By: Jane Moore
Upper School Director
The 79 members of the Class of 2017 graduated from Berkeley Carroll on June 2. The following are Upper School Director Jane Moore’s Commencement remarks.
I’ve been thinking a bit lately about what graduation days mean from a teacher’s perspective. Though we participate in this ceremony every year, each graduation also signifies the passing of four years — the journey from ninth grade to 12th grade. Recently I was reading an article in Runner’s World magazine 1 about a recreational runner about my age who lives in a college town. “I live in a town,” he writes, “where 45 percent of the population is, and will always be, between 18 and 22 years old. They are perpetually in their prime. And in an unfair twist, I age one year annually as if I’ve been cursed by a witch. It’s a complete injustice! This is a reality that gets less and less pleasant to face the longer it goes on.” This is a version, I guess, of what it’s like to perpetually be in high school, something that most people would imagine as a circle of hell. But for most of the faculty, the twist is not that we age while our students are forever young, but that despite the ever-constant reminders of the passing of time (days like this), despite the ever-growing gap between us and our students, most of us gain energy and vitality from our proximity to you. As we run more slowly and get injured more frequently, our interactions with you — surprising meetings of the mind, heated challenges, lively debates, even mutual frustrations — these moments sharpen us and keep us in shape.
Over the years, I have heard lots of students articulate some version of, “High school is weird” — I think that line was even in a senior speech this year. I agree, though perhaps for different reasons. High schools are unique because they are defined by the transitory, four-year journey of their students, and also by a wide range of faculty, some who are new — to the school or to teaching — and some who have taught here for 15 or 20 or 30 years. How would a school be different if all of the teachers were also restricted to a four-year tenure? Longevity does not necessarily make someone a better teacher, but I think we can all agree that schools would lose something if teachers, like students, simply rotated out after four years. Those of you, for example, who have had the privilege of studying with Mr. Swarthout or Mr. Kohlmuller, know that that privilege stems not only from the history and French you have learned, but also from something more ineffable about their experience and wisdom — a kind of wisdom and love of place that only comes from having been somewhere long enough to know it well, to be it in some essential way.
From the perspective of long-time faculty, you, graduates, are a drop in the bucket in the life of the school — except, while it’s happening, it doesn’t feel so short. Like when you were in the middle of 10th grade, and thought to yourselves, “High school is never going to end,” or when you were ninth graders and you looked at your peer leaders and idolized them as distant deities. But I bet that at some point recently many of you have thought some version of, “Wow, it’s almost over.”
And we, the faculty, think the same thing — we think it, and it’s jarring to us, because during the four years you are here, you are the school. You inhabit it completely, and our lives — the faculty’s — and yours become intertwined, interdependent.
I have been at Berkeley Carroll a relatively short amount of time, so I have not yet experienced a full one of the four-year cycles that so define a high school’s rhythm. Yet, you, the Class of 2017, are the class I have seen the most and know the best. I had the privilege of working with some of you last year in American Studies, I have served on committees with you, worked on senior speeches with you, seen you in numerous performances and athletic contests, but I have also just observed you almost every day for three years, and I’ve watched how the other students and our faculty interact with you. I’m sure there are fights and feuds and tensions I know nothing about — but there is a certain truth that emerges from what is visible to the outside, and the truth that many of my colleagues and I have witnessed is your awareness that you are a part of a whole — your grade — and as such you have mostly operated and navigated with basic decency and respect, often with kindness and empathy and love. Those qualities emerge when you feel that one of you has been wronged, or when you rally to celebrate someone’s big moment, like a senior speech or a college acceptance or a great performance. So, thank you for making those qualities increasingly dominant ones in our school culture. I know that the students in the ninth, 10th and 11th grades have taken notice.
The impact of students — your impact — on the culture of a school extends to the faculty as well. I imagine that many of you could quickly choose one or two teachers who particularly changed your perspective or affected your learning (like Mr. Sanchez for Gala). Think of the faculty member you’ll look for first if you come back to visit next year, or the teacher you’ll be mostly likely to talk about with your college roommate. Teachers also have those students — and I’m not talking about favorites, I’m talking about young people who’ve challenged them, made them think differently, made them teach differently, either in method or content. I still remember — fondly — a student who spit out the window on my second day ever as a teacher (we eventually learned a lot from each other), and the first student whose facial expression told me she was re-thinking and re-considering her point of view.
So as I see it, the special energy of these years comes from the symbiotic, dynamic relationship between students and teachers that extends well beyond the four-year period that we think of as encompassing high school.
The runner from the college town1 says that he “sometimes dream[s] that [he] live[s] in a different kind of town. In this town are people just like me: they all have doughy, droopy middle-aged bodies and they all chug along at a reasonable pace…It is the most comfortable place that I can imagine, and it is the worst place in the world. I don’t want to be comfortable; I want to be uncomfortable.….” While those who don’t teach might think of teaching as a pretty comfortable existence, I think that many of us choose to live our lives in high school because it’s uncomfortable, because the younger citizens of this town can be impetuous and unreasonable and sometimes very sure that they are faster or more knowledgeable. But they surprise themselves and they surprise us.
The Berkeley Carroll faculty have invested their time, knowledge, experience and years in teaching and guiding you. You have been privileged to be taught by them just as I have the privilege to work with them.
I speak for the faculty when I say that we have also been privileged to teach you. Thank you for stopping by, thank you for making our last four years of high school so enjoyable.
1. Squance, Joe. “3 Advantages to Being an Ugly Runner in a Town Full of Beautiful People.” Runner’s World. Rodale, 26 May 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.