at this school, during this time, as an investment into the self that you are poised to become: take all these treasures with you as you start your career as an adult student, an adult woman, and a citizen of this world. Once you’re out there in the world, with your treasures of high school under your skin, all the details of your education thus far, I encourage you to make passionate choices that honor this foundation that you have created for yourselves. Choices of schools, friends, majors, direction, and — style. Why do I mention style? I don’t mean the way you dress, I mean the style of self: what kind of woman are you evolving into, what kind of mind are you cultivating, what type of personality are you beginning to be? Whatever the answer, whatever your style and your direction, your very own arc of a journey, I am happy to say that ALL of you will be needed.

That there is a place for each and every one of you out there in the world.

As you graduate here today, you are freer than you have ever been in your life before. More free to make your own choices. After today, you will be seen as adults in almost every sense. You will be expected to be responsible and mature, as people will rely on you. Strangers might ask for your help when you don’t expect it, more than before. The world will simply assume that you have gained the basic tools to navigate through this life, which is not basic at all, but complex.

As graduating seniors, your schedules had already became as full as you thought they could possibly be, and you made it through, and here we are. you have all been “big sisters” to younger students at the same time, you have been mature and responsible for and with others around you, as you grew to be the oldest. Now you will leave here and feel young all over again, in college, or in whichever job you pursue. You might realize that you’re the youngest again, actually. And life might suddenly appear quite large and vast and disorganized around you.

And it is.

So—when you find yourself in a tight spot or crisis, which sooner or later you will, I would like you to try something: try to practice a sense of open calmness before zooming in. Try to first collect and balance your mind and body for a moment, like the squirrel taking in the wider context. Locate yourself within yourself. Then step forth.

When, on the other hand, you find yourself hungry or tired, too tired to be glowing or helpful, don’t be ashamed to withdraw and recuperate. And to do so, you will have to learn to be clear: first with yourself, then with others around you. Clear about your needs, and then kindly straightforward. Learn to take efficient, simple care of yourself. Nobody will be better at this task than you.

And when, perhaps, you find yourself feeling lonely, try this: reach out to someone without expectation, rather than waiting to be reached for. Sit down and write a letter by hand. Go for a walk along a babbling creek, off the beaten path, without your phone. Notice your loneliness with that same open attention, and treasure it. That sounds very hard and strange, but it’s the truth: it, too, is one of your treasures.

When you find yourself bored, ever, try this: be curious about something outside of yourself. Pick something beyond your usual horizon and marvel at it. Divert your attention and let something unlikely into your mind, something to re-arrange your thought patterns and your mind’s habits. The writer Samuel Beckett pushed the boundaries of language, concept, composition in his writings. And he did so by positioning himself in a beginner’s spot: he wrote many of his works in French, rather than in his native English — and he attributed this to his “need to be ill-equipped.” Having been ill-quipped many times in my life as an artist, I can tell you that this is true: if you’re not quite certain of how to do something, but if you commit yourself to the process of it, you will, wonderfully inevitably, make discoveries. And making discoveries is a fundamental ingredient of creativity.

When I was a painting student at RISD I discovered that I enjoy the stretch of time that passes between having an idea, a plan, and realizing it. That the uncertainty of the journey of creating something, the lag between first motivation and later outcome, can be enjoyable, even thrilling. If you are on the path to becoming an artist, too, or any other creative job, I invite you to watch how other artists and makers, older than you, manage to stay true to themselves through that creative uncertainty, i.e. the interaction between right brain open attention and left brain focus and analysis. Look for smart people who know more than you, watch them and see how they work, how they move through the world.

And when something you’re witnessing is great, truly great, when the hair on your neck stands up in admiration for something or someone, make sure to take notice. Learning to pay compliments if inspired, is as important as learning to give honest feedback if asked. Try to become an athlete in your own field, however un-athletic it may be, and by that I mean dedicate yourself to practicing your stuff, over and over and over. When you need help, look around—ASK. Then offer your help back to others who cross your path needing help. They will. There will undoubtedly be times to give back, and it’s rarely to those who once gave to you, but usually to others, in other ways.

