2013 Graduation Speech
At the Open School, there is no shortage of rituals and ceremonies, all designed to support and celebrate the learner. As principal, I am lucky enough to have the honor of participating in one such ritual with each of these graduates, the Transcript Stamping. In fact, when I accepted the position as principal there was a notably symbolic moment when my predecessor, Wendy Wheaton, gave me the official transcript seal of the Jefferson County Open School. It was then that I knew I had arrived.
Each year, as I sit down with each student and their Advisor for the final transcript stamping, I get to ask a few questions. This year I asked these graduates if they were indeed “ready” to graduate? And if so, how did they know they were ready? Their answers were as varied and beautiful as the people you see before you now: however, common themes emerged in their responses including; a sense of pride in the accomplishment, the anticipation for new adventures, and perhaps most profound was an overwhelming sense of trust in themselves. One student, Sam Handman, responded by saying he knew he was ready to graduate because he had gained the ability to replicate the Open School in his life wherever he might go. He went on to explain that what he really meant was he now knows how to surround himself with a community of engaged, curious, and passionate individuals.
Starting on day one in the Walkabout program, we ask students to trust in this process of self-discovery. Individuals are introduced to the Walkabout program through the Wilderness Trip, which is designed to push them beyond their comfort zone. Each graduate here today had to place their trust in an Advisor and an Advising group they barely knew, it was the beginning, because real trust is dependent upon meaningful relationships. Consider: as William Shakespeare so wisely observed, “Trust is a relationship of reliance.” Shakespeare’s definition captures the essence of the Open School and provides explanation for one of the school’s great paradoxes: a strong sense of self is achieved through reliance on relationships within a community of learners.
As students engage in the Walkabout program, endeavoring to complete the six Passages, a trusting relationship with the Advisor is paramount. To quote Shakespeare again, and I will modify the quote slightly here for effect, "an Advisor (friend) is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow." It is through the advisor - advisee relationship that graduates learn to trust themselves as the directors of their own education.
At the transcript stampings, it was indeed impressive to hear the many things these graduates had learned through the Passage process. In a self-directed program where students become the directors of their own education, all the world truly does become a stage. I heard of Passages dedicated to learning the art of Beekeeping and the threat posed by colony collapse, the profound difference between activism and slacktivism, the connection between bullying and discrimination, and one from a student, Amelia Bost, who has taught us all about inclusion. Each of these Passages were impressive in their depth of academic content, however, what was most significant in hearing these graduates’ stories was their ability to articulate with confidence the profound knowledge of how to learn. It is the art of self-direction that these graduates have mastered and it is because of this fact that they are ready to graduate.
Before I conclude, I want to acknowledge one more trusting relationship upon which the success of the Open School depends. Without the trust and support of parents, this community would not exist. In this proud moment, I want to thank all of you, the parents, for placing your trust in us. The experiences your graduates have had here were unconventional in every sense of the word. This process might have been scary at times as their personal triumphs may have been fraught with adversity. It can be an enormous leap of faith to entrust your child to an educational approach that is unfamiliar. In the end, however, the outcome, as observed in final support meetings, are self-evident. So we thank you parents, for placing your trust in us. And with that, I would like to introduce to you the graduating class of 2013.