I have often believed that graduation was misnamed. I realize that graduation is the act of receiving a degree or diploma from school, and the chance to take stock of completion. However, to me, “graduation” marks what is to come. If I could rename the event, I’d call it “Stepping Up.”
At every grade level, and not just the transition grades, students leave us ready to step up and move on to their next journey. After nine months of giving it our all, they leave us taller, stronger, and more eager to lean into the next challenge. It’s their agency I see — their desire and courage to apply who they have become with us to a new environment. Graduation is not about what they endured, but who they are prepared to be. It’s their moment to step up to their new selves.
And what about their teachers?
As professionals with another year under our belt, we too are ready to step up and into a summer break full of reflections about how we are stronger, how we’ve improved, and what needs a more thorough tackling next year. Sure, there are years when we’re not so sad to say goodbye to the departing class. But when enough time has passed, we can see how they helped shape us by making us wrestle with this complex thing called teaching. I hope we can encourage each other to celebrate what we have become –– to what our inventive and unwavering energy has created in our students, as well as our colleagues.
It would be easy to not feel like stepping up, as our learning about teaching goes on year after year. But I think of Robert Frost, in his 1956 Colby College commencement speech, charging graduates to “mind their knitting.” He called his knitting, “my unfinished business.” Teaching, too, is just like knitting: creative, complex, redundant, infinitely knowable and always an unfinished business.
At its core, stepping up is about courage. The courage to keep to our knitting and apply what we have learned, to help each other with our hard earned and honed practice, and to have the courage to form bonds with colleagues we admire and hope we can learn from next year. I believe teachers of all ages can step up; after all, we too, look taller, stronger, and once the quiet settles in, are eager for the next challenge, together.