Three and four generations ago, our women ancestors in this country, and many countries around the world, began to fight for their right to vote and didn’t give up, a struggle that is hard for us to imagine today. We take for granted their then newly-won right to participate as equals in governments and society, and our natural inheritance of it. As women we all have been given the fruits of women’s struggles of the past, so I would like to ask you graduating girls particularly, to never miss an election: to go out and vote for what you believe in, who you root for, who represents you. Like so many other female writers and artists, Virginia Woolf struggled to shake off her sense of the confinement of her imagination, her creativity, asking herself: “What IS a woman? I do not know… I do not believe anybody knows until she has expressed herself in all the arts and professions open to human skill.”

Along those lines I want to invite you, in your lives, too—to go, if necessary, against the tide. The women who fought for our rights in the past, for us to vote and to be equals in the arts and all other professions, went against the tide. Conditions would never have changed if they had waited for someone powerful to make the changes for them. So don’t miss a chance to engage in dialogue about difficult things — and that’s usually not when difficult things are easy, but when they are difficult to discuss. Point out and pause for injustice whenever you come across it in your lives.

If necessary, go against the tide.

But truly, and most of all, and in all of this: I would like to invite you to be infectious with a good, open attitude. Having a good attitude is not a minor secret skill, something hidden under the surface of your personality, but it is completely and utterly visible to anyone who comes anywhere near you. If you don’t know how to do it, watch those who have mastered this art, and then practice it like the French Horn, or third level dressage. You can actually, really truly learn how to light up a room, and not miss a chance to be genuinely curious. A good attitude goes hand in hand with curiosity, with openness, and with a flexibility of one’s ego.

And even if you’re as considerate and humble and kind a person as you can possibly be—for as long as you can—you might still encounter incredible obstacles for long inexplicable stretches. Then I want you to trust: to trust that none of what you invest your heart and energies in will be in vain. The trick is to shape your destiny with your intentions but to expect nothing directly back—except to be surprised. In Buddhism this is called “the light of the world”: that the karmic fruits of your being will keep arising. But it is your responsibility to see the world with your best, open attention, as the squirrel does before it narrows its focus on the outcome of the nut. To learn to see the choices that you will make.

What lies ahead for you is a road of gains and losses, between which you will make your home. This making of a home will most likely be the most creative and individual act of your lives. Why creative? Because there is not realIy any kind of guidance for it other than your own, so you must use your intuition, intention, and practice. John J. Audubon, in the preface to his guide to birds in America, reminds us that “If the bird and the book disagree, believe the bird.” Use your own inner light to shine your way, to stand straight, to stand right up, and stand light and firm on the ground you’re claiming for yourself, the self you are becoming. Take IN the whole scene of your life, as it unfolds. And, “I urge you” said the writer Kurt Vonnegut, “to please notice when you are happy.” Which means, to actually notice when all is well for the moment, when the air is clear.

It is my honor to remind you today, and to remind you to remind yourselves in the weeks and years to come, wherever you may be, that each and every instant is, in fact, a rare moment of creation. That sense of your journey can be, and I hope that it will be, your very own sense of happiness. As if he had known about the squirrel, and maybe he did, wonderful E. E. Cummings put it best:

“(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)”

Congratulations, dear Seniors.

– Anna Schuleit Haber
June 6, 2014

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Filed under Graduation, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Guest Post: Reflections for the Class of 2014

Today we feature a guest blogger, parent Christina Lord. Christina has written a reflection for her daughter Caroline Lord and Caroline’s peers who will be graduating tomorrow morning, June 6th.

‘We were all to be queens
of four kingdoms on the sea:
Efigenia with Soledad,
and Lucila with Rosalie.

