Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Graduating with Class

Graduating with Class

I had the distinct honor of being invited to this year's graduation for the senior class of the Sir James Dunn Academy. Graduation ceremonies are filled with protocol and a bit of etiquette. Without these, the organizational elements would be totally chaotic. The graduation itself took place in the gymnasium and was beautifully decorated and carefully planned and executed. Walking into the school and seeing everyone all dressed up was so refreshing and really nice. 

It is always interesting to learn who is related to whom. One would think that after 17 years, I might have a clue about parents and their children, and in some case I did, but the extended arms of various families still had my head spinning. Graduations are one of those occasions we experience when we try to put aside any untoward feelings we may have about family members with whom we have an estranged relationship and focus our attention on the graduates themselves. 

Another part of graduations which I look forward to are the various speeches. This year reminded me of why I like them so much. For one thing, I am impressed with the facility people have of standing in front of an audience of strangers, speaking about a broad range of subjects about life, it's impending pitfalls, its moments of joy and the adventures that lie ahead for the graduates. This year's speeches were all short, punctuated with humor and seeded with wonderful advice. Those heartfelt personal messages are the just the kind of advice that is doled out in one form or another throughout the busy school year and often go unheeded. For some reason, perhaps because we are a captive audience, we pay closer attention at graduation. We actually listen and hear things we yearn to hear often.

The afternoon affords the graduates and their parents plenty of time to prepare for the Grand March, a local tradition dating back several decades. The Grand March starts off an evening of celebration. Formally dressed in a beautiful array of colorful dresses, tuxedos and suits, the grads and their parents walk arm in arm through Centennial Park and are announced before the assembled crowd, much like a formal cotillion. Girls are escorted by their dads, brothers or grandfathers, while the boys walk in with their moms, grandmothers or sisters. It is a highlight of the year for many people and this event is well attended. 

The tradition of graduation as a rite of passage is celebrated all over the world. Watching the baton handed from one principal to another, one MC to another, and one class president to another over the course of the years is proof of how important we as a society hold such matters. It is always heartwarming to see a class of school mates unite and perform as a group, including the entire class in the planned activities. An example of this was beautifully described in one of the speeches. Customarily the class takes a trip together as a fun extra curricular activity to punctuate their achievements. They usually go white water rafting. This year, however, one of their classmates is confined to a wheelchair and as a result would not have been able to participate. The class decided that it was more important to include everyone in the activity and chose an alternative which would allow for total inclusion. I mention this as an example of how we may all learn from the students whom we so often teach. Wouldn't the world be a more wonderful place if this same dynamic was carried throughout our daily lives and society as a whole?

The students demonstrated great individuality during the year. At graduation they come together as individuals and uphold tradition. This year's class was no exception. But above all, they demonstrated how they order their priorities. To my mind, they are doing just fine. If tomorrow's leaders were in that group of graduates, and my guess is that there are many, then we have much to look forward to. The teachers to whom parents entrust their children are commendable. Their guidance is working, and in no small part because they are allowing the students to help in the process. The future is bright. 

Congratulations to the class of 2010!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

100th Celebration of Father's Day

As a lovely warm up to a busy summer, this weekend is the occasion of the 100th celebration of Father's Day, first celebrated in the state of Washington. Although this day of recognition was also used to acknowledge the forefathers and founding fathers, today its focus is really on all dads; and it is celebrated in about 55 countries worldwide. Outdoor family activities punctuate the day whenever possible, often times serving as the beginning of summer barbeque season - a symbolic moment where dads steadfastly and unabashedly produce a bountiful meal on the grill for friends and family.

Fathers come in many shapes and sizes and in many different forms. With blended families and extended families increasing all the time, some of us may have more than one person who functions as a father. For others of us, we find father figures outside of our immediate family. Our school teachers, athletic coaches and scout leaders are examples which come to mind readily.

Fathers are the masculine energy of a family unit. Traditionally our dads "bring home the bacon" (earn the living for the family) and give security to the family. They protected us from harm and established boundaries and rules by which we lived. Our fathers help us to form a solid foundation on which we build our lives. We learn many of our real survival techniques and skills from our fathers. Earning and managing money and other resources often fall into the arms of our fathers. We need our dads and depend on their strengths to guide us through many challenges.

