Imagine it is graduation day for your 8th grade students. After a 10 minute hike carrying their caps and gowns on hangers, they are gathered with you and another guide in a tarp enclosed canopy near a stream and the entrance to a trail in the woods. They are sitting in a circle having a pre graduation ceremony and sharing their reflections on their time at the school. There is laughter and tears. Then we hear it…. the drumming, rhythmic in the distance.
Quickly they clean up, put in last minute bobby pins to keep their caps on straight. We review final details about when to switch their tassels. The drumming is louder and now we can hear the voices singing, “A-O, A-O, Earth and moon and sun and star, All together, All together, Turn, Turn, Turn.” No longer are they the ones on the outside coming to gather and escort to the graduation ceremony. No longer are they the ones beating the drums over the crest of the hill.
Coming down the hill, still singing, is the entire school from the youngest to those whose turn will come the next spring, to all the guides, staff and leadership team. They are all singing and beating the drums. They encircle the canopy and we peek out, watching them all get a chance to go by and gaze upon those who will be transitioning to something beyond our school. There are smiles and waves, yet a feeling of reverence. Once all have passed, we begin the journey to the community room where all the waiting parents, family members and friends are waiting. The student escorts find a place on the floor in front of the seated crowd and sit patiently.
Imagine a graduation ceremony designed by those graduating. While certain rituals exist, such as the one described above, the current graduates work with the adults to decide how they will personalize the ceremony. This year happens to be a year of many students with musical talents. At various points throughout the ceremony, graduates get up and sing, play instruments and even do a bit of dancing. The graduates aren’t stoic. They freely laugh and hug when the moment arises.
Imagine that the graduates have spent time over the year with the youngest students in mentoring relationships, cooking together, day hiking on theAppalachian Trailtogether. Imagine these first year students collecting flowers from the land throughout the year and saving and pressing them until the ceremony. Special bookmarks that they created using the pressed flowers are handed to their graduate mentor so that they can take a piece of the school with them on the next step of their journey. Imagine joyful hugs and squeals of delight from the graduates as they receive their special gift.
Imagine all watching a slide show of the graduates as they grew up in this school, seeing them as they were and as they are now. Imagine hearing reflections from younger students about each graduate and what they will remember most about them. Imagine being their guide throughout the year, struggling at times with their fierce independence, creativity and perhaps some disorganization and forgetfulness, wondering how they will do in their next step, outside the day to day environment of this caring community, yet all the while seeing the beautiful gifts unique to them. Imagine heart bursting pride, as if they were your own children up there shining that day, knowing that they are ready and will successfully make the transition. Imagine as they spontaneously join hands during the final song, boys and girls alike, and sway to the joyful singing of the school community. Imagine…….
This is what I live each spring as I say good bye to another group of Ridge and Valley Charter School graduates.