“A big family” and “a mug of hot chocolate” were two comparisons that sixth graders made when describing the Campus School in their graduation speeches this year. Situated in Helen Hills Hills Chapel on the final evening of May, graduates marked their transition from the school by reading reflective speeches. They then received, as generations of SCCS graduates will remember, a letter of gratitude read aloud by their teacher—a testament to each student’s special strengths and contributions to the community that is written by their 6th grade teacher with input from teachers across the grades.
Every year, Campus School graduation begins with parents, teachers, and friends taking their seats while graduates bustle in the basement below. Fidgeting with dresses and ties, sixth graders’ excitement is palpable, almost reminiscent of recess. Hush, however, calms the building as students climb the stairs and adopt a degree of solemnity—beginning their procession holding a single flower, which they carry through a tunnel of faculty and staff members standing on both sides of the aisle to symbolize, as noted in the evening’s program, “that our students graduate not just from the sixth grade but from the entire Campus School.”
Before taking their seats on the stage, every student places their flower into a communal vase— another iconographic tradition whose diversity and color “represents the unique qualities and potential that each student brought with them upon entering the Campus School.” Music teacher Cindy Naughton plays the final notes of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” on the piano, and the crowd settles in.
“Tonight is the culmination of [students’] Campus School journey, and our sixth graders are making two important transitions,” Head of School Chris Marblo said in this year’s opening remarks. “The first, of course, is that they’re graduating from the Campus School… The second is that they are transitioning from childhood to adolescence.” There is no other period in life, Chris noted, when a person will grow as much as they do from kindergarten to sixth grade. Asking teachers to stand for a round of applause, followed by a standing ovation for parents, the collective nature of that growth was acknowledged and celebrated before the crowd turned its attention to students.
Woven throughout the evening was the theme of reciprocity. Teachers’ letters made vivid the depth and nuance of each student-teacher bond, and the degree to which students, themselves, teach others in their community. “Have you ever met one of those souls whose depth and uncanny ability to know the right thing to say or do makes you certain that they have lived many lives before this one?,” sixth-grade teacher Andrea Hermans asked, turning towards the audience. “Arlo,” she said to her student, “you are one of those people to me.”
Infused with inside jokes, predictions for their futures, and poignant anecdotes about challenges overcome, teachers portrayed each graduate, not only as a student, but as a person—and a person of promise. Sixth-grade teacher Joe Golossi added humor to the evening, writing to one of his students—not a letter from him—but a letter from his classroom. “Dear Peanut Butter Vivvy Time,” the letter began, inciting an eruption of laughter from knowing sixth graders:
I can’t believe this is your last day at Camp SCCS! No more snack? No more recess? No more half-days every week? How will you do it?! Please know that I, Room 209, will miss you terribly. The lights will miss shining on you as you tell your recently-memorized jokes or share the daily menu of food puns at your make-believe restaurant… The wall in the corner by the cabinet is going to miss when you sat in it, taking your writing to task… There is no doubt that you have become a prominent fixture in your class, and I am sure that you will become one in your future classrooms, too.
P.S. Please come back and visit.
P.P.S. The inside of your desk wants me to thank you for letting it finally see light again.
Every year, students select a song to sing to their audience. This year’s rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s early hit “Breakaway” offered resonance:
I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly
I’ll do what it takes ‘til I touch the sky.
I’ve got to take a risk
take a chance;
make a change;
Breakaway was addressed by one boy in a suit jacket, pressed chinos, and a single untied shoelace—the mark of childhood hanging on. “These last few months,” he said at the start of his speech, “I’ve been doing a lot of ‘last’ things.” “Even years from now,” another student said, “when I look back on my time at SCCS, my heart will fill with that same feeling that I got on my first day of school.”
At the end of the evening, students lit individual candlesticks from a single flame—carrying light from their class out into the world. Recessing through the Chapel, some had quiet tears on their cheeks, others big grins. Parents and teachers stood with pride, watching each student stream down the aisle and out into the dusk. One could not help but think, in this small New England Chapel, that this evening was not really a “‘last’ thing,” but the exciting start of many firsts.
Congratulations, Campus School Class of 2018. You have made us proud.
Written by Brittany Collins