Why we’re cautiously hopeful about the coming months
“I have to admit it’s getting better.”
–John Lennon/Paul McCartney
On Tuesday, March 30, three enthusiastic sixth graders asked to meet with me. Having no idea why we were gathering, I guided them into the Founders’ Hall Conference Room where they requested permission to play several April’s Fool Day jokes on their teachers and administrators. The pranks were harmless and appropriately silly, so I readily agreed but asked them to check with the Head of Middle School, Dr. Wivagg.
As the three merry pranksters left our meeting, I couldn’t help but smile. What may sound like a small and ordinary occurrence reminded me how good it felt to be back in school with students and teachers practicing the ordinary, albeit still with masks on and other COVID measures in place. Something innocuous like an April Fools Day joke felt so good because it felt so normal.
Similarly, on Wednesday evening, March 31, seniors in graduation gowns posed in front of Founders Hall for their individual pictures then joined in lawn games, ping pong, and hanging out with one another in the quad. For some of these seniors, that night was the first time they were back on campus in more than a year. Classmates ran shrieking toward one another then stopped short and gave each other air hugs; this one small gesture demonstrated how much our world has changed in one year as the students revelled in seeing friends but remained cognizant of the continuing pandemic.
On Thursday, middle school students competed in field day events at the Little School. They played ultimate frisbee, participated in a fun game that involved catching a water balloon in a blanket, and did other activities that provided bonding and camaraderie. These games followed on the heels of their outdoor education days earlier in the week; in the process, students learned more about the natural environment, created art, and discovered things about themselves and their classmates.
In the same week, the children in the Little School rode very slowly around the soccer field in a school bus and sang “The Wheels On the Bus Go Round and Round.” Although Keystone’s youngest students do not take buses to school, they could still learn about this iconic form of transportation as the children in Little School do every other year.
In some ways, these events represent our slowly moving back to what life felt like in the pre-COVID times, while still adhering to our new reality. Our world has changed irrevocably in the past year; globally, ten times more people have died in the past fourteen months than Americans succumbed in the entire Vietnam War; the economic damage has been incalculable; and the psychological impact on children being out of school for a year has yet to be measured.
And yet, we must go on in measures large and small. Recreating these rites of passage and inventing new ones offers a sense of continuity and perspective. In the face of hardship, children still enjoy playing a good joke on adults. Our seniors receive college acceptances and plan for where they will go next in their educational journey. Middle school students learn about the outdoor world and play with one another. Young children can experience the joy of being on a big, yellow bus for the first time.
In times of great change, rituals provide comfort and reassurance. In a February 1, 2021 blog on the “The Conversation” site called “Why Rituals Are Important Survival Tools During the Pandemic,” UT-Austin psychology professor Cristine H. Legare explains why we require rituals during this time. While providing many pragmatic functions like hygiene and safety, rituals also reinforce the ties that bind us. “Rituals also promote solidarity by allowing communities to express their shared goals and values.” These traditions and practices remind us why we’re together and reinforce our appreciation for each other and reliance on one another.
Two seniors play cornhole and banter after having their official graduation photos taken; three sixth graders giggle as they hang streamers in Dr. Wivagg’s office; three and four year olds loudly sing “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” while actually riding on the bus; and a middle school student snags a frisbee out of the air and scores the winning goal against her classmates. In all of these cases, the students are not just having a good time. They are also reestablishing the sense of community that makes Keystone such an exceptional place.
Collectively, we have lost a great deal in the past year. Perhaps, though, we have gained a greater appreciation for the little things in life that make up our days. In 1920 following World War I and the 1918-19 flu pandemic, Presidential candidate Warren G. Harding spoke of a “return to normalcy.” In 2021, as we proceed ever so slowly toward our new normal, let’s recommit to remembering what we’ve missed but also what we have gained, and be profoundly grateful.