“I remember a shadow on a cave wall that looked like a girl swinging.”
One our 6th graders shared that sentence during his graduation speech the last day of school this year. It showed up, out of context, between your usual thank-you’s to teachers and friends.
“ I would like to thank Nancy for helping me with algebra this year…”
“…Laura for guiding me through my Senior Project.”
“Emily made science a lot of fun.”
” I have made a lot of great friends here at The New School and hope that we will stay in touch….”
“On one of our field trips, I remember a shadow on a cave wall that looked like a girl swinging.”
I was struck by a student sharing this memory because it reminded me that some of our most significant childhood experiences have nothing to do with accomplishments. They are mysterious, beautiful, unexplainable and somehow deeply important. They are the moments outside of time and meaning-making. They are what the Persian poet Rumi means when he says:
“Out beyond ideas of of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
This “field” is at least as important as any field of study.
Another speech that caught my attention this year came from the Walnut Hills 2019 valedictorian. Walnut Hills and Clark Montessori’s valedictorians are both TNSM alumni.
Walnut Hills is ranked #1 in Ohio by U.S. News & World Report and is in the top 100 high schools in the nation. There are close to 30,000 high school’s nationwide. Clark Montessori is ranked in the top one percent of high schools and was a finalist for the U.S. Department of Education’s competitive grant, Race to the Top, to reward the the most innovative school in the country. In general, it is remarkable to earn the title of valedictorian, but when it comes to these two schools, it is nothing short of extraordinary.
When I was teaching in the (9-12) program at TNSM, I had the privilege of having both of these students in my class. I remember them having an insatiable hunger and curiosity. But more than that, I remember them happy. Happy to be around friends and teachers that cared for them. Happy to be learning for the joy of learning and not for a grade or a competitive edge. Yet here they are, valedictorians at two of the country’s most rigorous and innovative high schools.
Shelby, the Walnut Hills valedictorian, shared in her speech that we should not define each other, “by the tangible accomplishments that others see, but also by the character we show by uplifting others.”
My feeling from reflecting on Rumi and Shelby’s words is that our children’s path to success or valuable moments of experience are counterintuitive ones. Yes, life requires hard work and discipline, and we can have memorable moments of accomplishments, but we are fueled and nurtured by something that is not ranked (supporting each other) and doesn’t fit nicely into a speech (the beautiful play of shadows on a cave wall).
We will miss you over the summer. Thank you for such a rewarding and nourishing year. Your children are gifts in our lives. We hope that each of you has some time to lift others up and to lie down in a field of grass.