My first freshman graduated today. We grew up together, me a first year teacher when they were freshman, and now as they graduate I feel I have experienced some kind of rite of passage as well. I wrote little blurbs for a few for when they come up to the stage, after saying their name, but before they actually take their diploma in hand. Here is one I wrote for one of my dearests:
"WR. In the hallway, in the classroom and on the basketball court, your smile and intelligence have lit up our community. Your quiet and fierce determination to do things your own way has helped you achieve success today: may it continue to do so. May your life bring your joy and deep satisfaction. You deserve it. Congratulations, WR."
As a staff, we wished them success, joy, satisfaction. We admired them, acknowledged their accomplishments. Some of us sang a song to them, which got everybody clapping and energized. It was a simple, sweet graduation ceremony. I felt (I thought strangely) a little numb.
Then I went to the staff after party down the street, where we were going to be celebrating and relaxing together, and also toasting the staff that are leaving this year to have babies, pursue PhDs, move to Miami and get married, become lawyers. We spent over an hour singing the praises of the people who are leaving us. We sang, cried, told stories, expressed gratitude, cited evidence of the amazingness of each person and all the ways they would leave us with holes in their absence but also with the teachings and memories to inspire us and continue to help us grow.
After about the 5th person (we had 8) I realized that we could do this for every single one of us. There wasn't one person I could think of that we would have to fake it for. We genuinely love, admire, appreciate and learn from each other. It was at this point that I started crying, really feeling the grief and upsurge of energy that perhaps needs to come on graduation days, on days when we say goodbye.
I realized that we had done the same sort of thing (albeit with a little less specificity or at least at less length) for our graduates that morning. This specific expression of love and appreciation, admiration and encouragement, is amazing. It was amazing to hear, to say, to feel indirectly, knowing that I would get it directly if I decided to leave too.
I thought it was deeply nurturing for our community, even as we say goodbye to so many, to reinforce and make explicit our deep wells of gratitude. Statistics aside, I believe today that what we're doing matters, that we're being human together in amazing ways, and that we can do amazing things, that I can do amazing things as a part of our community.
May we all know our own worth, which is extraordinary, downright priceless. May we weep with abandon when we say goodbye and welcome the relief and hope that comes of endings and new beginnings.