Graduation Under the Trees

If there’s anything the 2020-2021 school year has given us, it’s an overabundance of opportunities to be innovative.  After missing their graduation a year ago, we wanted to make sure our 3rd-5th graders had a memorable ceremony.   Although some of the mitigations for COVID-19 have eased up a bit, we still have to follow the guidelines for schools and childcare facilities.  We aren’t quite ready to open up the school to parents and visitors, but we did feel it was important to have a beautiful experience to send this year’s group of graduates out into the world.  The plan we came up with was to have an outdoor graduation, early in the morning, under the trees.  It turned out even more precious than I’d anticipated.

Around nine o’clock, we opened the side gate and a wave of parents entered our playground for the first time in over a year.  At first it was quite emotional, thinking of all we’ve been through as a community.  In a few minutes the graduates, all clad in their new turquoise grad shirts, approached the gathering and took their seats in a shady spot beneath the trees.  The children sang beautifully (accompanied by a classmate on the ukulele) and heard kind words from several significant adults in their school life.  One child read her poem about being an ally to the earth, and another student was recognized for her shirt design.  They were awarded their diplomas and ended with singing “Celebrate Life on Planet Earth.”  

Conversations with parents followed as we reflected on their incredible year filled with immense challenges and accomplishments.  A number of parents commented on the poetry collection I helped the children publish.  More than a few voiced their appreciation for the depth of their writing, especially the poems about friendship and social justice.  As I tried to explain what was behind all of it, these words came forth:  

We work from the inside out.  Our approach is to make contact with the hearts and minds of children, giving them a pathway to step into their own understandings of how they can benefit the world.  We change the world by igniting the fire of compassion, empathy, and activism in children.  We teach them to care and understand that even if their life is going along well, that doesn’t mean everyone else’s is that way. The people of this planet who face vast obstacles can’t do it without us.  They need our help.  This year has been about expanding awareness of social justice issues as a staff, then translating it into a message our students can understand.  We change the world by cultivating the light in each child, then releasing them when the time is ripe so they can shine it out into the world.  As Amanda Gorman wrote: “When day comes we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it, for there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”

I hope the world is prepared for this forthcoming burst of light.