Congratulations, Class of 2021!
The Oak Meadow School Class of 2021 graduated on June 3rd. Here is the graduation address from Head of School Jay Scheurle, celebrating the qualities demonstrated by the students during this unusual year in history.
One of my favorite things that I get to do as a Head of School is speak for a few moments to the graduates at their graduation ceremonies. This is the 15th graduation address I have given as a Head of School, and I can honestly say that every year I have been very proud of the students who were graduating.
This year, however, I feel that there is something to be especially proud of with this group of young graduates. And I want you to feel especially honored and celebrated because your experiences over the past school year have been unlike any other in the history of Oak Meadow School.
I would like you to join me for a few moments on a journey traveling through time. Are you up for that? Can we do a little time travel together? Open your thoughts and try to imagine that you are sixty years into the future, in the year 2081. At that point in your life, you are well into your 70’s. One day, your grandchild or perhaps your grandniece or nephew or a young neighbor friend comes to you and asks to talk to you for a few minutes. This youngster is in middle school, and has been given the assignment to interview someone who was in middle school during the COVID pandemic which began in 2019. To him or her, that is ancient history! He or she begins to ask you questions like, “what effect did the pandemic have on your life? How did it make you feel? How was school different for you? How did you cope with the situation?”
What each one of you would say in response to these questions would reflect your own personal feelings and be unique to your experience. It would also most likely be colored by the life experiences you will have in the coming 60 years. Everyone of us has been changed in some way during the past 18 months. As a school, we have missed out on activities that we love to do together. And that has been hard.
But in reaching back in your memory to your time at Oak Meadow School, I hope you would remember to share what we have witnessed about you during this time. These are the 3 words I would use to describe how you faced this most unusual year at school, and the 3 qualities I would hope you would share in the future when you are asked about this unusual moment in history that you are living through and which has defined your middle school experience.
You have been resilient. You have been flexible. You have been brave.
Let’s take a moment and look more deeply at those words I used to describe you — resilient, flexible, brave.
Let’s start with resilient. Resilient means “able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.” There’s no denying that the pandemic has been a difficult condition. School had to become completely different for you and your teachers. Some of you learned from home. Some of you came to a school that was very different in many ways than you had ever experienced before. And even if you faltered at first or had challenges in adapting to what we had to do to try to keep everyone safe, you were the definition of resilient. You withstood or recovered quickly.
Let’s move to our next word — flexible. The definition of flexible is “ready and able to change, so as to adapt to altered circumstances.” What made me so proud of you and all of the students at Oak Meadow this year was that you were willing and able to change and to adapt to the changes required by the pandemic. You understood and abided by the new rules we had to put into place. You wore your masks without complaining. You followed the rules for how to enter the building and keep a safe distance from others. You adapted to a new way of learning at school and at home. And you didn’t let that get in the way of your education. You and your teachers worked together as a team to figure out how to make it work. And as 8th graders, who are in many ways the young leaders at school, you set the example for your younger peers. Well done, 8th graders. Thank you for that leadership.
Another definition for the word flexible that I think applies beautifully here is that flexible also means “bending without breaking.” You adapted to the changes, and faced the disappointments that came with an altered school year, but you didn’t let them break you. Here you are, ready to graduate and do yourselves and your family and all of us proud at your new high schools.
And finally to our last word — you have been brave. Brave is a very big word. We often use that word to describe people who do big heroic actions that risk their lives, like firefighters or soldiers…… or superheroes in movies. And there is certainly no denying that those people are very brave. But we have to remember that we all need courage in our everyday lives when we are faced with challenges. And each one of you was brave this year in the face of the challenges of the pandemic because being brave means….”showing mental or moral strength to face difficulty.”
And you did. You faced the last 18 months with mental and moral strength. You worked hard, you were kind, and you were good citizens of our school and of the world. And that is why you are here today graduating, and being celebrated by all of us. And that’s why, out of all of those hundreds and hundreds of graduates I have spoken to over the years, I am especially proud of all of you. Congratulations, Class of 2021!