In the Valley of Elqui, encircled
by a hundred mountains or more
that blaze red like burnished offerings
or tributes of saffron ore,

We said it, enraptured,
and believed it perfectly,
that we would all be queens
and would one day reach the sea.

With our braids of seven-year-olds
and bright aprons of percale,
chasing flights of thrushes
among the shadows of vine and grape.

And our four kingdoms, we said,
so vast and great would be,
that as certain as the Koran
they would all reach the sea.

We would wed four husbands
at the time when we should wed,
and they would all be kings and poets
like King David of Judea.’

“We Were All To Be Queens” by Gabriela Mistral, Chile (1889-1957)

Today begins another chapter of your life. We rejoice with you as you stand at this summit looking into a new dawn, full of unseen perspectives and unchartered roads that await you. Looking back, while twelve or more years of school have gone in a blink, each day has prepared you to take the steps that lie ahead.  Challenged by teachers, family and peers, you have become whole women, ready to play your part as members of this global village.  From cells to equations; from Shakespeare to Middle Eastern peace efforts, Shostakovich, Balanchine and Van Gogh, from the theory of knowledge to the values of community service, Stoneleigh-Burnham empowered you to pursue excellence and to find your own voice. This home has also allowed you to experience firsthand the fellowship of girls from all around the world and, in doing so, you have expanded your horizons as ambassadors of peace.

Looking ahead, in the words of Gabriela Mistral, your kingdoms, so vast and great will be, ‘that as certain as the Koran they’ will all reach the sea. The journey you begin today will test your character, your beliefs and your self-knowledge, as you come to realize that change is the only constant and that your decisions will have ever greater consequences for yourselves and others. Embrace every moment. Trust yourselves, for you are resourceful women. Listen with your heart, not only to the voices around you, but especially to the one inside you. Respect yourselves. Recognize your limits. Mind yourselves. Through it all, remember to be grateful for your strengths, your resources and your heritage. For it is your inner strength and humility that will fuel and guide your steps in the world.

A Chinese proverb says that women hold up half of the sky. Some do so by cooking meals for their families in refugee camps while other rule nations. Wherever your roads take you, whether in joyfulness or suffering, remember that we, your parents, have your back, and that we are committed to you through the unbreakable bond of our unconditional, unwavering and everlasting love.

– Christina Lord

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Not Long Enough

Spearth Day was born of a series of compromises, but has become one of the key dates in the waning weeks of our school year. Many years ago, the students asked for a special day to celebrate the mailman who played such an important role in their lives (today’s students, for whom email is old-fashioned and texting is routine, would probably find this odd). We called it “M and M Day” for “Mail Man Day,” and besides presenting him with a card and gifts when he finally showed, we played an all-school game of Capture the Flag and found other ways to celebrate. Over time, M and M Day evolved and became more organized – for one thing, the tradition of the talent show was begun. Meanwhile, earlier in the spring, Earth Day remained a day off for service – cleaning up local parks and rivers, clearing trails, and so on. The two days were eventually combined into one, and the name “Spearth Day” comes from “Spring-Earth Day.” We spend the morning doing various service projects on- and off-campus, have the Talent Show after lunch, follow that with games and booths organized by classes and clubs, dedicate the yearbook and pass out copies, and end with a barbecue. This year, for a special treat, there will be a dance performance by the Senior IB dancers.

Excitement always run high right before Spearth Day, especially when Wednesday immediately precedes it as that is our half-day of classes. The 7th graders spent Morning Meeting somewhat nervously tying up the few remaining loose ends in the preparation for their booth while the 8th graders set up a coverage schedule and worked hard to ensure they would have everything they needed. Early morning notes on the white board suggested the Community Service Club had done much the same the night before.

