Sunday, June 30, 2013

We all are Wanderers


A week ago, right about now…the concert was just ending in Swasey Chapel at another Denison Singers reunion.

I feel a little like a pastor might about writing another sermon about Christmas. This was another Denison Singers reunion—the fourth since I started writing the blog six years ago, the seventh in just the last decade. What am I supposed to say that hasn’t been said???

But you know, perhaps like a pastor might feel about writing about Christmas, there is always something new to say about something so miraculous and wondrous about a Denison Singers reunion! Just to re-cap, if you might be new to the blog: William Osborne arrived at Denison University in Granville in 1961 and promptly started a madrigal-style singing group. Professor Osborne (once you are past the first week of college you never, ever call him that again) signed his memos “WO” for his initials, and his name is always pronounced thusly, WO. WO remained at Denison until he retired to Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 2003. In 1984, while I was a student at Denison and a member of the Denison Singers, he decided to have a reunion of anyone who had been in the group since 1961 and the participants would put on a concert. They ended up enjoying the visit, the laughter, and the singing. So, since then we have met at least 13 times in 29 years; needless to say, the Denison Singers love doing these reunions.

As in years past, we spend our time making music and making merry at these reunions. While the visiting and the socializing are very important, we all met each other initially tackling difficult music, usually music that we might never have struggled with if it hadn’t been WO’s choice for us. In college, sometimes, we whined about the difficulty and complexity of his choice of music. I think we even wondered if WO purposefully meant to persecute us by having us work on such difficult music! It was not easy stuff nor instantly accessible. That was the point. Back in college the group worked on a program for 15 weeks before a concert. Now we have 72 hours…we have from Thursday evening’s meet-and-greet first rehearsal to the Sunday afternoon now-how-did-we-do-it???? concert.

I no longer whine about the archaic words or complex harmonies. I welcome them! I know the musical conundrums will greet me in the first rehearsal as I sit with fellow tenors Rick and Jeff and Ken and others, some of the most exquisite singers with whom I have ever sung. In fact, I welcome this difficult music because I trust that from Thursday to Sunday we will figure out and understand these pieces, and therein lies the secret miracle and wonder of these reunions. Just like life, certainly like adulthood, there are puzzles and mysteries and ambiguities to face, to grapple with, and to endure. Indeed, I wonder if life is easier for me a little bit because of my 30-year association with the Denison Singers. Maybe I face the puzzles and complexities of life with a little more grace because of the college work and the dozen reunions since I last left the beautiful college on the hill.

We rehearse about 12 hours for the concert over the course of the 72 hour reunion. There are always compositions by some of the talented in-house composers who have been in the group over the years. This year we presented 4 world premieres of pieces! One piece, a particularly demanding piece aurally imagined what insomnia would feel like. Another piece took as inspiration a Renaissance comment that the heart is “felonious” and causes tragedies in our lives. A third piece took the following new poem and set it to music:

We are all Wanderers

Wandering, Wondering, Wistful, Wayward,

Wishing and dreaming and searching for answers,

Loving and learning,

Aching and yearning,

Fearful of pain,

Threatened by joy,

Weary from want, humbled by love.

We all are Wanderers,

Wanderers, wondering why we are here,

And blessing the reason,

‘though it is unclear.


The piano accompaniment wandered all over the ivories. Big surprise! It mirrored how the poet believed we spend our lives wandering and wondering. As we tackled this haunting melody over the weekend, I kept saying this text over and over—all these verbs about how humanity spend time on earth. We are wandering and wondering. And certainly as a Denison Singer, I blessed “the reason” why we had returned again together, in our Brigadoon­-like fashion for another reunion. As I wrote in 2009 after another reunion:  “Reunions are tricky things—they can be tacky, they can lack meaning, they can make you feel old, empty, banal, fat, rudder-less, or worse, trying to relive some former glory days. These Denison Singers reunions avoid all of those pitfalls. Sure, in my head I do spend some time fighting ancient wrongs, humming old hit songs in my head. But these reunions do an amazing thing—it connects me to my many selves, transcending time and place and gives me a lift and an arc to really all I have been and hope to be.

I laugh with people who remember me as an 18 year old—we have the scrapbooks to remind us of the hideous clothes and glasses we thought looked good in the mid-1980s. Seriously, someone should have stopped us from the John Hughes movies-like haircuts and dull looks. We reminisce about the tours we took with Singers (I still feel sorry for the Singers who came the year after my class—will we ever stop talking about the European tour of 1983?????). But then it is not a wallowing in the past.”

Indeed, I took some scrapbooks from the 1980s to the reunion, scrapbooks that I have not looked at in perhaps 20 years, and during our weekend we barely looked at them. We are not coming together for the exercise in nostalgia. We come together to update each other, to check in on dear friends, and again, to tackle difficult music to remind ourselves that we enjoy the puzzle, the process, the struggling together to figure things out.

In fact as we worked on the music last weekend I moved from that piece of wanderers and wonderers and I looked at another of our world premiere pieces, a work that uses the words of St. Francis of Assisi to guide us:

Lord, make me an instrument of peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love; when there is injury, may I bring pardon;

where there is doubt, let me give birth to faith; when only despair, may I bring hope;

where there is darkness, make me a shining light;

where there is sadness, let me be the source of joy.

grant that I may seek to console more than to be consoled;

grant that I may seek to love more than to be loved;

for it is by giving that we receive, by pardoning that we are pardoned…

I had an epiphany! The words of Michael’s piece, the piece unsure about our existence—that’s the piece that resonates with much of our adult lives, but the words of Cliff’s piece, with Francis’ words, well those can be our rudder in life!  Read those words again: love, give, and pardon. Those directives make it clear why we live, why we trudge through, why we should endure. We live to love and to give and to pardon.

The answers to our existence.
I took the words of the questions raised and left hanging from our fourth world premiere piece and used the words from our first world premiere piece to figure out the answer. The answer to why we live. Epiphany!!

Going to a Denison Singers reunion doesn’t have to be so profound, I know, but as I have gotten older, the profundities abound, and understanding myself and the world becomes a little clearer because several dozen former Denison Singers get together.

I often joke that these Denison Singers reunions are like the village in the Lerner/Loewe musical, Brigadoon. This enchanting village magically comes to life once in 100 years, and when that moment passes, and the day ends, the village is no more. But while the village was there—you couldn’t imagine a more exciting place! Our reunions are like that Brigadoon—few of us spend much time in contact during the 104 months in between reunions—real life calls on us and weighs on us. But when the music starts, WO’s lazy circles in the sky, those motets, or the Haydn or the Copland or the Bach or The Silver Swan—we leave the world for a few days and visit, laugh, and sing.

As I drove home last Sunday night, reveling in the afterglow of another reunion, I wondered, “What goals do I have before the next time I see these wonderful people? Who do I want to be when we re-convene? In the next 104 weeks when next we make music together, who do I see myself becoming?” This is the thing about these reunions, it brings together a rosy, now-set-in-amber 1980s of college time, a current assessment of your own personal present, and a chance to look invitingly to a future of growth and transformation.

In the next day emails and texts and calls abounded as we wished each other well and looked forward to the next gathering in June, 2015.

And in the next days there were fewer greetings. The real world reclaims us as we cull the rivulets of our wandering and wondering.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The sum of the parts

It has been two weeks since I left Jordan behind for the summer to spend my restorative break in the United States. But I still have a couple blog entries left in me before I take my summer break from the blog. And with these two weeks cushion of the beginning of summer, it is good to look back over the year, especially about the History and Social Studies Department.

I am stepping down as the Head of the History and Social Studies Department at KA after six years. As the Dean of Faculty, it made good sense not to head an individual department anymore. I did have a habit of trying to poach very good teachers in other departments to join this incredible History gang, and so that probably is not wise in also trying to be Dean of all the faculty! I have loved running the History department, but now I can focus on managing the entire faculty without having a “pet” department on the side.

So, as my last “mandate” as head of our department, I planned our end-of-year gathering in Andy’s garden in Amman a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to celebrate our solid year, bid some dear colleagues farewell, and also put down the gauntlet for a good challenge. I wanted to revive an evening’s activity the department had done in 2008 and 2011.

Let’s have a little trip down memory lane! In 2007-08, the first year KA existed, the tiny History Department read the book called, The Courage To Teach, and one of the things that struck me in the book was this story of Barbara McClintock, a world-famous biologist. Before she died at age 90 she was asked the “heart of her knowing,” and instead of talking about science and all kinds of data-like gunk, she stated, “my relationships with colleagues, my connectedness and community with them,” was at the “heart” of her knowing.

Later in the book author Parker Palmer makes clear that the better we know ourselves, the better educators we will be. “You teach who you are,” he says over and over again. On page 69 of the book, Palmer challenges educators to do something bold and helpful and uplifting: get into groups and tell each member of the group what his gifts and strengths and capacities are. He knows that few faculty groups will actually ever do this, however he urges that it be done and done face-to-face, “if for no other reason than the opportunity it offers to affirm one another as teachers, something we rarely do.”

When I read that in that nascent year of KA, I wondered if that execise could work with us. I almost abandoned the idea, but then one evening in February, 2008 the History Department met at Fatina’s apartment (or was it Yasser’s? or was it Chris Decker’s? I don’t remember the locale, but I remember the rest of the evening vividly. Oh yes, it was in Chris’ apartment with the painting of the Eiffel Tower.) It worked. Then in June, 2011, we did this again at Barry’s house.

In an email last month, I proposed that we tackle this assignment again in our last of this school year.  It is an odd assignment, yes, even a little daunting, but ultimately, it was very rewarding. Barry had said in 2011 that he little sleep the day before this event he was so anxious about it. But Barry blessed the event, even telling some naysayers that you will look upon the evening “with dread” beforehand, and then with “joy and agreement” afterwards.

Here is how the evening would work: each colleague simply goes around the room and identifies the strengths of each colleague and thanks each member of the department for what he or she has brought to the group. It sounds like it is just touchy-feely and something kids might do at camp. But I have found it a meaningful way to affirm and thank our colleagues for the gifts and strengths and capacities they have brought to our department, to our students, and to our school community.

Andy had invited us to his backyard garden in Amman for our end-of-year dinner and send-off to our dear departing colleagues. We feasted on a buffet of Lebanese mezze the roasted meat parade. Then at 8:08 we began in earnest the “assignment” for the evening. Just like my father would do, I monitored the time, checking to see how long the ten of us would spend doing this little compliment-offering session. We finished at 10:33. Wow.

I gave myself an extra challenge this year—I wanted to think about each colleague and then reduce all their strengths/gifts/prowess/skills to one word. Could I find one word that might fit each colleague, and would the one word suit the colleague’s personality and sensibility? Oh, I loved the challenge…and yes, I did it. I wanted to recount, in no particular order what I said about each of these wonderful colleagues that lovely evening in Andy's garden:

·         Andy=Passion

·         Pride=Charlie

·         Joy=Irene

·         Steadfast=Barry

·         Rational=Katie

·         Dogged= Lyman

·         Conviction=Emily

·         Bourrage=Jay

·         Transparent=Fatina

Here is why I felt that each of those attributes perfectly summed up their contributions to our department:

·         Andy     You don’t have to know Andy very long to see and hear about his enjoyment for teaching. He loves it! But I chose the word, Passion, not just for the love angle, but for the biblical Latin angle word that is about passion as a compelling emotion and awe; such feeling is often coupled with suffering. Like most of us, Andy has endured suffering in life, but has emerged with such a contagious emotion about the joys of teaching and it affects us all.

·         Charlie     The word that I associate with Charlie the most is about his self-respect, his honor at where he is from, where he has gone to school, his honor as a historian, his satisfaction with his work in education. This Pride is not about arrogance, but about the dignity and self-respect he has cultivated about his chosen profession.

·         Irene has the shortest word of all my choices, but Joy  is such an unbounding feeling, and it is that boundlessness that Irene exudes in her work, in her friendships, in her faith. There is utter delight and happiness in her teaching, but I would also stress the verb aspect of this word—Irene makes people joyful in all of her pursuits.

·         Barry is not a “showy” teacher so his word should be as solid and unwavering as he is as an educator, friend and colleague. Everything about Barry is Steadfast: he is firm, resolved, faithful, constant and purposeful.

·         Katie had the most difficult role this year a teacher can play ever—she was a first-year classroom teacher. It never gets harder than that, but Katie survived so well because of how Rational she is. She is clear and logical and sensible, and this anchor allowed her to navigate those first-year waters well, and triumph when emotional forces might have brought her down.

·         Lyman     I categorize our new department head as Dogged. In our one year of knowing Lyman, it has become quite clear that he is persistent and tenacious in all the best ways. What great qualities in a leader as he pursues excellence in our department. (He also has dogs!) But this doggedness is about a determination and a will. Those are great qualities!

·         Emily is another of those colleagues that I looked forward to seeing every day. As an educator extraordinaire, I almost chose the word, ‘committed’ for her, but that didn’t seem perfect enough. Commitment is good, sure, but I needed something with a dramatic punch. Conviction! That is commitment with a firm belief, a model belief in what you are doing. That is Emily.

·         Jay      Jay teaches AP Modern European history, among many other courses, and I needed a word that suited his continental interests.  Ahhh…I searched and found a word from the medieval French! Bourrage is the part of the medieval wall that is the stuffing, that important support that holds everything in that wall, in that edifice, together. In our department, Jay is the bourrage!

·         And for Fatina, my colleague of six years, I chose the word Transparent. We think we know what that word means, just like we think we know what Fatina is all about quickly, but it is not the ‘obvious’ part of the definition I like. It is about being clear, and also “admitting light,” and those are the elements of that word that I like in regards to Fatina. Her smile, her wit, her devotion to family and Middle Eastern history brings a light to our department.

After I spoke about each colleague, I distributed a slip of paper with a list of these adjectives for them to see. Look at this list:

·         Passion

·         Pride

·         Joy

·         Steadfast

·         Rational

·         Dogged

·         Conviction

·         Bourrage

·         Transparent

We often joke about being the “best department” in the school, but look at this collection of attributes. Look at this wonderful collection, this list of our parts. I marvel, again, at our department, both doing well professionally and personally. And I am nodding along with Aristotle’s old claim that,“the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Thank you for a wonderful ride, my dear department!



Monday, June 3, 2013

…of self and spirit…


Classes ended this afternoon, drawing to a close the classroom instruction of another school year. But my friends, not just another school year. Today ended my 25th year of classroom teaching! I have concluded 25 years of teaching…wow…for those who need the reminder of my bio, that would be 3 years at Gaston Day School in Gastonia, North Carolina, five years at Charlotte Latin School, eleven years at Hackley, and now six years completed at KA here on the plains of Moab. (I wanted this auspicious day to have even more drama attached, so I invoked the biblical empire of Moab where I live in Jordan to add a little history and color to my declaration and proclamation!)

I love it as much as I ever did…and today proved to be one of those spectacular days in all of its ordinariness and aspirations to extraordinariness…oh, let me talk you through my day…

I woke up early today because I had promised cookies for my class and needed to bake a few dozen for them. I had a meeting first period with one of our new department heads for next year. We talked about how we may improve classroom observations and work toward a tighter and more transparent appraisal process. Then the headmaster and I caught up and worked on some planning for the end of the year meetings with faculty. At 9:00 I had an invigorating meeting with Ruba, one of the most creative and energetic educators I know. She is in charge of an animation lab here that is exciting and we brainstormed on how to persuade faculty to take advantage of these possibilities to enrich and deepen the students’ learning. We talked for almost an hour about how to use these creative opportunities to solve problems and mine new understandings of everything from biology to the humanities.

I had a student come by with a present this morning as well! This student had taken one of my favorite paintings, Two Men Contemplating the Moon, and she appropriated the teacher and student in that painting (giving the student long hair, since she wanted to be the stand-in for the student of the Friedrich painting!) but had them contemplating a sunset over our school’s campus. What a great treat to add to my collection in my office! A student then came by to talk about how nervous he is for his upcoming summer trip to “Seeds of Peace” in Maine. This young man is a committed Palestinian and while he is eager to attend the camp with many other Arabs, Israelis and Americans, he also knows that many of the other kids come with zealous arguments and he wanted to brainstorm how to handle this “one- upmanship” among these new peers. This was another great opportunity to discuss how to cultivate the right attitudes with peers with different beliefs and perhaps pave the way, well, as the name of the camp suggests, to plant some seeds for peace.

I needed to spend some time with the accounting office checking on the professional development budget and see if I could squeeze out a few more dinars for conferences for people. I needed to set up an interview for a new vacancy in computer science.

I had a few moments…whoops, someone else wanted a chat. A young teacher came by and wanted to discuss how his course had ended and how to plan more purposefully for the ending of a course from now on. I love analyzing  a course and thinking about how to plan for the culminating moments of a course when students can stand on a metaphorical mountain and see from where they have come and what they have achieved. We tabled the discussion for lunch, but then picked up on it afterwards.

Finally, it came to teach class. This class is the “rump” class of the AP Art History cognoscenti of the year, a wonderful group of 15 girls. All the boys had been seniors and graduated last week. All day long I had looked forward to this class—of course, I did everyday anyway, but this day had a special twist to it.

The plan had been that yesterday we would finish all the art curatorial projects for the year and then today we would watch some clips from the outstanding Ed Harris film, Pollock. I had promised cookies and we would conclude the year watching how Jackson Pollock stumbled into his signature “action painting” style and then watch him self-destruct for a while and torture his wife Lee. But after class yesterday, Yasmeen, one of those wondrous bright lights that God let me teach, stopped me and said wistfully, “I really wish we could learn tomorrow, you know, instead of watching the movie. I think that’s a better way to end the year.”

Hmmmm…guess what is more fun for me?!

Then as Yasmeen and I parted she tossed down the gauntlet of a challenge: “You know, I think it would be great if you taught us a really great work to finish the course. I think it should be a work you haven’t taught before.”

Does she know I love a challenge??!!

So, let me get this straight…an adolescent who is just about to cross the finish line of a long school year wants to learn something new on the last day? And not watch a movie??? But the AP test was four weeks ago! Hmmm…she wants to learn something new…

As you know, I became a vegetarian for a month because of a dare, so obviously I would accept her challenge! I needed to go back and discover an art work that is a perfect culmination of the year and something I haven’t ever taught before…and of course I needed to exceed Yasmeen’s expectations a little!

So last night, I am combing through some art history books, trolling through some websites, and I come up with five, count ‘em, five new paintings to teach the class!! I like me a good challenge…

I had some interesting and funky choices, from a contemporary Cuban artist to a contemporary Chinese artist. “What do you see?  The 15 delightful scholars looked deeply, listened to each other, offered insights about the titles, the natures of the narratives, the possible connections and references…this is what school can be! It was delightful. None of the art works or artists had I ever taught—always exciting to have new material and watch a group of thoughtful students comment and stretch.

So it came time for the last art work of the year…would Yasmeen be impressed??? She wanted a culminating art work…so I gave her a culminating art work! Look above to the beginning of the blog…

They were surprised at my choice. I detected a hint of disappointment. I mean, we had been doing art of the last generation for a bit. On the seniors’ last day I trotted out the Rembrandt painting about The Rape of Europa. But this…what??? Some Asian screen???? Let’s look a little more deeply. Let’s give it a chance…

I confirmed that this was a Japanese ink painting on a screen. One scholar said, “It looks more Chinese.” Excellent! It is a 17th century Japanese attempt at a Chinese Tang Dynasty painting because the artist noted that they of that era admired those ancient Chinese for their love of learning.

What do you see?

Their eyes flickered across the panoramic whole, surrendering to the details and wondering about the narrative. I could tell that they wanted it to be momentous. They spent about a minute in silence, receiving the art, wondering why this would be my choice for the final, final FINAL work of the year.

Of course someone noted the opulent gold background and another commented on the seamless atmosphere punctuated by magically buoyant clouds. Someone remembered the name for the Japanese love of “floating pictures,” and another asked where these people had gathered.

“What brought these people together?” and “Who are they?” seemed to be the main questions…and several offered suggestions like unseen forces had summoned them or they have gathered to witness a momentous occurrence. After a moment I revealed that these were Chinese scholars, in a remote paradise, a utopian realm between heaven and earth. These scholars sought enlightenment, where they came, as the artist wrote, where they came for “the cultivation of self and spirit.” (Dramatic pause.)  I noted that these were seekers of knowledge, of immortality, who have left the everyday world, and we see them here, now immortal, in astonishing stages of enlightenment.

I compared this painting to our class everyday—I also sought a realm beyond the ordinary where we might leave everything else behind and explore the mysteries of art and history. I hoped that this course would lead them to also cultivate “self and spirit.”

How had we done this year? Did they feel the astonishing, immortal tingles of enlightenment, of immortality??

