Graduation ceremonies are a kind of optical illusion. As you look at them, the image that forms is this mass of students all celebrating their academic accomplishments and their entry into some new unknown adventure.
But if you look closer that is not what is going on at all. Instead what looks like one mass celebration is, in reality, a collection of small individual victories. From the stands last weekend I saw families whose real victory was not getting through high school, but rather finally sending someone to college. Others that where the expectation was not merely college but top honors and top schools.
I know students in class, many of them spend years walking in and out of my library. I saw kids for whom graduation was a celebration of something else;
An escape route
An end to a ugly chapter
A victory in a war of attrition
An act of defiance
A chance to start over
A tribute to someone lost
The mourning of a loss.
As the kid’s file across the stage, each shaking the hands of administrators they hardly knew I saw another personal victory. Off the stage, in the aisles of kids moving from chair to line, KC was already bouncing and ready to go.
KC is a Special Education student, kind, funny and honest to a fault KC was going to walk (and bounce) to receive his Certificate of Achievement. As proud, as any student there. He was high-fiving every hand he could reach and several he couldn’t. The bounces were getting bigger and the high fives more vigorous.
Without a word and almost without notice the Superintendent stepped off the ceremonial line and slipped down the aisle. For the next 10 minutes or so he stood with KC, celebrating, conversing, and calming. By the time KC was walking across the stage the Sup was back in formation ready to shake his hand, one last time.
For me, all of education seemed to be caught in that small moment. A masterful educator quietly supporting an individual student while simultaneously getting the larger group to their collective goals, which have been cleverly disguised as a single common goal. The skills and subtle moves of the teacher may be moving to a less prominent place in the room, but that has only made their roll all the more powerful.
As is often the case for me, I am probably seeing more than was there. But I am content to believe in both what I saw and what I decided it represented if for no other reason than it made me feel good about the district my kids were apart of for 13 years.