Gratitude Upon Graduation

I have just a few minutes to post before I leave St. Vincent High School, so this post will be much shorter and more off the cuff than usual. I spent my lunch period talking with my old principal — who now teaches World History — and I ended up skipping Literature class because we were having such an in-depth conversation. We talked about how the school has changed and remained the same, what we hope formal education does for students, and how we’ve changed as individuals over the years. The conversation reminded me of how much I love St. Vincent High School, and that feeling has stayed with me all day. I’ve had similar conversations with several of my old teachers during the last couple of weeks, and they’ve been the highlight of my visit. I am trying to make sense of this paradox: I suffered quite a bit in the school system and believe it’s in need of major change, but I love this school that is a part of that system.

Even when I was a student, I always appreciated the teachers and the community. Even the teachers that have a traditional authoritative style sincerely care about their students, respect their opinions, and get to know them on a personal level. They make it clear to students that they matter. Although I believe that the school system has gone wrong in many ways — including memorization of specialized material, strict rules, and competitive grading — something is right with my high school, and with my elementary and middle schools. What’s right with my schools is the people. Generally speaking, the teachers are doing their best within a very complicated system that has taken on a life of its own, perpetuated by thousands of people and institutions, parents and administrators and the whole University of California system. Most don’t even realize that schools can look completely different than the norm, and that they may not need some of the components we assume they do.

I want to explore this idea more fully, and to write about some of the diverse schools I’ve seen around the world, but for now I wanted to clarify my position on my schooling. I’ve said before on the blog that in many ways my schooling opened opportunities for me, and in other ways it limited them, at least in my perception. I’ve been very aware in the last few years of the limitations and the regrets, but spending time at my old schools this fall has made me appreciate the wonderful things that I took away from my education, despite its flaws. I have relationships with some of the kindest and most fascinating teachers I could ask for. They introduced me to the likes of Gail Godwin and Edward Hopper and Jean-Paul Sartre, and they modeled professionalism, dedication, and compassion. Although I would have changed a lot of things about the school system and the intense way I participated in it, there are a lot of things that I wouldn’t change about my education. And as I technically graduate high school today, I am grateful for this perspective.

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