Tag 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

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

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

What’s Simple Is True

The middle school recently celebrated Founders’ Day, a tradition initiated (logically enough) by the 10 founding students. Seven years ago this month, they asked if future middle school students could have a special day off just for the middle school, to have fun and feel special and to remember the Founders. Since then, traditions have built up and although MOCA (middle school student government) technically plans the day from scratch each year, the schedule generally comes down to breakfast and a movie, tie-dying t-shirts, a barbeque and an afternoon of fun and games. Each year puts their own stamp on those traditions, but the general outline stays pretty much the same.

Six year seniors.

This year, the students asked if they could invite the Seniors who were former middle school students to join them for Founders’ Day. We agreed to ask them to join us for lunch, and they joyfully accepted. So it was that I left the Garden Cinema early to zip back to school and ensure the barbeque was lit and food was ready to go. The six-year Seniors arrived at Bonnie’s House about the same time as I did with these huge smiles on their faces, and shortly later they were enthusiastically playing softball down on the diamond despite having neither bat nor ball.

Before too long, the first wave of middle schoolers also arrived, with Hank helping out at the grill while Andrea returned with the WAV to bring back another couple of groups of students as Ellen, Karen, and Tony helped keep track of everyone. It takes a while to feed four dozen students and their teachers, and as some students patiently waited for burgers (beef or veggie) to come off the grill, others who had already finished formed an impromptu band in Bonnie’s House, ran around on the field, posed for pictures with six-year Senior Big Sisters, and generally found ways to make their own fun.

Founders’ Day this year followed close on the heels of another day off, the all-school celebration of spring and the Earth that has come to be called Spearth Day. As that is the day when yearbooks get passed out, the realization that the end is coming all too fast settles in uncomfortably. For all we say time flies, the fact is there is a kind of timelessness to a school year and it seems, for better and for worse depending on the day (mostly for better), as though it will last forever. But of course it doesn’t, and signatures captured in yearbooks – and drawn in Sharpie on Founders’ Day t-shirts – are in a way an attempt to capture and freeze time itself.

Stoneleigh-Burnham School 7th and 8th grade students.

This year, the middle schoolers are somewhat more jittery than usual about the approaching summer vacation. All of the kids – this year’s 7th graders, the returning 8th graders, and new 8th graders have forged deep and lasting friendships, and the idea of giving up 24/7 contact can be really scary. One current 8th grader periodically looks at me with achingly haunted eyes and says she does. not. want. vacation. to. start.

I’m no different, really. As I was exercising this evening, I suddenly stopped in the middle of a jumping jack and ran upstairs to pull out a ten-year-old CD, recorded by the upper school rock band then known as PW Rock. I alternated between prepping and listening as the voices of Mary Dooley, Nancy Ko, and Katie McClary filled my living room. And then my eyes filled as they reached the chorus of Jewel Kilcher’s beautiful song, “What’s Simple Is True“:

The more I live
The more I know
What’s simple is true
I love you

Of course, these kids do love each other, and we love them as well. Rituals between now and the end of the year will help give expression to that love as well as providing plenty of opportunities to kick back and have fun. And of course, students are still actively involved in learning, with greater insight and sophistication than in the fall but no less energy and passion. Still, 4:00 p.m. on the afternoon of June 8 will inevitably come. The campus will fall silent. And as I pick up the last few programs from the 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony, I will start the process of moving forward, reviewing the year with the team and examining what we can learn from it, planning for next year and getting summer mailings ready to go. But first, I will read every name on the program one more time. I will look over to the corner where my Humanities 7 students started every class. I will pause and blow my nose and stare out into space. Then, and only then, I will turn and walk down the stairs and out the building.

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Filed under Alumnae, Graduation, In the Classroom, On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective

Moving Forward After Tremendous Growth: 8th Graders Move Up

“Is it just me, or was that an especially emotional Moving Up Ceremony this morning?” I looked at my colleague Pete, who was himself moving on, to a school in New Jersey. I knew what he meant. Our 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony is one of the most beautiful and heartfelt of the many rites and routines the school has developed to aid all of us in transitioning out of the year. The ceremony centers on tributes read to each 8th grader by her advisor, and they are all unique to each individual student, beautifully written and delivered as the soon-to-be high schooler stands beaming next to her advisor. Only this year, more students than ever before began to cry while they were up there. My voice usually catches a few times as I am reading, but I nearly lost it completely when I looked over and noticed twin streams trickling down one of my advisee’s cheeks.

