I have just returned from attending Eloise’s fourth-grade graduation. A fourth-grade graduation is something that was never a part of my experience as a child, parent or teacher, yet it has become increasingly popular in present time. It now ranks up there with the graduations from nursery school, and kindergarten; day care will come next. I don’t mean to sound cynical. After the past year and a half that our young have been through, they should have a special ceremony for every grade and school-related event. To say that this past COVID filled year and a half was like no other, especially for children in the throes of learning, would be a gross understatement.
Anyway, back to Eloise’s graduation ceremony. Under clear, invitingly blue, sunny, warm skies, the graduates proudly took their assigned seats within view of their adoring parents, grandparents, and significant members of their family circles. As their prerecorded songs loudly played over the school’s sound system, Eloise and her classmates sat in joyful anticipation as each part of the program unfolded. As I watched with pride, I thought of how quickly her almost 10 years of life have passed. I saw Eloise zipping along in her short terrycloth shorts on her scooter always turning her head to make sure that I was close behind and her uncontrollable sobbing when her parents left her with us at our house on Cape Cod so they could have a getaway weekend (I never knew a four-year-old could screech out such high soprano notes). I thought about how as a basically shy child, she displayed a remarkable ability to feign self-confidence when put into social situations. I thought about how she would quit playing a game before anyone had a chance to defeat her and how she gradually grew into playing a game to its conclusion, win, lose or draw. But, most of all I thought of how fortunate I was to have been able to bear witness to this moment, a moment that one short year ago looked entirely different for graduates at every level.
At one point in the ceremony, the children were invited to state one poignant memory they were to take away from their school experience. One boy brought the crowd down with laughter when he stated he remembered how in second grade he let go with a “huge fart” and apologized to his classmates. My mind traveled back to my burst-out laughter while reading A Catcher in The Rye, by J. D. Salinger when Holden Caulfield, the main character in the story, described a similar experience. Another child’s favorite memory was that of her teacher, standing on a chair, singing the song from “Frozen” at the top of her lungs, much to the delight of the class. One student remembered the “adjective parade.” I also remember that parade and how Eloise called to tell me that she got me as her adjective. Her adjective was “elderly.” Out of the mouths of babes! Their eclectic memories reflected their uniqueness as well as the incredible impact their teachers had upon keeping them happy and engaged during an extremely difficult time in their lives. What struck me the most, however, was how not one of them referred to the agonizing toil that remote learning had on their school experience. It made me see just how resilient young children are when it comes to adapting to situations.
I cannot attest to the success or failure of remote learning, nor would I want to. Time will be its judge. What today’s graduation did demonstrate was thanks to the dedicated efforts of administrators, teachers, students, and parents, the children were emerging happily intact. They managed to learn the difficult task of using technological skills to take part in ZOOM classes, complete assignments over the internet, learn new and difficult computerized programs and a myriad of skills to get them through an unprecedented time of their lives.
At one point the graduates’ teachers addressed the students and their audience. Fighting back tears, Eloise’s teacher spoke about how their year was unlike any other in history. He spoke of his pride in seeing his class seated before him. He spoke of the difficulties they faced and how they mustered through without complaint; teacher and students working together to reach goals laid before them as they journeyed through the year. He spoke about how they will always remember these long months of limited social interaction, wearing masks lest they get “the virus,” learning programs that he really wasn’t too adept at learning, and their positive attitude throughout their remote school experience. As he tearfully recapped his students’ resilience throughout the pandemic, my eyes welled in sync with his.
Eloise and millions of other children across our country graduated today. They graduated from a time in their lives that I hope they never have to witness again. They graduated to renewed optimism for happier days ahead.
Congratulations to graduates, teachers, students, and parents everywhere. You have given a happy ending to a nightmarish time of our lives.