The San Francisco School's 50th Year ended today with a glorious 8th grade graduation. By any standards, the last few weeks have been total insanity and now that it’s done, it’s almost unimaginable that we did it. But between April 30th and June 4th, we hosted a 50th Anniversary Party for some 700 folks, put on two Spring Concerts, a Shakespeare Play, several class Science Fairs and Literary Teas, a 6th grade Social Justice Project shared with parents and other classes, a Roller Coaster Contest at Great America, several camping trips, an all-elementary Samba Contest, an elementary retirement farewell Singing Time to the art teacher (my wife), the Faculty-8th basketball game, a 5-year old music sharing with parents, closing ceremonies complete with 8th grade sharings, Mud Pie desserts with complete control (in-house esoterica), gong-up ceremony and a farewell Hug Line. And then graduation today. Never a dull moment!
What’s at the bottom of all this? Well, what I talked about yesterday— a community of caring teachers enjoying, celebrating, revealing, discovering, searching for the character of each and every student, a community refreshed by that character and helping to cultivate it so it can go forth and refresh others. And that takes a lot of praise for the youth, a lot of blessings from the adults. Not empty praise to raise their self-esteem according to some step-by-step formula, but the real deal, the praise that lets the student know that you see them and hear them and get at least a little slice of who they are or might soon be. And that you are ready and willing to proclaim that to the community.
According to Martin Prechtel, that wise man who gives a marvelous talk titled “Grief and Praise,” we have more work to do. We have to dig deeper and be careful that we’re not just praising the ego, not just feeding that insatiable beast of accomplishment and success and excessive pride, but praising the Spirit that is working through that person and teaching our students to keep the doors open a dimension beyond this concrete world. Prechtel suggests that praise is inextricably woven with grief and that there is a time for each and a time for both, for each is always present in the other. I think of the hard journey into the history of Civil Rights we took this year with the 8th graders and the way we allowed grief to enter and hold it. And how that made the praise we heaped on each student yesterday at the Graduation Ceremony that much more potent.
How eloquently the different teachers spoke about the student standing by their side, how lovingly, with affection, humor, admiration. Each searched for the image that would hit the mark, aim for the center of each kid as they have shown themselves to us, some for over 11 years. Not a single child left unloved or unpraised. Some ignorant folks might worry we’re spoiling the kids or over-inflating their sense of importance, but no, we do this with our eyes wide open, loving their confidence and even arrogance, knowing full-well that life will beat them down to a smaller size and they will need this net of love to keep their innocence and idealism and sense of possibility, to navigate through those beatings yet to come.
I believe this is the work of peace, a real peace with grit, grief and gratitude. As I sat listening to the particular beauty of each child spoken so well, it became unimaginable to me that anyone in that room, kid or adult, would ever want to shut one of these kids out, not invite them to the party, put them in some box of stereotypic notion of who someone else thinks they are and shove the box into the closet or the corner of the room. No would want to deport them, to exile them and certainly not to harm them. While there are and will be the usual conflicts, people whose chemistry doesn’t match well or kids who will say the words (intentionally or not) that hurt, here's what makes the difference: Even as they are grumbling, “Wow, so-and-so is a piece of work!” the community is there to remind them of the work of peace.
Tomorrow I’ll share one of my speeches. Peace out.