Celebrations mark the end of one phase and beginning of another
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Over the past week and continuing through Memorial Day weekend, we engage in our annual end-of-the-year rites of passage at Keystone. From the Little School students having their own graduation to the Class of 2023 receiving their diplomas at next Sunday’s commencement, students celebrate the end of one phase in their lives and the beginning of another.
In the Lower School Step-Up ceremony next week, children will move from seats in the gym that reflect their current grade level to chairs that symbolize their class beginning in August. This changing of chairs follows the fourth graders exiting the gym with fifth-grade teachers and student representatives as they leave Lower School behind and enter the exciting world of Middle School.
Earlier this week, at the other end of Middle School, the eighth graders each took a couple of minutes and offered a reflection on their experiences over the previous four years and looked ahead at what’s coming next. Head of Upper School Mr. Spedding then welcomed the students to the Upper School and they had an opportunity to meet with seniors and receive words of advice and encouragement.
All of these programs make a point. As children and young adults transition from one grade level or division to the next, they ascend to the next stage in their educational and life journey. They are growing up, maturing, and progressing.
For us adults, we experience a combination of pride that they’re developing, but also a touch of sadness that they’re getting older. Often during these events, parents will say to me, “Can’t I just keep my child at this age for a little longer?” Sadly, no, so it’s all the more important that we slow down and savor the event.
Some people may ask why we don’t just end the year with a final day of classes and head out for the summer. Similarly, as the school year comes to a close, people also often pose the question, “so, you winding down?” I respond that school doesn’t gradually end; we go full bore to the very last day and then suddenly stop. So, it’s crucial to cease what we’re doing, take a breath, and appreciate the significance of another year finishing.
A couple of years ago, the entire Keystone faculty and staff read and discussed “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact,” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. In the book, the Heath brothers discuss the reverberations of moments in our lives that demarcate a change from one stage to another, “Transitions should be marked, milestones commemorated, and pits filled. That’s the essence of thinking in moments.”
On an individual level, ritual ceremonies recognize that a change is occurring. They halt each of us in our tracks and acknowledge that we are moving from one stage to another. In the frenzy of our daily lives, we can all too easily lose sight of the momentous events in our children’s growth and development. Suddenly, our children have grown up and we regret all the subtle advances we missed because we were too preoccupied.
While we might not call a child’s going from one grade to another a graduation per se, it is an important step on their path of growing up. There’s something beautiful and necessary in creating time to watch our children move forward.
On the group level, rites of passage help reinforce shared values and mission solidarity. We leave our individual spaces momentarily and bond collectively. We reaffirm what brought us together in the first place and revel in each other’s company. We also support each other in the joy and wistfulness of our children growing up. These moments in school may be even more important at a time when people no longer attend services in houses of worship or participate in civic organizations as they did in the past.
We hope you have enjoyed these end of year ceremonies, and will join us for those that remain. While all of us are very busy in this day and age, we should memorialize these moments and celebrate our children growing up. As John Lennon so rightly said, “Rituals are important.”