Sports are winding down (another reason for excitement as this is a major marker the year is actually starting to come to a close), and so Sophie and Clara, two of the 7th graders, were available and eager to accompany me to the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society. They laughed and sang and talked all the way there, assuring me they had to be the loudest group I’d ever taken (they weren’t far wrong, actually!). There wasn’t much to do on site, but they were cheerful and positive even when just folding laundry, and took the time to make friends with some of the cats. The ride back was just about as high energy as the ride out.

When we returned at 5:30, the school was sheltering in the basement as a tornado warning had been issued. So when the Wednesday night group of the Middle School Rock Bands showed up 20-25 minutes late for rehearsal (dinner had opened half an hour late and hey, they had to eat!), energy was even higher than usual – if possible! – for a Spearth Day Eve.

For the Spearth Day Talent Show, the group is performing “Microphone” by Martha, a second-year 8th grader. The song has rather whimsical lyrics (sample “Microphone, / You have a big head. / You have a cord. / And it is long.”) and a melody to match. At our first rehearsal of the song, I suggested a series of chords to which everyone agreed, and Aliana (who had played drums before during this year) taught Subin (who hadn’t) an appropriately whimsical drum part (Meredith on bass, Molly sharing vocals with Martha, and Ellie on marimba round out the group; Aliana is covering the piano part). The song is a little bit short, so at our previous rehearsal, we had rearranged it so the final chorus was repeated three times – once with instruments, once a cappella, and once more with instruments.

We ran the song twice – the second time because I had forgotten to time it, just to be on the safe side as we are limited to three minutes (lots of acts in this Talent Show!) before sailing into “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane, which we are doing next Thursday for the annual Middle School Music Performance. It is a beautiful piece with subtly shifting block chords in the piano anchored by a relatively straightforward backbeat. Subin was drumming again, Martha had shifted to the marimba, and though I normally play bass on this piece, I had to cover Molly’s piano part since her team was late back from a game. Somehow, Ellie, Aliana, and Martha had contrived to cover Meredith’s vocal since her Team Night had begun way late due to the tornado warning and so was going way late. Still, even with me faking the chord shifts that Molly alone knew by heart, and even with one less voice on the harmonies (which the girls themselves wrote), the song sounded gorgeous and as it sunk in that I had only two more nights with this group before they were done for the year, tears sprang to my eyes which I tried (successfully) to cover up because the girls were having so much fun.

In the 1991 remake of “Father of the Bride,” Steve Martin in the title role tells his daughter on the night before her wedding, “Well, that’s the thing about life, is the surprises, the little things that sneak up on you and grab hold of you.” (IMDb) I know tonight is only the first of many such moments we’ll experience over the next two and a half weeks. It’s a way to mark how much these kids come to mean to us, and to each other. Of course, even those who are graduating and moving on will live on in my memory and in my heart. And they will have good company there, kids both past and future.

And meanwhile, I will savor every moment of the rest of the year. I know how lucky I am. And I am determined not to take it for granted. As, I am quite sure, are they.

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Filed under Graduation, In the Classroom, On Education, On Parenting, Performing Arts, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

How Far We’ve Come

I was arriving a little later for school than I usually do, but I was nonetheless pretty sure it wasn’t typical for a large group of students to be walking down the driveway. Maybe something special was going on at the barn? Or perhaps a science class was doing a lab by the pond? Suddenly, it hit me – it was our very first group of IB diploma candidates, walking down to Sally and Hank’s house to take the first-ever IB exam in our school’s history. I smiled and waved encouragingly, trying to make eye contact with as many students as possible, and wondered to myself at how so many truly significant moments appear so normal at the same time.

Two days later, I was taking my first turn invigilating an exam (it’s worth noting that, like many people in our school, I didn’t even know the verb “invigilate” until this May). Whether I was projecting my own nervousness onto the students, remembering recent Upper School Rock Band rehearsals when diploma candidates were processing their feelings of apprehension since they were the first-ever students at our school to take the tests, or accurately observing how the students in front of me felt, it seemed there was a tentativeness to the room, a sense that one was doing one’s best without knowing for sure if that best would actually be good enough. Though invigilation, as I later commented to our Academic Dean Alex Bogel, is barely more interesting than watching paint dry (his response: “Oh, it’s brutal.”), the fact that I cared so much about the students and wanted the best for them got me through. I’m sure Alex had a similar experience.

