Fifth grade graduation is a cherished tradition at Symonds Elementary School. The graduation ceremony begins with the students singing one of our school songs, "Hail Symonds School," written 20 years ago by fifth-grade classes with the assistance of a local composer. After the song, each graduate gives a brief speech to the audience of parents and staff, reflecting on his or her school experience. Every speech concludes with the phrase, "Goodbye, old bell," and then the student symbolically rings the school's 135-year-old bell installed in its place of honor above the stage. During the speech, each student's kindergarten picture is projected to remind the audience of that child's journey.
The speeches are written by each student, sometimes assisted -- but never edited -- by teachers and parents. These speeches are intended to provide students with the opportunity to tell their own stories in their own words. They're sometimes repetitive but often moving, particularly for parents and staff who have know these children for many years and have witnessed their struggles, growth, and achievements. The audience is very attentive, attuned to how important this event is to the children, and to the authenticity of their words.
Mierla's speech was particularly poignant. She had come to us because we have a program for children with significant behavioral and emotional challenges. She struggled, but like most, she "found her ground." This is what Mierla had to say on a graduation evening a few years ago:
This Is Where
This is where the friendships build.
This is where you go from ABCs to 123s.
To long division and lattice multiplication.
This is where you find yourself.
This is where I found myself.
This is where I found myself.
This is where every day you walk in the door and everyone greets you and is happy to see you.
This is where we end, end a fun and educated experience that probably won't happen again.
But I know I will find many other fun and educated experiences.
Goodbye, Symonds. I love you.
And goodbye, old bell.
Mierla's words, expressed so simply and eloquently by a youngster who had experienced difficulties with personal relationships, resonate. They show why graduation is important to us: it expresses and models the fundamental beliefs of our school. At Symonds, we build strong, caring relationships with children, relationships that give them the emotional support to feel successful and confident. We give children responsibility and trust as essential elements of that caring relationship. We believe that recognizing and celebrating accomplishments are far more important than defining deficiencies and shortcomings. We believe that we have provided our children with a positive, caring environment which has nurtured them through their formative years, and we trust that they will want to reciprocate and express their positive feelings about their experience to others as they go through their lives. The expectation of reciprocal caring is at the heart of our school culture.
Elementary school is often a child's first experience in the larger world. The society that we build together, and the emotional attachments that each child develops with staff and classmates, will form the basis for how each child comes to know the world. Graduation is significant for us as a way to build traditions and structures that support love of school as well as a mutually caring and respectful school culture. This is our most important work.