Graduation ceremonies are kind of an 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, Chris was already bouncing and ready to go.
Chris is a Special Education student, kind, funny and honest to a fault Chris 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 Chris, calming, celebrating, and conversing. By the time Chris 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 has been cleverly disguised as a single common goal.