Four days ago as I write this (on Thursday, May 16), I took my second turn at invigilation, a Spanish exam. This time was totally different. For one thing, I was starting an exam rather than going through the multiple procedures required at the end of an exam as I had the previous time. But far more important, these students were pumped. “Let’s do this thing!” yelled one student, raising her fist as others added, “Yeah!” “We’re fluent!” It seemed clear that after several weeks of taking exams, the students were well settled into the process. However tentative and nervous they were at the start, and whatever nerves still remained deep down, they appeared to have acquired additional confidence in themselves, enough additional confidence to not only feel it but also to express it.

I’m sure when the results come in, whether by envelope or email, some of the candidates will pause briefly and close their eyes, perhaps turning their face up to the heavens, before opening the message and finding out exactly how they did. And I suspect some of the teachers will share their nervousness. But whatever those results, right now, it’s clear that we all have done our jobs well. These students think clearly and deeply, can draw on extensive knowledge banks, and are able to make sophisticated connections. They have reason to be proud of themselves, as we are of them.

Just three more days of testing to go. And then…

let the wild rumpus begin!

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Filed under Graduation, International Baccalaureate, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Growing Out of Over-Thinking

The following post was originally published in our Spring 2012 Bulletin. It was written by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw, a graduate of the class of 2010. 

20 mph sustained winds and 40 mph gusts twisted the disc through the sky in every direction. With winds strong enough to pick my entire Ultimate Frisbee team off the field, the disc seemed to have a mind of its own, making catching, never mind any semblance of strategy or “flow,” a hard task. It was a difficult day of Ultimate, and even under the warm California sun, my team – Disco Inferno, was growing frustrated. Then, in our fourth and final game, I found myself flinging my body horizontally through the air and landing with the disc firmly in my hands. In Ultimate, we call this “laying out” and while I had slid or tumbled across many fields in the past year and a half to catch a disc, there was quite a difference between these scrappy grabs and a real layout. Laying out wasn’t just jumping or falling any which way; it was its own graceful species. My catch didn’t win us the game; it didn’t even lead to a point, but for the next few days, every time I felt the soreness in my shoulders, I felt a little pride from that moment.

A week before traveling to this windy tournament at Stanford University, my coach had been reviewing proper layout form with our team. He had told us that if we constantly think, “I want to layout,” it will never happen in a game. Instead, we must stop thinking and start feeling only the need to catch the disc, whatever way we can. This was how layouts occurred. I can’t really say that my first legitimate layout was a profound moment in my life; but I can say that the more I pondered my coach’s words, the more I saw how his advice applied to much of my life these days.

When I was asked to write an essay about my own “growth” since leaving SBS, I tried to think of significant moments in the last two years, but my mind kept coming back to the present, to this semester. As a second year student at Brown University, many of my friends are feeling the stress and limbo-lostness of the “sophomore slump,” but I’ve found it hard to relate to these sentiments lately. I believe the growth I’ve undergone is realizing that the reason I’m finally able to throw myself across the field for a disc is the same reason I finally feel completely happy about how I spend my time and energy at college; I’ve stopped over-thinking. I’ve stopped trying to be the “college Bryna” I imagined for myself when I was a student at SBS, and am going after what makes me happy and fits the person I want to be today, instead, while using everything I learned at SBS.

