I spend a lot of time speaking on behalf of children, trying to remind adults of their dignity and delight that we often fail to see, their non-negotiable needs that we are often ignoring, their promise and potential that we are failing to cultivate. But even better, I collect the testimony of the children themselves when an adult or a community of adults gets it right and the kid feels it, appreciates it and finds his or her own words to express it, usually much more eloquently than I can! Here is such an example that came from two 8th graders at The San Francisco School who just graduated. Though I’ve been away from school for two years, they generously had the letter forwarded to me and some fellow retired teachers. (FYI, a hug line is an end-of-the-year school ritual we created some thirty years ago where all the teacher line up and the kids pass through one-by-one hugging them goodbye at the end of the last day of school, with handshakes, hi-fives or fist bumps as alternative choices for the hug-resistant. I worried that Covid might kill the ritual forever, but it's back!)
Dear SFS teachers and staff,
There is so much to be said, so we’ll start with a story:
After the graduation, at the end of the going-away party, in true SFS fashion, it took us an hour and a half to say goodbye to each other. Everyone was crying and hugging, crying and hugging, because it meant so much to each of us to be losing this incredible group of people.
The parents, in an attempt to speed up the process (as it was nearly 11:00 pm), encouraged some last hugs. A group hug was suggested and tried, failing. Then someone piped in with “We need a final hug line.” Immediately we fell into place. There we were, SFS to the core. And we realized, there would never be another place in our lives where one could simply shout hug-line and everyone would completely understand. No one really realized how hard it would be to say goodbye to each other until it was time. Until we realized that we had grown up together. Until we realized how grateful we were for each other. For so long, we had been most of each other’s worlds. We came in at different times, still getting to know each other, but on our last night together we all knew we had become family and that SFS was our home. There was no denying it, a family was saying goodbye. Classmates who hadn't even talked to each other all year would hug over and over and cry hysterically. Classmates who we had never seen get emotional were drenched in tears by the end.
Immediately after being dragged our separate ways, we took to the group chats, FaceTimes, social media platforms, and any method of communication we had. We spent hours on long FaceTimes and group chats as we reminisced and cried and laughed together. Some people even woke up in the morning to find themselves still on calls (yes, we fell asleep at 2 am on the phone with each other). In the past weekend, we've been talking, sending pictures, and still crying. Here are a few of our favorite messages sent from everyone on our class group chat: "At first I was ready for high school, then I was like these are my people right here. Imma miss y'all.", "Dude, facts. You are making me cry.", "I love you guys so much I can't imagine not going to school with all of you and I just don't know what I'm going to do without you guys." "I keep thinking about all the things we did together and I can't stop crying.” These are just a few of the many touching messages that were shared.
But most importantly, we are telling you all this because we believe you are to thank. Our class has grown up together, influenced by each and every one of you. It’s hard to put into words how we felt, and how we have been feeling. But quite frankly, we’ve been feeling human. It’s not a black and white, simple answer. We’re not just sad, but it is a complex mix of emotions: pride, happiness, hope, joy, regret, and of course some sadness. At that moment, we were all able to just feel how we were feeling, accepting and loving each other. That was truly a testament to our journey at SFS. Who we were before SFS wouldn’t have known how to handle leaving, heck, who we were before SFS could never have imagined the bonds we created. We want to thank each and every one of you for everything you have done for our class. You have all changed our lives for the better. Thank you SFS for every memory, experience, and song.