The end of another school year. Soon I will join 647 seniors as they assemble in the basement of our War Memorial excited and anxious. They will don awkward robes of a bygone era, repeatedly struggle to adjust un-wearable caps and nervously wait for further instructions. Some have concealed cans of silly string and bottles of bubbles for future use during the ceremony. As one of the graduation marshals, I will do my best to detect and confiscate said items, in order to maintain a level of dignity befitting the occasion. This is my 20th graduation. I’ve listened to speeches from Board of Education members, principals, teachers, class presidents and of course, valedictorians and salutatorians. They all attempt to convey meaning and significance. To be honest, my criteria of a good speech has been reduced to a single word over the years: brevity.
However, this graduation will be different. Because in addition to my customary role of marshal, today I am also a father of one of the 647 assembled. How is this event magnified by my daughter’s participation? Most of the words today will focus on the perseverance and accomplishments of the students assembled. Another theme will be to pay tribute to the significant relationships that transpired between teachers and students over the course of thirteen years. However, my thoughts are with the parents here today. Apprehensive about what lies ahead for their sons and daughters, they’ll sit proud, emotional and somewhat exhausted by the preparation that preceded this event.
For parents it all began at a door: to a school bus, schoolhouse or classroom. Parents were forced to take a leap of faith. This leap required us to formulate a trust relationship with our schools. This I believe is the most significant public trust relationship in our society. While other public sector connections are significant, the link between schools and the public is relational. The most precious resource of this nation is the children that we send through its education system. I vividly remember that first day and week that our daughter jumped on the bus to attend school. I also remember my wife following that bus on its route to school everyday for the first two weeks of school. She practiced trust but verify, long before Ronald Reagan formulated it into a foreign policy. Our goal is to more than simply have them safely returned to us at the end of the day. (Although, truth be told, that would have been enough on that first day.) While parents anticipate and appreciate measurable intellectual development, motivation, discipline and resolve, our true hope is that educators inspire our students, support us in our efforts and love our children.
This relationship is often overlooked when we assess education today. We focus on the measurable; graduation rates, test scores, AP opportunities. But as I look back on my daughter’s experience, I thank every one of those educators who in ways both large and small, helped her along in her development. While I was dazzled by a few, disagreed with some, and frustrated with others, I appreciate them all. She’s being returned to us today. Returned to be set free, where she will embark on new challenges, face and overcome new obstacles and experience new successes. She, like thousands of other graduates throughout the country, is a spectacular “product” of our public education system.
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