The High School of Language and Innovation was founded in 2011, and this year was our school’s fifth graduating class, the Class of 2019.
Each graduating class has been unique in its personality. They have different quirks and different gifts. As I planned my graduation speech, I thought, “What make this class special?”
Many answers came up, but one word kept rising above all others, a word I didn’t expect.
When I actually stood up to give my speech, I asked the graduates themselves: “What makes you unique as a class?”
“We’re respectful!” “Persistent!” “Overcoming obstacles!”
“All true,” I agreed. “You’re also the highest number of graduates we’ve ever had.” The audience cheered. “But there’s a word that truly defines who you are. And that word is, ‘fun.'”
“Fun!” they exclaimed back indignantly.
Understandably, the graduates may have wanted a more dramatic word. However, “fun” is what this class was. Even graduation was fun. There was a support among the graduates, a partnership between each other and our staff, that I have not always experienced at graduation, in the sense that there was no popularity contest and everyone seemed to be happy for each other.
The Class of 2019 had a special amiability, even when they were upset or struggling. I wrote about one student, Michael, who struggled to graduate (but did!). While Michael had his moments of being angry or defiant, he also asked me to dance at prom, and did so happily and with lots of humor.
The class of 2019 convinced me to agree to our first overnight senior trip, a two-day trip to the Pine Ridge Dude Ranch where they played paintball, rode horses, swam, did archery, danced, and lots of other activities. There was an unbridled enthusiasm to the way the students participated; they weren’t sitting in a corner with their phones sulking, or finding ways to cause mayhem. They just played. Like kids.
They were fun.
And at graduation, for the first time, I didn’t feel the urge to cry. Usually at graduation, I feel an upwelling of emotion. At this year’s graduation, though, I just felt engaged, eager to listen to teachers present awards and hear the students’ speeches. When a deeply shy girl got an unexpected award, the Class of 2019 erupted in cheers. It was sincere, sweet, not about popularity.
It occurs to me that the students are are reflection of me, of our teachers, and of our school as a whole. If the students are fun, playful, and undramatic, then maybe we’re becoming more that way, too.
Photo credit: Julie Nariman