End of Year Rituals

May, 2017
Paul Wieman, Upper School Principal

With the days stretching longer and the warm weather (finally) upon us, it is hard not to think of the end of the academic year just over the horizon.  For many this brings thoughts of a job well done, a set of goals accomplished, or a year of growth that one only sees in high school.
 
Also with the year’s end come rituals.  The rituals of prom and prize day, the Blue and Gold Dinner, the senior barbecue, and, of course, graduation.  For the school, these are annual affairs, ways our community celebrates the present while connecting to the past. For the students, these are passing events, important milestones to be celebrated with friends and family.
 
It is interesting to see how different members of the community experience these annual events differently. For seniors, they are events that are celebrated and enjoyed, but, like a slow ticker, they are countdowns to the culminating day of graduation.  For long-term faculty members, these are annual events, ways to mark time, events that stay grounded even as the world changes around us.  For new teachers, these rituals are ways to pass down traditions from one generation to the next.
 
Rituals are important for community members.  Younger ones watch older ones and learn what is important.  Prizes honor individuals, to be sure, and that is perhaps how the members of the graduating class see it, but just as important, prizes reflect what a community values…the service, the character, the morality, the academics, the leaders.
 
Some rituals are all about the build-up and less about the event (think prom here).  Others create a time to pause and honor those who have done so well over time (think graduation.) Some celebrate family (Senior Barbecue) and others celebrate the senior class (Blue and Gold Dinner).  But together, they speak to the School’s mission and to the community that surrounds the graduating class, and, by extension, all of the members of RCDS.
 
I always find it interesting how seniors choose to spend their time and energy during their final semester at RCDS.  If we have done it right, seniors are itching to get out of high school; with their new perspective, looking ahead and afar, they find the whole high-school thing a bit silly at this point and really want to move on.  This is as it should be.
 
What really impresses me is that even with this lens, the Class of 2017 still has a deep and profound respect for both the School as a whole and the adults within the community.  For example, it was brought to my attention today that there was quite a bit of noise in the gym after school, even as some students were finishing up an AP exam.  I stopped by to mention this to the coach, and the captain noticed my presence.  Without so much as an adult mentioning a word, the captain quickly assessed the reason for my presence, announced to her teammates:  “AP are upstairs, girls…we need to quiet down.”  And, without missing a beat, the girls finished their fun indoor game but without the accompanying yells and screams that were disturbing the test takers.  That is what I mean by seniors showing respect for the school and for the adults.
 
And while it is through moments such as this one it is also through rituals that students, and especially seniors, get to both experience and show respect.
 
Rituals in the form of annual events are important for individuals and communities. As we are about to embark on our ritual season, let us all take a moment to pause, enjoy the events, and recognize the different perspectives that are in use.