Lessons from our Graduates…

At the beginning of this month when our State Governor shared that an outdoor, in-person, socially-distant graduation would be possible, our Leadership Team immediately gathered at our high school stadium. We began to measure the stands and the track to see what appropriate seating would look like; began to think through how we would handle ticketing, arrival and departure; and began to brainstorm what unique things we could add to the ceremony that we wouldn’t normally do to make this a truly special night. I stopped the conversation midstream and shared with the group that I was feeling something – something I hadn’t felt in a very long time… excitement.

I love my job as a superintendent. It is a running joke with our students and staff that pretty much every event I have the honor to speak at, I start with “this is one of my favorite events of the year” – because they all are. I love it all – the playoff games, the spring shows, the FFA Auctions, the Field Days, the banquets, the Academic Awards celebrations – Every. Single. One. So when that was all stripped away in March – in conjunction with everything else that I look forward to (conferences, vacations, summer events), that feeling of excitement was wiped away too.

We had our in-person, socially-distant, outdoor graduation last night and it was absolutely incredible. A beautiful night with a gorgeous sunset, our 84 graduates and their loved ones gathered and there was a whole new level of appreciation in celebrating these students.

One of the many special things we did for these seniors was to share Senior Spotlights in the days leading up to graduation. The spotlights shared their picture, all that they had been involved in throughout their High School career and what their future plans were. But each spotlight also had 3 words – three words that our high school staff chose to describe each senior. And they were absolutely on point. I took all of those words as a whole and tried to see what lessons we could learn from these students. And here’s what I found…

The first that appeared over and over again was Hard-Working. Coupled with words like independent, driven, determined and leader, our seniors are incredibly hard-working. In fact, this group was part of the most successful fall semester in school history (some could argue most successful four years in district history). They are also incredibly driven, with big goals for the future and with nearly 2 million dollars in scholarships, they are off to a pretty great start. This was not luck; this was hard work and determination.

The second set of words that rose to the top were: Kind, Caring &  Respectful. If there was one thing that I hope my own kids have it is this – and these seniors have it in spades. They are Eagle Scouts and Gold Award Girl Scouts; they have committed to serving our nation in the  military and a multitude of service professions; they have served their community for hours on end. These seniors are kind, caring and respectful.

And the last word, which was the most frequently chosen word chosen by our staff was Funny. Every single time our principal talks about this class, he always shares that this is the most enjoyable group of students he has ever worked with. If we’ve learned anything in the last 3 months of this pandemic, it is that family and friends are so important, and the ability to find joy in every season (good or bad) is a gift. These seniors have taught us just that.

I shared with our seniors last night that I hope that regardless of wherever they go or whatever they do, that they will take these characteristics with them. And the same message is true for us today – that we would always work hard; that we would always be kind – and that we would continue to find joy in all that we do!

I have been grieving so much of what has been stripped away – all of the things that I love and make me excited about my job. But in listening to the messages that our seniors shared last night, I realized that there have also been many gifts during this season – time with our families, slowing down long enough for all of us to breathe, and a greater appreciation for simple things in life – like a graduation event under the stars with the people we love most.