Part of it was the tremendous growth these kids had shown while they were here. Part of it was the close relationships so unabashedly visible to all. Part of it was backstories about particular kids who had been or were still facing a tough road one way or another. But those elements are always there. No, I strongly suspect much of it was that four dearly beloved members of the middle school team were moving on, three of whom had been with us for five years (and who were in fact primarily responsible for my deciding to change the subject header for our minutes from “MS Faculty Meeting…” to “MS Team Meeting…”). Some of the kids had asked to have a chance to say goodbyes as part of the ceremony, and as they choked up one by one, taking turns relieving each other until everyone had said what she needed to, I can’t believe there were many dry eyes in the room.

Every year at this time, as I take stock of the year and look at my students’ learning, I also take stock of what I have learned. That we really need to cut back Humanities 7 to six units in order to be able to go as deep as the kids want to. That we really need three advisory periods per week. That the Class of 2016 is an extraordinary community of amazing writers and we need to nurture that going forward. That the Class of 2015 is going to have an instant and major impact on our Upper School’s music program. And that my toes look horrible with pink nail polish.

That last bit, of course, comes from Pink Toenail Day organized by the faculty and staff in support of breaking free of gender stereotypes and particularly of those of our students who most actively and deliberately broke them. Those students have graduated now and moved on, but just as they felt safe and comfortable to express their inner selves at our school, so too will there be future students who will need and appreciate the same atmosphere of support. Indeed, they may already be out there.

Pink Toenail Day was always about symbolic expression of a support that was already there, and I for one will be able to find other symbolic ways of expressing that support that don’t clash with my skin tone. First and foremost, though, the deep down support must be clear and unequivocal, for returning students and faculty and for new students and faculty. We are a team, individual voices rising in community. So we pause, take stock, honor where we’ve been. We say a heartfelt good-bye, hoping those moving on stay in touch. And we hunch our shoulders, look to the future, and begin the exciting work of creating next year’s community.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Filed under Graduation, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

On the occasion of your graduation.

June 4, 2010 marked exactly six years since the day I walked across the platform at Stoneleigh-Burnham School and received my diploma. Since that day I have (in no particular order), graduated from college, become Associate Director of Admissions, Student Activities Coordinator and big sister/mentor/pseudo-mom to 18 pre-teen girls at Stoneleigh-Burnham School, learned the hard way that you can’t make ice cream sandwiches if the cookies haven’t cooled for AT LEAST a day, figured out that you should always take a change of clothes when visiting old friends and that Boston really isn’t far from Greenfield (even though everyone from Western MA thinks it is). I’ve discovered that if you make funfetti anything everyone will love it and that if your cookies vary from the standard chocolate chip/peanut butter/sugar (or some variation on these three flavors) pre-teen girls won’t like them.

I recognize that these experiences do not make me wise…I still have a WHOLE lot to learn, but I have learned every step of the way and on the occasion of your graduation I would like to share some of what I have learned with you.

First, and foremost, this is not an ending but a beginning. Stoneleigh-Burnham will always be a part of your life and as you leave it behind to begin the next chapter of your life rejoice in the experiences you have had here. You are part of something wonderful and you are prepared to take on the world. Leave with the knowledge that you have made a difference in the lives of your teachers, classmates and friends. Stoneleigh-Burnham will never forget you.

Second, remember to have fun. Often throughout the next few years you may find yourself consumed with schoolwork. No matter how busy you are or how many projects you have, remember to take a few minutes each day to enjoy life. Though it may be a cliche, you are only young once…enjoy the next few years, they won’t be like any others.

Third, remember where you came from. It is easy to get caught up in things as a young adult. Sometimes it can be difficult to know which path is the right one. Remember your roots and where life has already taken you. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in or to take the path less traveled. You’ll be amazed at the experiences you might have otherwise missed.

Fourth, invite others to be a part of your life. It is easy to get caught up in the college experience. Remember that it is important to include those you care about in your life even when they are far away (whether that’s Greenfield or Korea). It’s easy to forget to call old friends or to send notes to teachers who influenced you, but remember that you wouldn’t be where you are today without their help. Emails and letters remind those you care about that they still matter.

Finally, remember that even you can make a difference. Sometimes it really does take just one person…

Once upon a time there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore and as he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer.

He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. He began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching  down to the shore, picking something up and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish in the ocean.” “Why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?” “The sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.” “But, young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and  miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean, past the breaking waves and said – “It made a difference for that one.”

-Author Unknown

 

Congratulations and best wishes to all the 2010 graduates. Go out into the world and make us proud!


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