I told myself a couple of years ago during some difficult times that one of my goals was to learn how to slow down happy moments. The rough ones seem to linger forever, but too often I feel like I rush through the good ones. Maybe it’s because good things make me more optimistic and thus more forward-looking, I don’t know. But bad moments have a way of holding you in the present, whether you want to be there or not. So I’ve been trying to learn from them, and apply those lessons during the good times.
That’s what I was thinking about the morning of Saturday, June 9: graduation at the Sustainability Workshop. I just wanted to listen closely, paying attention to people’s faces and the sound of their voices, and not hurry. It’s more than two weeks later and I still don’t know that I have the right words to describe what it felt like to sit there that morning. There were some great comments. Like one student (I won’t name names) who remarked that they had not really taken school seriously before, and had cut a lot of classes. “But you couldn’t do that here,” he said, “because, well, there was no class.” In some ways that sums us up. We’ve tried as hard as we could to take away the aspects of school that feel like enforcement, and what’s left is the work. (Being a dork, I also thought of the iconic line from the Matrix, there is no spoon, which I’d love to tell you is a reflection of the sense of limitless possibilities we try to instill in our students, but everyone would just laugh at me.) Then there was this gem from Michael, one of our teachers: “I said ‘love.’ And Tyus said, ‘corny.’ And Keith said, ‘awkward’…and Alejandra and I shed a tear.” And again I thought, “Yep, that’s us.” Love, and corny, and awkward. But true.
To say that I am proud of our students doesn’t do them justice. (I am immensely proud of my colleagues, who are truly gifted teachers and great friends.) But when I think about our students this year, what I feel is overwhelming gratitude. They took a chance on coming to us. They worked harder than they had ever worked in school. Every single one of them had to confront failure, often publicly. They got out of their comfort zone. They cared for each other, a lot. When they spoke at graduation, they talked about this place being like a family, and they talked about how much they learned from failing. Without the first of those things, the second never would have happened. What we learned, what we accomplished as a community, was possible because we trusted each other.
When the media tell stories about successful schools, it’s common to talk about how they “transform” students. Many of us have our own stories about how some school experience changed us, and I hope our students do too. But in some ways that misses the point. I think the Workshop is an effort to transform school into something that is more tuned in, more respectful of students. We aren’t trying to fix them – they aren’t broken. And we’re not pretending they’re angels either. What they are is smart, and complicated. And sitting at graduation that sunny Saturday morning, it was clear to everyone present that they are worthy of our fullest attention, and our respect.