Friday, May 20, 2005

a soulful graduation

Today was graduation. It was at 10 am at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre for the Performing Arts, which was a beautiful venue. The last few times I was there was to go to the opera. (I'm a classy broad. We don't know why I have to say that. Who doesn't know?)
Back to the children. It was a beautiful thing. About 55 seniors graduated. They were respectful and even reverent. If anybody understands how serious it is to graduate from high school, I'd say they do. It's such an accomplishment for them, for so many reasons, not the least of which is that 60 other seniors in their class didn't graduate. Fewer did than didn't.
We teachers wore graduation gowns, including the hats. (Mine fell off.) There were a couple of speakers who were on the program but didn't show, including someone from the school board. That was cold. And the children so know.
But everything else about the program was wonderful. While the people were filing in the seniors on the stage moved subtly to the rhythm of the band playing "Pomp and Circumstance," moving their weight from one foot to the other. That was my first indication of what a soulful event this would be.The valedictorian and salutatorian were twins, a boy and a girl, Christina and Christopher Burton. Christopher delivered the hello and Christina delivered the goodbye. In between and before and after the coming and going speeches, here's what we had: the presentation of colors by the JROTC; The Star Spangled Banner, played by our band; a prayer by a student, which included mention of the Father and of Jesus (I can't really imagine a gathering of a group like this without that. I didn't mind it.); a song which on the program was meant to be sung by choir and audience, but since there was no choir, the audience did the best it could; our speech/journalism/drama teacher, singing a gospel song, "For thou, oh Lord, you've been a shield," (she had a gorgeous voice and got a strong ovation. It was spectacular!); the superintendent's award, delivered by someone else because no one from the superintendent's office or from the school board was there, the cold-hearted bastards; another piece of music by the band; the SPEAKER, Dr Dwight Webster, Pastor of the Christian Unity Baptist Church, who was FANTASTIC and who got a long and well deserved standing ovation. The inspiration for his speech was a Tupac Shakur song, "Keep Ya' Head Up," the text of which he read in its entirety, and which is all about not letting the world or your history dictate your actions for the future. I quote him: "Everybody in here is an ex-something. The question is, are you going to be held down by your past? By your biography?; Your destiny awaits, though your dreams might be deferred; You decide there's something in life for you and go after it." I guess those don't sound earth-shatteringly original in this context, but what he said moved everyone, including the seniors onstage. They were all turned to look at him and they were listening. It was beautiful. These people are willing to listen when someone has something useful to say to them. I love these kids. They give the gift of real.
The conferring of the diplomas was precious. Every senior walked across the front of the stage after being called by name, one senior on the path at a time, and each one stood with our principal and had a professional photograph made with her. Some of them danced across the stage. Some of them strutted. Some tottered on pink stillettoes (I'm not joking). Some in yellow. At least Elijah didn't do a cartwheel!
It was a beautiful morning. After the graduation I went up to one of my students, a great person, one who should go to this very theatre for an opera, and asked to meet his mother. He was embarrassed, I could tell. His mother is an addict, and it was obvious. I hope I did the right thing. I hope it didn't hurt his heart.
After all that, seven of us teachers went to Deanie's in bucktown and had a fried seafood lunch which was delicious, and over which we had good chat. I like the faculty. When we got back the school was deserted. Empty of students, that is. All the teachers were there.
It was a great day. I love what I do. I love the people I work with. And I love those children.

Love, Melanie

2 Comments:

Blogger Nancy McKeand said...

There is something about graduation that makes all the problems seem insignificant. It takes effort to even remember them at graduation time!

8:29 AM  
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8:37 PM  

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