As I sat and watched my son’s junior high class receive awards and recognition for finishing eighth grade last night, I felt a wave of feeling–I need a word here, something a compound German word might cover–that encompasses thoughts and feelings about the entirety of life and learning, our connections as families and community and the range of achievements, some quite remarkable in their simplicity.
Every single student present last night received an honor: a paper certificate, a moment on stage, a handshake for everything from top rank at the state science fair or winning a geography bee to simply participating in a sport or having a role as “townsperson” in the play. There were two and half hours’ worth of names and accomplishments read out loud as each student crossed the stage to shake hands with the principal and then Keith Hardy (one of my favorite school board members).
I got really verklempt. I have seen some of these kids grow up and can imagine knowing the others. Even from the back of the auditorium, I could see how much they have grown physically in just a couple of junior high years. The jagged energy of emerging adulthood was expressed in their dressy graduation outfits and their can’t-keep-their-hands-to-themselves antics as they waited to go on stage. These kids are fascinating. As I looked around the audience, I could see many family members that felt the same way, their eyes shining as they watched.
As a parent and as a teacher for many years, I know about the things that put making the ‘A’ honor role and just making it to school some days on a par as accomplishments. It is not a level playing field, for any number of reasons we struggle to address as a community.
There was the child with autism (I know his mom and how much she has trusted the community to care for him as she does) who crossed the stage with all of his classmates, an accomplishment immeasurable by GPA standards.
There was the child who was chosen as student of the year. I remember when she arrived in fifth grade, an immigrant from Africa, so very shy. Who could have imagined her confidence in delivering a speech last night worthy of a high school senior?
There were the students, many, who are still like tight buds, unready to bloom. They may not be ready to show off their best and most beautiful qualities quite yet. No matter what, they are growing. Do they weight grades for kids who travel more miles in getting from D’s to C’s than those who pass between A’s and B’s?
At one point, an award was given in memory of a student who was noted for his perfect attendance. It reminded me of what an important lesson there is in just showing up. It is difficult to show up at school, day after day, when one struggles with a whole range of things like organizing thoughts into writing, math equations or just dealing with intense feelings of love, hate and confusion–like, how do I measure myself when I struggle to measure up in school?
The simple lesson in showing up is that it teaches us to persist, despite challenges. It teaches us to have patience and build the connections that are going to sustain us. I thought of this too as I looked at the parents and siblings seated around me. We had all showed up, ready to applaud and cheer.
We, the parents and elders, have graduated, several times, visited life’s highs and lows. We get how the system of grade point averages works. What we have learned is that grades flow up and down. It’s attendance that matters. If you’re a student, show up for class. Show up for your job, your family, just show up. It’s a great life lesson.
By showing up, we spread the average of success and failure over time. The result is something steady and strong. And it doesn’t hurt to be playful sometimes. Eighth-graders have that down pat.