To mark the end of the school year, here's a reprise edition of my old running series.
The Felix Chronicles, # 35
In which we survey the annual spring harvest
make a detour when I arrive at school for a final round of faculty
meetings to take a look at the Quad. Surprisingly, there are no obvious
traces of yesterday’s ceremonies. Less than 24 hours ago, this space was
teeming with parents, grandparents, alums, along with hundreds of
students —- some of whom were wearing caps and gowns and about to
dissolve into living ghosts. Today, all that remains is a sole folding
chair. And since it’s brown, not black like the hundreds that had been
set up, I’m not even sure it was here yesterday. The only sign that
anything relatively unusual had happened are the distressed stripes of
grass running horizontally across the Quad. The maintenance crew will
take care of that in pretty short order, and this space will revert to a
stretch of silence, punctuated only by the occasional round of
elementary school kids singing here on summer afternoons, or
administrators walking to and from their cars. Birds and bees will hold
dominion for a season.
relieved it’s finally over. It’s been three weeks since the seniors
finished classes, a period punctuated by end-of-the-year parties, final
exams, the prom, the senior dinner, and other rituals. Graduation is the
most tedious. People typically experience a string over a string of a
dozen or so years: elementary school and middle school, then high
school, college, each a little more bittersweet and dogged by anxiety,
followed perhaps by a postgraduate degree. And then that’s it for a
generation. But we teachers (especially high school teachers) go through
the motions every year. The students, the speeches, the recitation of
the school song: they all tend to run together. If anything is likely
to be memorable, it’s the weather: hot or rainy, surprisingly cool or
surprisingly beautiful. There’s usually a moment of genuine gladness at
some point in the morning, as we witness the visible signs of maturity
in some of our charges. And there’s often a moment of genuine regret,
too, when we face an esteemed colleague’s retirement, the graduation of
the final child in a cherished family, or a fond farewell from a clutch
of friends who complemented each other so nicely. Any of these people
may reappear at some point, in some perhaps transfigured way. But the
uncertainty of such scenarios, and the certainty of time’s passage, make
such moments bittersweet at best.
always a relief when you get in the car and head home after such
rituals, and I’m glad to seize a life, however quotidian, that’s truly
my own. For years now, it’s been my habit to come home from graduation
and mow the lawn. I think of Winslow Homer’s 1865 painting “Veteran in a
New Field,” which depicts a recently returned Civil War soldier
threshing wheat. Figuratively speaking, my campaign is over, and I’m
eager to get back to my farm.
notion of closure is among the greatest satisfactions of teaching.
Other walks of life are comparably cyclical. But I don’t think any
afford the kind of clean lines and closed books that a life in schools
does. Many working people take extended summer vacations, but few of
them are as expansive and sharply chiseled as that afforded by an
academic schedule. As we are all veterans of schooling, this experience
is a virtual birthright. But only teachers refuse to relinquish it.
time will come—unexpectedly quickly —when my longings will turn away
from completion and repose toward the rebirth that comes with the fall.
In my case, the longings typically return long before it's time to
actually return to the classroom. But as I make my way from meeting to
meeting, from a final faculty softball came to a final trip to the local
watering hole before we all disperse, I pause to savor the cadence. The
present is past. And history will be born anew.