8th Grade Graduation 2017– My first commencement address!

Welcome to 2017 graduation!

So, I’m a newcomer to the community here. These 8th graders are the group that convinced me to take the job, at about this time last spring, when I came to their celebration. As part of their celebration, they were shooting off rockets in the field, and Michaela, Addie, and Clara were explaining the rockets to my 6 year old daughter. I was looking at these girls that were so confident, smart, and proud of themselves, and I thought– I want these girls to be the role models that my daughter looks up to. So I called Scott the next day and took the job.

Since then, I’ve been spending my year learning as much as I can about Schoolcraft, and the kids have been my best teacher.

Part of the mythology surrounding Schoolcraft is Move In/Move Out. The beauty of our program is wrapped up in the ‘summer camp feel’ that many of our staff and students have highlighted over the years– and an obvious contributing factor to this feeling is the fact that we are quite literally located at a summer camp.

However– as our year winds down, this means that Concordia Language Villages summer camp program starts to amp up– bottom line, we have to take every shred of evidence that a K-8 school lives here for 9 months of the year and put it away for the summer.

As I was preparing these remarks, my office was in boxes, with only the essential paperwork and my computer left out. I also had several dozen red roses, all decked out with Schoolcraft blue and green ribbons.  As I was packing last night, looking at the disarray of my first year at Schoolcraft scattered all around the office, but also taking notice of the flowers that represent our graduates, I thought it was such an interesting dichotomy– out of all of this chaos and craziness, the daily grind of running a school, we have something so perfect set apart.

I was reminded of the Buddhist tradition of sand mandalas, which is what’s happening on the screen behind me.

If you’re not familiar with mandalas, it’s a really fascinating ritual. Monks will spend hours of time creating beautiful geometric masterpieces out of sand. It takes them days and weeks to finish their artwork. The word mandala means “universe,” and the philosophy behind this practice is that as the monks build the mandala, they are thinking good thoughts, well wishes, and focusing their good intention. They believe that those good intentions become a part of the mandala.

After it’s complete, the monks enjoy it for a short time, and then the literally sweep it all away with tiny brooms. Sometimes they package up the sand to give away as a token, and sometimes, they toss the sand into the wind and let it scatter. The idea is that they have had their time to enjoy the beautiful universe they have worked so hard to create together, and now it is time to let it go.

As I make ready to end my first year as a Schoolcrafter, I am struck by this image of a sand mandala. Every September, we gather our materials and our wits, and begin crafting a beautiful image that represents our mission statement: Schoolcraft Learning Community exists to help develop individuals to be self-directed, lifelong learners who have the skills and knowledge to confidently and compassionately navigate in the world. We set our conditions just right for each student to give them what they need as individuals to become an embodiment of that mission statement, and we spend all year working together towards this ideal.

And then in May, we sweep it all away. We put everything into boxes, we pack it all into trailers, and we bid farewell to the journey of the past year.

I have been thinking that this practice, even though it is exhausting, is probably pretty psychologically healthy. We do not hold onto clutter, or historical residue. We enjoy the moments that manifest before us, and then we let it scatter into the wind.

As I look at our graduates, I see two universes. Two masterpieces. Each of these students is their own masterpiece– with their own hopes, dreams, ideas, and perspectives, and ready to walk their own path. For several years, we have been walking with you, learning from you even as we’ve been teaching you.

It’s been our job, and our great pleasure, to walk with you, and to prepare you as well as we can so that you can continue your journey without us.  

Each of you is also a piece of the Schoolcraft universe. Our journey would have been different without you, and after you leave, our journey will not be the same. Each of you contains the best of what Schoolcraft has to offer. The teachers have told me over and over again this year that what makes this place so special is not our beautiful setting, our interesting buildings, our well-meaning but slightly crazy staff– It’s the kids. The kids are our secret sauce.

You are our pride and joy, our hopes and dreams, our well-wishes and our good intentions. You are our life’s work. I said earlier that you are the reason that I took the job, and that’s true in a real way, and a more philosophical way– because you are why all of us took the job. You are our masterpieces. And now it is time to sweep you up, and let you go.

As you begin this next part of your journey, it is my hope that you can carry with you the experiences and memories from your years here. I will be forever grateful to how open-hearted you have been to me in my first year, and how much you have taught me about being a Schoolcrafter. I hope very much that our paths cross again.

Thank you.