From what I’ve heard, Stoneleigh Burnham is growing in many ways itself these days. I was so excited to hear that SBS placed second in the Green Cup Challenge, and that the school will be represented by Jane Logan in Australia, for debate and public speaking. These are things that make me so proud to be an SBS alumna. The new International Baccalaureate program is a tremendous sign of growth, and along with growing enrollment and changes throughout the school, SBS is moving in an exciting direction. But all of these changes also mean that every time we, as alumnae, come back to visit, this little school may be a little different from the one we remember. A year ago that may have made me nostalgic; today it just makes me excited to see what comes next. Real growth can’t occur without tremendous change, and though I admit I’m a little jealous the IB program didn’t exist when I was a student, I am so excited to see Stoneleigh-Burnham expand and change shape.

As I said before, the person I am now is very different than the one I imagined for myself two years ago. I thought making a positive impact in the world required that I be a serious person involved in “serious” pursuits. While I am an Environmental Studies concentrator and hope to work in this field, this is the first semester that I’ve given up over-thinking whether I’m doing the “right” things with my time. Outside of class I play Ultimate Frisbee, and though we take the sport seriously, we also wear sparkly “flair” to tournaments, play Zip-Zap-Zop with the other team during halftime, and value the Spirit of the Game more than the score. And these days, when I’m not studying or playing Ultimate, I’m writing and performing sketch comedy in Brown’s troupe Out of Bounds, or writing satire for our all-female comedy blog on campus.

I suppose I’m doing sillier things with my time than I ever imagined. But I’m also happy to see myself becoming someone who can take risks and make leaps without over-thinking exactly where she’ll land. I know I have SBS to thank for much of this, and I can’t wait to be back on campus for graduation, proud to be witnessing all the ways SBS and my fellow alumnae have grown in ways different, and better, than I may have imagined.

Bryna Cofrin-Shaw graduated in 2010. She is a sophomore at Brown University where she is concentrating in Environmental Studies.

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Filed under Alumnae, College Prep, Graduation, On Education, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Vigorous Love and a Frenzy of Renaissance

Spring is often an intense time of transition in kids’ lives as the school year ends, and as such is frequently marked by rituals such as the 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony, Upper School Awards Ceremony, Vespers, and Farewell to Seniors at Stoneleigh-Burnham, Baccalaureate in my son’s school, and of course Commencement in both schools plus thousands of others. Another important marker of transition for young people of the Christian faith is Confirmation, and my niece went through that ritual this morning in her church. The similarities to some of our school ceremonies are striking but unsurprising – identifying and celebrating what makes each kid special, marking the bond they created with other, marking the bond their advisors created with them, and always looking to the past as the crucible which formed us as well as the future which shines with such promise. As these young people, only one of whom I had ever met (my niece!), shared memories of their baptisms, their journey through the year in Confirmation classes, and personal perceptions of their special gifts and how they planned to use them in service, the sense of community was striking.

In the deeply moving Baccalaureate speech he gave at Phillips Academy, retiring Economics teacher Carroll Perry said, “Good people who become intelligent, reasoned, thinkers are the key to what most of us want for our world. Many such young adults will walk across the great lawn tomorrow… My generation did not do what it might have to put you more at ease, and for this I am deeply sorry… [But] there has been progress, and there will be a lot more. The cynics forget that people like you are coming on to the scene, and that you view today’s challenges not as insuperable problems, but as your stewardship.” Jeremy Deason, a former Athletic Director, echoed a similar theme in his graduation address to the SBS Class of 2012 when he focused not on what the students have learned but rather on what the students have taught him. And I told one of my advisees at the 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony that just as we in the middle school profited from her thoughtful ideas, “the world would do well to listen” to her. There is undeniably incredible power in teenagers for those who choose to see it and enable them to use it.

Various speakers in my niece’s church today spoke of how vigorously we love these kids, and how one day they will lead a “frenzy of renaissance.” Karen Suchenski, the Humanities 8 teacher, pointed out to me this weekend the important role teachers play in building community – in helping our students not only find their voice but also be their own best selves – in helping them become “Good people who [are] intelligent, reasoned thinkers.” During their time at their school, Stoneleigh-Burnham’s Class of 2012 (as well as that of Phillips Academy) have been just that. So when I look around me and wish we were making much more rapid progress toward a truly respectful and equitable society, I take comfort in seeing these young people moving out into the world. Those of us who have nurtured them will miss their grace and presence in our daily lives, but know our loss is the world’s gain.

