This week we graduated our 3rd class...later today I will write about this event. But for old times' sake, I wanted to "repeat" (am I not like broadcast TV???) my blog post from our first graduation in 2010:
The Last of the Firsts
Last week, exactly at the time I am writing this now, we began the very last of the firsts at this toddler-age school here in Jordan.
Last week right now, His Majesty landed at the helipad, he walked over and joined the procession of the entire school of faculty and students and we made a double-inversion gauntlet procession to kick off the first graduation of the first senior class at KA. It was an impressive graduation, formal and elegantt, with spectacle and sweep and remembrance. It must have looked effortless…
I sat on the Commencement Planning Committee—so I know otherwise that it was an effortless event. But like all things that look effortless, there was untold amount of wrangling and wondering and deciding and working. What an interesting series of meetings over the last six months…think of all the things that must be decided for a First Graduation: Where should the event be? What should the graduates wear? Will the King attend? Should we give out awards? What about speeches? What should the music be? How should we get everyone to the space? Who should be invited? Endless questions and decisions!
The group of 8 of us that comprised the committee (including two seniors) come from different backgrounds, and each adult seemed compelled to describe (over and over) how his or her own graduation had been, and of course, you want to impress upon the others the beauty of your own graduation and the need to replicate its best features. It was almost comical as we waded through the first important questions. We have a stadium on campus—should the graduation be there? Should we copy other schools’ graduations in Amman? Do we have the event in the morning with a Graduation Breakfast? Certainly not in the afternoon with the blazing sun overhead…we had discussions about how schools do it in Jordan, the United States, the UK, and South Africa. Here is how my girl’s Catholic school did it… Here is how my public high school in the mid-west did it… Here is how my prep school in New England did… Here is how my prep school in New York did it…
Then came the arguments about what to wear…robes or nice outfits? Oh, the wounded hearts over the prospect at not wearing graduation robes. Hackley and Deerfield eschew the graduation robes in favor of simple and tasteful white dresses for girls, and suits for the young men. Oh, the gasping for air when a couple of us floated that suggestion…then once we knew that robes were ordained by the gods, what should the material be and in what colors? We saw fabric samples over the next few months, and we tested the colors (the school colors are actually several, a kind of khaki (which can come out mustard) and red and blue and gold (which can look even more mustard-y than the Dijon-esque khaki). Decisions…decisions…
It was decided that the lawn behind the Administration Building would be an excellent place, a more intimate place than the stadium—but for how many people? If there were 84 graduates, how many guests would come? Who had the vision to imagine how many chairs could be set up on that lawn? How would we bring in the graduates? Eventually, about 1500 outside guests would be there last week on the sunny late afternoon.
My favorite debate was about the procession and whether the King would march in the long double-inversion promenade. “The King cannot wait!” ran one argument, while another countered, “But I know the King wants to march!”” That little debate was just the funniest…(so you know, he enthusiastically marched the whole way, waiting as the entire upper school and faculty marched and he applauded for every single person…and then after the graduation he stayed longer than expected at the reception so the beloved monarch could meet with the ecstatic families. Eventually he took off in the helicopter, happily waving to the crowd below.)
So as the weeks sped by, the decisions whittled down…and schedules got made. Glimmers of all of our most beloved features of graduations past would find their way into this first one at our school. The King eagerly accepted the invitation, and he would bring royal bagpipers and a royal orchestra as well. The seniors would sing a newly-minted evensong that called on the school mascot of the Lion (the words “roar” and “purr” both appear in the lyrics!). And there would be a formal Senior Dinner the night before for graduates and parents—awards would be presented there from departments and in honor of graduates who best exemplify the “five guiding principles” of the school. And there would be a breakfast the following morning at the headmaster’s house before the formal graduation festivities in the late afternoon.
Graduation Day for most teachers is a bittersweet affair—it is surely welcome since our summer vacations are just around the corner, but of course, it also contains the hardest part of being a teacher—saying good-bye to beloved students.
I was the Dean of the Senior Class this year, but as the year wound down, I felt less a sense of loss and more a sense of relief that we had weathered the year. After all, this was a senior class that witnessed no model of seniors before them here—this group had been the oldest grade three times, since they were the 10th graders when the school opened with 9th and 10th graders. Of course, that will never happen again, but as the oldest three times, and without older models, their growth was a little stunted. They never quite elevated themselves as senior classes do. One of the exciting things in a high school is watching the juniors become seniors and seeing that elevation, an emotional and psychological elevation and compulsion toward leadership, toward maturity, toward polishing all the skills they have as they propel themselves toward university. It was not the fault of the seniors entirely, it is just the nature of being the first graduating class.
Anyway, as the procession began, Julianne and I led the senior class through the inversion, past His Majesty, and in front of the sea of happy faces enthralled at the pomp and ceremony of our first graduation. Alia read the names beautifully—this is not an easy job—so that each name sounded like an angel granted the diploma. The senior then ascended the steps to the dais and shook the hands of our headmaster and His Majesty. Each graduate then walked around the perimeter of the audience and back into place. All to thunderous applause.
While I was not as emotional a wreck as I often am on Graduation Day, I couldn’t help but get choked up yet again over the abstraction of graduation. Here was a group of young people, full of the excitement of newly minted diplomas and hats in the air, off to exciting destinations around the world. About 70% of the class is attending university in the United States, with a bunch also in the UK, and some in Canada, and a group around the Middle East. Even with the frustration fomented by some of these adolescents, there is a beauty and promise in every graduation. They are not only linked to other graduations I treasure—at my former schools in North Carolina and New York, but of course, my own, a zillion years ago at the Coliseum in Cincinnati. There is a breathtaking beauty and poignance in watching a graduate clutch that little piece of paper that professes that they are ready to take on the next stage of the world.
What will these graduates see in their lifetimes? What are they able to do and access because of this school? Because of these friends? What heartaches will they know? How will they manage those heartaches? How will they take advantage of the technology in the world and keep connected?
I started out the day mostly experiencing, as I said, relief. But then I thought of the words of the poet Wendell Berry, and another feeling consumed me. Berry wrote a poem called, “The Peace of Wild Things,” which I will copy here:
“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
The poem touches on what it is to be human, to know despair and fear and doubt. These graduates will certainly encounter these emotions over the years, but the poem reminds us that we must seek solace and resolution. The speaker heads into nature and finds a peace. The line “I come into the peace of wild things…” and I think back to 150 blog entries ago when I wrote that some of the faculty looked at these new students at this new school, and we saw “wild dogs.” We joked in those early weeks that our students just felt a little raw, a little untrained…and like one man said, “they remind me of wild dogs.”
Here we were last week—in front of hundreds of attendants, with a proud monarch beaming over the graduates who are off to a stunning assortment of universities, many ivy league universities and other top-tier universities, and I found a peace in the midst of these formerly “wild things.”
Graduation is many things, certainly a time for parties and throwing of hats, and also that solace and resolution and peace. When I came to this place, this nature, this desert, this land of hot sun and stubbly earth, I wondered if I would find solace and resolution. I looked at the faces of the graduates, so untaxed by the grief and despair that will visit them from time to time, and while the bagpipes played, I enjoyed the echoes of grace.