Over the past few days I have, like many teachers and other school leaders, farewelled the Class of 2020, in this case, a group of respectful, kind, funny and service-oriented young men who had one of the most challenging final years as a cohort imaginable.
They were farewelled fondly by their teachers and they then farewelled their school too in a number of ways, the most memorable of which for me was in the creation of a Covid Capsule – a time capsule for this special year that was like no other.
The challenge we posed to each boy was to place something in the capsule that represented the year to them – and then to present this to the whole cohort.
They responded to the challenge beautifully. Yes, there was many a disposable masks but also many, many thoughtful and very personal items and genuine reflection on what the year had brought them or challenged them with.
The earnest way in which they spoke about their year reinforced to me the power of schools and the important role they play in the lives of young people.
Schools are places that teach so much more than the traditional reading, writing and arithemetic. Schools are places were young people learn about the world and learn about themselves. Where they have new ideas opened to them, and they move beyond what they perhaps ever expected of themselves.
Schools are placed we learn to be the adults we were meant to be.
Schools are also places where lifelong connections are made. The right teacher can inspire a young person to follow a dream, or to see a passion as a possible career. The right teacher helps nurture skills and open doors. They also help facilitate bonds of friendship, and help young people see how much they might even have in common with someone they would never have expected.
Many of their capsule items reflected this – the magic of schools and the work that teachers do. One boy put in the pencil case he had carried around for fourteen years (fortunately The Simpsons has never lost its popularity during this time!). Another a mouthpiece for his French Horn, citing the music program that had kept him going through lockdown. Many wrote themselves letters about their hopes for the future, and their gratitude for the years at the school.
And many items focused on their value of their connection with each other. In many schools the phrase “the boys” represents a form of masculinity that may not be desirable… a kind of immature herd mentality of following along with the crowd. But when these young men talk about how “the boys” got them through, they are talking about the spirit of mateship. They are talking about close friends certainly – the ones in the many, many photos that went into the time capsule. But also the broader group of young men – who they banded together with and bonded with even despite many differences.
And this is the beauty of a GOOD school – a school focused on building culture. It helps people to connect by reinforcing that connection helps us all, that belonging is one of those key elements in schools. That each of us have the right to learn, experiment and discover a spark, and be respected for that spark whatever it may be.
Farewell to the Class of 2020 who embodied this, and learned this year about the value on their ongoing connection to the school and to each other.