And yet we do want a sense of permanence to the community we have worked so hard to build. So we join with Obehi Utubor ’05 in her beautifully sung benediction to the graduating Seniors, hoping and trusting they will indeed both “Go forth… and return safely.”

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Filed under Graduation, On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized

As Best We Can

I still have vivid memories of the first SBS Vespers ceremony I ever attended, 26 years ago. A graduate of a public high school, I was wholly unprepared for the depth of emotion, the sheer, inconsolable sadness some of these kids were feeling. When I graduated, we were all going off to parties afterwards and were still looking forward to a whole summer of fun together before heading off to our various colleges and life destinies. I knew our true separation was inevitable, but it still felt like a long ways off and was easy to put out of my mind. These kids, on the other hand, were about 14 hours away from saying goodbye to people who had truly become family to them, people with whom they had lived 24/7, sharing the ups and downs of their lives and relying on each other for the kind of deep down solid support you always seek but don’t always find in life. And now the Class of 1986 was saying goodbye with a virtual guarantee that they would never again be all together in the same place, and some of them would really and truly never see each other again. The closest friendships, of course, would survive, and others would be renewed at reunions. But caught up in separation anxiety, it was hard for them – and for that matter, for me – to keep that in mind.

I am writing this blog on Sunday night, May 27, in the town of Andover, MA. My car is crammed with stuff my son and I loaded out of his dorm room (not the first such trip this spring) in anticipation of moving everything else out when he graduates a week from today. As he was counting shorts and shirts to make sure he’d have enough clothing for the last week, I thought I detected a glimmer of disbelief. I know for sure that as he contemplated the very last academic task he would ever complete at Andover, especially given the incredibly intense pace he has been setting for the past few weeks, he shook his head slightly with wonderment.

Though it seems like a natural progression and just the right time for him to be graduating, I still share many of his feelings. Last night, after his final track meet, I drove in to “My Brother’s Pizza Place” where the owner, after greeting me, asked the ritual question, “Hot Veggie?” On my way out, the owner called, “Was everything fine?” and I responded, as always, “Excellent.” Tonight, I went to the Starbucks, the frozen yogurt place, and then to McDonalds. It seems I’m putting off going home, and I suppose I am. It’s reminiscent of two years ago when I dropped my son off after Thanksgiving break and made stop after stop until I had no more excuses to keep from going the rest of the way home. I wrote a blog about the evening, looking back on the day we first dropped my son off and moved him into the dorm for his first term as a boarder, and I read through it tonight. The big difference – then, I didn’t want to return to a house full of emptiness. Tonight, I don’t want to leave a town I’ve grown to love as a second home.

We focus hard on students as graduation approaches, and rightfully so. It is their day, celebrating their accomplishments, marking in many ways a passage from childhood to adulthood. Yet graduation is also a rite of passage for those of us caught up in the lives of these alumni/ae-to-be. For six years, as I’ve rounded the corner by the meeting room on my way back up to Jesser with coffee and a plate of food, I’ve met the smiling faces of the Class of 2012 on their way to lunch, and a lump forms in my throat as I envision the school without them. And if Andover is first and foremost my son’s home and a place to which he is likely return throughout his life, he is not the only one about to leave it behind.

But he will, just as the Seniors of Stoneleigh-Burnham will drive or be driven off campus on the afternoon of June 8. Over the summer, they will all visit each other, text each other, Facebook each other, send off pictures of what they are doing. The potential permanence of the threads that connect them will become more apparent. And as they head off in the fall to their first days at their new schools, the whole ritual will start all over again – for them as well as for us.

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Filed under Alumnae, Graduation, On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized