Graduation Remarks June 2008: This Is the Day

Posted July 14, 2008

"This Is the Day I've Been
Waiting for My Whole Life"

Remarks to the Grade 6 Class of 2008
at the Graduation Dinner, June 2, 2008

Peter A. Barrett, Head of School

About a month ago, the children in N1 and N2 presented their music program in the Nursery School and Lower School music room. The following week, the teachers in one of the Nursery classrooms wrote in their newsletter to parents, “Thanks for coming out to support your children last week for the Nursery music program. We felt like they really did a lovely job, and they certainly adored having you come to watch them sing. As we lined up in the classroom to go downstairs, [one of the students] confided to [a teacher], ‘This is the day I’ve been waiting for my whole life.’”

I’m not sure how many of you remember your own Nursery music program. It’s the one at which then Mrs. Spector, and now Mrs. White, alerts parents before the children enter the music room that almost anything can happen. They have asked parents to stay quiet as children enter in order not to make them any more nervous for their first performance and not to eat during the performance, remembering that a bag of popcorn in the audience one year attracted an inordinate amount of attention from the children. They also warn parents that individual children might not sing, might rush out into the audience, or might even choose to unburden themselves of articles of clothing.

My point is not the faint praise that would come with observing that neither Ms. Petersen nor Mr. Smyth need warn your parents these days about what might happen when you appear on stage. Your remarkable spring musical, Rock Around the Block, drove that point home in resounding fashion, and all of you arrived at the final curtain fully clothed.

Instead, I want to return to what that Nursery child whispered to his teacher as the class prepared to go downstairs for the program: “This is the day I’ve been waiting for my whole life.” What a remarkable thing for a four-year-old to observe before an event that the Nursery School endeavors to keep as low-key as possible for the very reason that there’s almost no telling how any one four-year-old might react to being up on stage in front of family and friends—and classmates’ families and friends. “This is the day I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”

No longer Nursery Schoolers, or Kindergartners, or even Lower Schoolers, you would no doubt tread ever-so-carefully when it comes to such a bold—or, perhaps more to the point, revealing—statement regarding an event in your life, especially something having to do with school. The process of growing up regrettably often puts us more on guard, makes us more reserved, when it comes to expressing our feelings. Some of you here tonight, particularly those whom the process of growing up has brought to adulthood, and maybe particularly those of you whom it has brought to teacherhood, may wonder what the word reserved has to do with this Grade 6 Class of 2008. While there are obviously some who are more reserved than others in this group of forty-three wonderful young people, in the aggregate, the Class of 2008 is just as fun-loving and boisterous as they come—and for that, we are grateful.

And yet, oh fun-loving and boisterous members of the Class of 2008, you have probably cultivated a certain reserve when it comes to your feelings, either because you think that reserve comes with the territory as an almost-teenager or that reserve is a necessary characteristic in order to display a certain cool. I expect that you have engaged in a variety of activities—even here at school and maybe even this year—that far outpace that homespun Nursery music program with respect to their potential for challenge, accomplishment, and satisfaction. In terms of performances, there have been in just the last few months the Recitation Contest (with four of the five commended students, including the overall winner, coming from this very class), the Spring Concert, and the Spring Musical. How many of the participants in those sparkling performances thought in the moments before their time in the spotlight, “This is the day I’ve been waiting for my whole life”?

Adults somehow have a way of saying things that they don’t mean to be criticisms come out as highly critical. Sometimes I fear that we as teachers have mastered that very skill. So let me observe here that it is not my point that those of you who haven’t recognized recently your involvement in something that you’ve been waiting for your whole life are somehow deficient, lacking in insight, feeling, or honesty. In fact, it may be that you’ve instead recognized a simple reality—that is, that the world, including the small corner occupied by St. Patrick’s, is full of wondrous experiences and opportunities, and that part of the challenge is pacing yourself so that you avoid some kind of system overload.

Ten years ago, almost to the day, I remember happening upon a Grade 6 teacher in tears in the Church Courtyard following her first graduation ceremony, that one involving a class that, just like the 2008 edition, comprised a really interesting, talented, and creative group of young people. Figuring—hoping, really—that she had many more graduations to come, I offered her just one piece of advice: “You’ve got to learn to pace yourself.”

Which brings us to tonight, and to Wednesday night, and to one of those events that, at some point in your time at St. Patrick’s, you may have been waiting for your whole life—your Grade 6 graduation. Now, in truth, this event has changed during your very own days at St. Patrick’s. When seven of you joined St. Patrick’s in Kindergarten—you know who you are, and you are a sterling group—and brought to thirty-four the collection that is still here today at St. Patrick’s, that very same fall, we enrolled our first Grade 7 class. And now, most of you, sixty per cent of you, will be continuing on to our MacArthur Campus.

Nonetheless, this Grade 6 graduation marks an important point in your life. While some of you are completing your days at St. Patrick’s, all of you are completing your days in elementary school, the thirty-fifth class to do so here. Across the more than three decades worth of classes, Grade 6 students have routinely seen in their graduations, accurately or not, what they have called the ending of their childhoods. To my knowledge, Grade 8 students never think of their graduation in that way, perhaps because they regard childhood as too distant. But many of the hundreds of St. Patrick’s Grade 6 graduates, and no doubt some of you, have seen it in that very way, the conclusion of your childhoods.

And I’ve got to believe that that’s something you’ve been waiting for your whole life—maybe not yet to be an adult, but no longer to be a child. Such are the days that you enter now in your life, whether here at St. Patrick’s or elsewhere, but in either event, fortunately for us, near at hand. Let me just remind you—implore you, really—to recognize that there is so much from childhood and from your days at St. Patrick’s that is worth holding dear to you. One of those characteristics is to be ever open to your experiences, to recognize in what you have just done, in what you are doing now, or in what you are about to do, something that you have waited for your whole life. True, you’ve got to learn to pace yourself—I guess life can’t always be lived at the bubbly pitch of every new experience being something you’ve been waiting for your whole life—but try to preserve the freshness and excitement of human experience.

I guess that is what I wish for you now—the ability, the determination, really to seek out experiences that you have been waiting for your whole life. At the same time, you need to recognize such experiences for what they are—whether you sought them out or found yourself right in the thick of them. And always, always, you need to savour those experiences, to involve others in them, and to confide those experiences to others. Never lose that ability to recognize your experiences for what they are. Never grow up too much, become too adult, to savour those experiences—and never take them for granted.

And maybe Wednesday night, sitting on the risers with your forty-two classmates, preparing to stand at just the right time with the rest of your row and then to file down to shake first my hand and then the hand of Mr. Powell, just maybe you’ll think, if only just for a moment, that this is the day you’ve been waiting for your whole life.

Some months ago, Ms. Smith reported to Mr. Smyth and me the enthusiasm and quality of your work with the poet Robert Frost. She thought maybe, just maybe, there might be something worth talking about this evening. While I decided against Frost as the starting point for my remarks this evening, settling instead on the amazing words of a St. Patrick’s Nursery student, I will instead conclude with a poem by Robert Frost, “Into My Own.”

ONE of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

The adults in this room will always long to know if you still hold them dear. Please know, too, that we will always hold you dear, wherever you might be upon your track. Congratulations on the point that you have reached in your young lives. May those lives continue to be filled with experiences that you’ve been waiting for your whole life.

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