June, the season of graduates, can be bittersweet. The seniors, who some of us have know for so very long, stand in adolescent awe at the threshold of young adulthood. In a few short days they will be gone from our campus and from our everyday life.
We educators stay behind, memories of our former students alive in our hearts and in the photographs taped to the classroom walls, even as the students who made those memories are living their emerging lives just beyond our sight. For us, they are perpetually seventeen, at least until they return years later to startle us with their maturity.
Even then, when they walk away from our campus once again our memories of them revert to the scores of smiling faces pictured on our classroom walls.
In these emotional times, I turn to poetry for the kind of perspective not found in prose. Matthew Arnold got tonight’s nod, pulled from my bookshelf on the way out to my daughter’s softball practice.
While I know his 1852 poem “The Future” wasn’t written about graduation, it felt like he was whispering to me when he wrote:
A wanderer is man from his birth.
He was born in a ship
On the breast of the river of Time;
Brimming with wonder and joy
He spreads out his arms to the light”
As a principal, I’m inspired to see my wanderers embark on this next voyage. I see in their eyes the wonder and joy Arnold writes about, and I wish for them a grand adventure “on the river of Time.”
I’m certain that these students’ paths will not be straight, and for their sakes I’m happy for that. Who would rather be a soapbox derby car than a jeep exploring the winding roads of a mysterious land?
Arnold ends his poem with a beginning, watching his adventurers…
As the pale waste widens around them,
As the banks fade dimmer away,
As the stars come out, and the night-wind
Brings up the stream
Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea.”
I like to think the same for the students leaving our school for lives of their own. Murmuring up our stream is the promise of an infinite sea, where they will live life, a life filled with wonder and joy, just past a horizon where we will be remembering them.