Across the Northshire this past week, high school students donned polyester robes and odd-looking hats and marched across a stage while family and friends took snapshots. Waiting for them across the stage was a principal or headmaster with a leather-bound diploma, a firm handshake and a kind and encouraging word.
On the other side of the stage — at the risk of sounding a bit dramatic — awaited the rest of their lives.
To these graduates, we offer our sincere congratulations. Way to go, kids; you did it. Whatever the future holds for you, be it college, the world of work, a trade apprenticeship, a gap year or service to your nation, you have achieved something important and enduring.
And if we may borrow a bit from the rousing graduation address given by retiring Burr and Burton Academy science teacher David Curtis, we hope you find a life's work, a purpose that energizes and enriches your life and gives your efforts a meaning deeper than paying the bills.
To the graduates' parents, extended families and loved ones: You did it, too. You helped that kid across the finish line. You logged hundreds of miles behind the wheel for pick-up and drop-off at school days and sports and performing arts practices, and endured all the drama of teenage years in the process. As you take pride in their accomplishments, take pride in your own, too.
In reviewing the speeches we quoted, the accomplishments we heard cited and the photos we took, we can't help but think about the fact that graduations are formally referred to as "commencement" exercises.
It does make sense. After all, the word "graduation" infers a process that is complete, and that's only partially true. "Commencement," on the other hand, suggests the limitless possibility that life holds, a future well beyond the moment in which you and your friends wore polyester robes and odd-looking hats and waited your turn to walk across the stage.
It's fitting, therefore, that there was recently another commencement of sorts in the neighborhood — the opening meeting of the Taconic and Green Regional School District, held two weeks ago on a rainy evening at Hildene.
As was the case at the high school commencements we covered, there was a formal process (a meeting, complete with procedural rules), a thought-provoking valedictory address (by Northshire study committee chairman Jon Wilson), a gracious keynote speech from a visiting dignitary (Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe), and a brief ceremony (the swearing in of board members). There were no robes or funny hats, but cake was served afterward.
Like high school commencement, it was the end of a long, sometimes arduous process, and the beginning of a new future — a moment to take stock, realize deserved satisfaction and pride in a job well done, then resolve to push forward.
Holcombe spoke of how impressed she and the state Board of Education were with the vision and generous spirit shown by a committee of dedicated volunteers in assembling a plan that would serve children with diverse backgrounds and needs, regardless of town.
Much like a high school commencement, there's also recognition that no one succeeds alone.
For the district to truly succeed going forward, the citizens of the Taconic and Green's nine towns need to accept its invitation to get involved and remain invested in the product and the process.
As summer turns to fall and the district ramps up its work, leading to next July — when it will officially take over governance, after a year of sustained effort and careful preparation — that direct participation and input will be critical to its success.
The new district plans to rotate its board meeting sites through its nine towns so that citizens can have access to their proceedings and stay aware of how their children are being educated, and how their property taxes are being spent. That strategy is commendable, but it will only truly pay off if the citizens of the district attend those meetings, get involved, and stay involved. The Vermont model of democracy as a civic responsibility, rather than a spectator sport, depends upon it.
If it does, we'll look back fondly at this moment, much as we look back at high school commencement, and remember it fondly as the day when the good stuff about life really began.
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