Friday, June 17, 2011

Applying the Prompt

On this last day of the school year with students, I had the good luck of finishing the year with my AP English Language and Composition students, a small group of twelve juniors, five of whom I'd had in Honors English 9 two years earlier. It had been my wish to have the students from that class again, but possibly to give the students a more varied experience, I'd only been given a small percentage of returning students. The other seven students in my AP class however did not waste any time in winning my heart as well. I knew early on in the school year that I'd been blessed with a very sweet group of young people.

The year was full of scholarly work but I'd tried hard to weave in as many creative assignments as well to break up the routine of reading, writing, and rhetorical analysis. Students crafted personal memoir digital stories, performed reader's theater, did skits, practiced role play, made films, and performed spoken word poetry. By June, it was apparent to me that they had not only worked steadily throughout the year, but that they truly understood my motives in having designed the course the way I did. In their final portfolios, their insight and reflection was far beyond their years. However, I wanted to give my students a chance to share their growth and maturity with their peers, so I assigned them a second part to their final; they were to craft and then to deliver a 3-5 minute commencement speech. It was the time of the year when they heard their senior friends delivering their own graduation speeches, yet these twelve juniors were a little apprehensive about crafting and reciting their own, but I knew, I KNEW, they were going to do a beautiful job.

They did not disappoint me. Jake, a lover of science, started the speeches off nicely when he invited his peers to "think of the sheer size and magnitude of what's before you when you lay down on a cool summer's night...a star..left its legacy in the air you breathe, and the lives of you and the ones you love. It's a legacy that connects us all...we're all made of stardust". Ian reminded the class that "one thousand and sixteen days ago", each of them had taken their first steps into high school. He spoke of the importance of friends, collaboration, and teamwork. JoAnna's wisdom to stay positive in the face of failure was supported with examples of Michael Jordan's basketball career, Sven Eriksson's soccer field successes, and Edison's early attempts to invent the lightbulb. Jasmine encouraged youthfulness mixed with the acceptance of responsibility and said, "Go ahead, work hard and succeed in long as you enjoy it. Accept responsibility..and be an long as you never forget how to be a kid". Elizabeth spoke of the disappointment that can come when we put people on pedestals and coupled that idea with the very reality that as seniors next year, she and her classmates could very well become role models for the underclassmen.

Joselle would stress the importance of balance, while Hannah spoke of fortitude and self-confidence in the face of obstacles. Kim begged her peers to recognize the lessons they had learned up to this point, and Haley's message of remembering the importance of keeping bad days in proper perspective was told through an endearing story of her false claim of a lost tooth back in kindergarten. Ethan reminded us to remember that "every human life is important and holds meaning" and that "life is such a sweet thing"; we should not "underestimate (our) own world". Likewise, Julie stressed that "one can easily waste their life searching for how to live", and implored us to live with less worry. "Let life come to you", she wisely concluded.

Meghan's speech was centered around the goodbyes in life that we all face. She spoke of saying farewell to this year's seniors and of her own struggle to hold back tears at her boyfriend's graduation. Her challenge for us was to "live in the moment. Don't get too caught up in worrying about what is coming in the next months...Don't worry about the goodbyes that have to come in the future; spend happy times with the people that you will say goodbye to before it's too late. Make memories with them now, live life with them now. And above all, enjoy every second of it".

The speeches would conclude and my teens happily pulled out fruit, donuts, and juice for the breakfast celebration we had planned. I walked over to my desk and found the personalized bookmarks I'd made for each of them, a tradition I began years ago for those classes of mine I considered to be very special. The bookmarks, typed and laminated, list "one nice thing" each classmate and I have to say about each individual in the room. The students immediately sat down to read them and Meghan's words came back to me as I found myself getting a little teary-eyed, "Don't worry about the life with them now...enjoy every second of it".

I'll return to school on Monday to clean my classroom before summer vacation and soon enough, my twelve AP juniors will return in the fall as seniors and another group of young people will come through my classroom doors for the first time. It's always a bit daunting to say goodbye to one group and to anticipate the next. But playing a role in these teens' lives, whether for one school year or two (or even longer when luck gives me that gift), is an incredible blessing; therefore I will remember the wisdom offered up by my students and I'll let life come to me.

1 comment:

  1. Along with humor and engaging audiences, it's a challenge to offer a diverse audience a message that will resonate and leave them with gifts for their journey ahead.

    Here's an example of a storied approach to this challenge. A collage of stories is used to offer students three gifts for their journey (judgment, compassion, and mercy).