Thank you Yasmeen for making this auspicious day even more meaningful. Thus ends the year on 25 years of teaching…a profession I love beyond measure and opportunities to touch something as powerful and astonishing as intellectual reverie.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Yes, it can still make me cry…


How do we know we’re happy?

It sounds like such a simple question and should have an immediately simple answer. Well, for example, when you are young, you get to sing about it: “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!” If you are clapping your hands, well, then you’re happy! I just find it tougher as I get older to have a quick answer about happiness. I mean, for other things, I think I have a quick answer. I know pretty quickly if I feel loved, or if I feel irritated, or if I feel challenged. But happy—oh, it just is a little harder, because as life gets complicated (Gets complicated????!! Maybe it always was and it is just that we now recognize the complications finally!!) or ambiguous I am not sure if happy means convenient, easy answers, or deeply interesting and complicated answers.

I have a quick answer though as a teacher about happiness. If I want to judge my happiness, or look back and wonder if I was happy in a particular year, I think I need look no further than how many times my eyes well up with tears on a graduation day! If I hit over a dozen moments, heck, if I have more than two, maybe that is really the indication of happiness.

If that is my pseudo-scientific method then, Thursday, May 30th at the commencement exercises for the Class of 2013 at KA, I must be really happy. As my 25th year in teaching draws to a close, I am happily not immune to those tears of sorrow for whom I lose, and the tears of joy for what they might accomplish. Oh, graduations…yes, in case you were wondering…they can still make me cry!

As the faculty lined up for the procession (and if you are new to the blog, you should read blog entries in 2010 and 2012 where I explain the complicated and wonderful procession as the entire school processes within each other in our own process) His Majesty arrived and with him came Hussein, my former student, now very much involved as the Crown Prince in governmental affairs. He looked resplendent in his grey suit, very mature, and then he saw me and waved and smiled in a way that reminded me he is still only 18 years old. That made me tear up. Then I processed with my dear friend Lilli, who recently had a medical scare. It will be taken care of, but her friendship and expertise will not be taken for granted. That made me tear up.

We processed past the seniors, looking every bit as excited as someone could as we began the official celebration of their achievements. That made me tear up. As my colleague Mazen’s son read his graduation speech, I teared up…

I won’t recount every single work-out for my tear ducts because, let’s face it, between the ceremony and the hugs and well-wishing afterwards, my goal of restraint and composure was tested. But it is more than just the specifics of a particular class that make me tear up. It is more than the fact that I will miss Faisal and Omar and Hanna and Elias and Faris and Walid and Talal and Li Zi’an and Jin and Izz and Tammara and Aziz and Hamzeh and Moutasem and Renee and—you get the picture, I love these kids. I suppose I was caught up in what Danish philosopher Kierkegard once wrote over 150 years ago: “If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but…for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.” That’s what turns me into one of those characters from Our Town who apologizes, “Oh, I always cry at weddings.” So, yes, I tear up all over the place on graduation day. The possiblenever gets boring! What our young adults may achieve and change never gets boring.

Later in the graduation, Hamzeh, one of my six advisees, was named the valedictorian of the class. This is the second year in a row that one of my advisees earned this top spot! Hamzeh continued to work assiduously, never distracted by senioritis and earned all A’s for this year. If you are a long-time reader of the blog, this is the same young man who last year did his Art History curatorial project on art that proclaimed, “I’m Sexy and I Know It!” He is a gem. Then a few moments later two students were named for the “King Abdullah II Prize,” our all-around prize—essentially, the prize for whom the adults at the school would like to be when they grow up. Emran and Jin had been selected. Both superior scholars and human beings!!! There go the tear ducts again. It is hard to believe that anything is beyond the reach of these outstanding young adults.

Beginning to end, the graduation is ceremony is one hour long. And there really is no rushing, but each of the 100+ graduates has their moment in the sun (literally, of course, it is always sunny in Jordan). Julianne waits with each one alone before ascending the stage to receive the KA diploma from His Majesty. I love to watch that moment as she talks with them, calming their fears and thanking them for their contributions to the school. That is another of my favorite things to watch in the graduation.

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. For 25 years this has been the necessary part of growth—they must leave you.

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?

The one year I did not tear up during graduation was 2010. That year I felt more relief than sadness. 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.”
--Wendell Berry

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 360 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 again this 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. And happiness.