Monday, May 21, 2007

where will they go from here?...

A milestone for 63 young lives has been reached at Willow Springs High School for the Class of 2007. Only 13 years ago, these seniors entered the new and exciting world of kindergarten. A world full of swing sets and merry-go-rounds. Kool aid, cookies, numbers, and letters. Secrets, mischief, scraped knees, and band-aids. A world where a helping hand wasn’t far away and a shoulder to lay your head on was nearby. A world where tadpoles and puppies made everyone smile, and fishing with daddy on hot summer afternoons at the river made long days go fast. In this world, curiosity reigned, imagination grew, and exploration began.

Today, seniors, you again enter a new and exciting world. Today’s world is a ride down the information superhighway, a step into new technology, and a jump into the unknown. And with this leap, a nauseous anxiety comes with closing a chapter in your life and beginning a new one.

Physically, life is much different. Metaphorically, life is the same. In this world, again, curiosity reigns:
Can I become a doctor? A lawyer? A teacher? The president? Could I graduate from college? Will I pursue happiness? What is life like in China? India? Europe?

And imagination still grows:
What if I added these lyrics to this measure of music? How can I paint Frankenstein as American Gothic? What types of dance express my freedom and my personality?

And finally, exploration is just beginning:
Where do I go from here? What challenges will I face and which will I conquer? How can I revolutionize the next 10 years? What changes can I make to the music industry? The arts? The medical field? The scientific world? The political stage? How will I affect my family? My community? My nation? My world?

What is it, Class of 2007, that will make you rise to new occasions? To continue your curiosity and imagination? To explore like the historians and travelers of our past and find new frontiers? As graduates in the 21st Century, I encourage you take a leap into the unknown world and write your symphony along the way. How will you make a difference? And what will you accomplish?

As a final assignment in my English class, students write a valedictory farewell speech and share it with their classmates. Through the emotional goodbyes and sincere thank you's, students also take the opportunity to say final thoughts about themselves or their lives. One graduating senior bravely spoke for what I think many felt: “There’s more to me,” he calmly said, “than what I let on.”

What more does the Class of 2007 have to offer? How deep does your surface go? Where will your intellect take you and how will you use the opportunities you have presented to yourself through your hard work and dedication to your education?

You have a lifetime to answer that.

Learning is like breathing...

“Learning is like breathing.” I tell my students this on Thursday, April 26, 2007, just hours before they are to begin one, if not the, biggest academic nights of their high school career. In what I like to think is my own little pep talk before the big game, I lead students through a relaxing breathing exercise and discuss how very similar breathing is to learning. All academic school year our Willow Springs High School seniors are inhaling—through research, reading, writing, and creating—and “at some point,” I tell them, “if you don’t exhale, you will explode.” Smiles creep along their faces, but most understand the metaphor. After a year of taking in, students enter Senior Project Night accomplished and prepared to share knowledge they deem important. “It’s your time,” I explain, “to exhale.”

Senior Project Night gives our students the forum to display work completed through the year. The Senior Showcase jumpstarted the evening’s activities in Grimes Auditorium, a display of all projects and products were on hand for parents and community members to observe, and students were present to discuss their projects with those who attended the event. “I’m so impressed with the passion our students have about their products,” noted School Board President Chris Rutledge as he walked through the maze of student work. “What’s happening is our students are intimidated with the magnitude of the project and find themselves honing in and focusing on something they are interested in…and when you pour hours and hours of research and time into something, we begin to recognize it as passion.”

Following the Showcase, the evening continued when formal presentations began at 5:20 p.m. at the high school. Sixty-two seniors presented on a variety of topics, from training coon hounds to tanning leather, from writing scripts to writing novels, from building hot rods to dancing the fox trot. And the beauty of this? Students didn’t just tell their audience about their topics, they showed their audience their hard work by bringing in products they created from and through previous research. Although I tried to relax students before it all began, it wasn’t long before the halls and classrooms of the high school were buzzing with excitement and energy. Willow Springs High School was swarmed with over 200 community members and students who came together to pull off another successful Senior Project Night.
Although students do extraordinary work, the event would not be the same without help from over 150 judges, 25 volunteers, and 30 student volunteers.

I would like to thank all who participated in some way to make the night a fabulous success for our students and our community. “Thanks for the opportunity to be involved as a judge this year,” said Faron Adamson, a board member for the Hartville School District and professor for Webster University, “The entire experience is an experience for a lifetime for these students. What a significant and real world project, no matter whether students attend college or head to the work force, these are necessary skills for any 21st Century job.”

One of my favorite quotes comes from Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister from 1979-1990. She reminds us to look at a day when we are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around and do nothing, it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.

Back in September, our students saw only that they had “everything” to do, but at the end, I hope they are supremely satisfied. Senior Lindsey McElyea said , “Now that it’s over, I’m so glad for this opportunity. I grew mentally, and I stretched myself academically, but most importantly, I had a chance to do something for myself and to give back to my community and to families in need, and that means a lot of me.”