Sons and daughters alike learn a lot from their dads by example. Fatherhood is a position of great responsibility. Many of us hold our fathers to a very high standard while others of us spend a lifetime dedicated to doing nothing like our fathers did. In either case, there is an undeniable bond between fathers and their children. This bond is forged and reinforced throughout our lives.

Acknowledging the important place that fathers have in our lives is the reason for this annual celebration. Initially gifts and cards were not sent or given on Father's Day. Commercialism and materialism has changed all of that however. Now the symbolism behind the gifts of this day reflects the multiple roles dads play in our lives - feeding us, leading us, and protecting us. Typically we give household or cooking tools; amusing toys or accessories; or gag and humorous gifts. Musical recordings, family photos and food and other consumables are also popular alternatives.

Dads may come across as having tough exteriors and strong emotional control. I have found this to be more of a facade and disguise rather than a fact. Men do their best to be strong during the most challenging times life gives us. This is a role that has ensured the survival of the society in which we live and prosper. Those people whom we rely on as fathers may never know how important their support and encouragement may have been in our lives. In some case we may never have even met these people. They may be historical figures or contemporary heroes. To many of us they are mentors.

Naturally, fathers have different relationships with their daughters than they have with their sons. These relationships are strong and last a lifetime and reflect a unique love between two people. Honoring these bonds and recognizing the trust which is their common thread is what Fathers Day is all about. What a perfect time to share personal time with the dad or dads in your life. If you can't be with them, call them on the phone. Send a card with a personal hand written note reinforcing your feelings for these special men. Despite their tough exteriors and stiff upper lips, their hearts swell with joy when they receive these sentiments.

Finding a way to relieve them of their fatherly duties for the day is another welcome way of showing the respect and gratitude we have for these men. Go fishing or play a game of golf. Watch a ball game or play a favorite card or board game. Kids could even wash his car or cook a special meal and clean up after it. Whatever we decide to do, dads and father figures appreciate it. But then again these small acts of kindness can be practiced throughout the year. Dads often times don't last as long as our appreciation for them does. Happy 100th Fathers Day!

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Remarkable Bike-A-Thon

Etiquette at a Bike-a-Thon?

Occasionally I find myself included in an event which leaves an amazing impression on my mind. Last weekend was such an occasion. I participated in the Rock n Ride fundraiser here in St. Andrews. On the surface, it seemed like a simple enough affair arranged by students from the local high school to raise money to fight AIDS in a third world country. By the end of this eight hour marathon the complexities of this event had revealed themselves and showed me a complex of levels of respect and etiquette worthy of serious contemplation.

Opportunities which involve students helping people in need of assistance are wonderful in that they provide a forum for learning many different things. To have such an opportunity created by the students themselves makes the experience far richer. Through a series of complex decisions and actions on the part of students, educators and administrators, this is what happened. First of all, the respect that students were shown by their teachers and the school administration provided the solid foundation on which this event was built. The fact that all of the myriad details were handled solely by the students was impressive. The date, venue (thankfully with an alternate foul weather fall back), arranging for food, live musical entertainment, a 'fleet' of stationary bikes, publicity, sponsors, participants and many other details would have challenged any professional event planner. With the encouragement and watchful eye of their English teacher, Sean Corey, the students pulled it off seamlessly!

Etiquette is, after all, the flexible set of guidelines which allow us as a society to function effectively, peacefully and with an understanding of how to do things in an agreed upon way. From soliciting interest in this event from the community and media to executing it in spite of the bad weather and stressed electrical system, the students did in fact, knowingly or not, follow such rules. As a result, they succeeded.

The other aspect of the project which is noteworthy is the cause itself and what impact it has had on the community. First of all, it introduced tomorrow's leaders to a whole new world most will never have a chance to know first hand. Yet the need for help these people touched these students hearts in a profound way and they selflessly reached out to assist. They also persuaded the whole town to join in and participate. There was no question as to the cause being AIDS or that the people in need live in the 11th poorest country in the world. The impetus was altruism in its most basic form. The chance to experience giving of ones self was the return for this outreach.

The project took on an added dimension after the students heard a presentation by a woman who had spent considerable time in Malawi working hand in hand with the citizens and witnessing their struggle. Hearing her account strengthened the classes resolve to reach their goal.

Learning by example is how we do learn most effectively. In the end, it was the community at large that provided the third learning element. Nothing could have more power to a young person than validation from the community in which they live. To see hundreds of people come out to support both financially and physically in this project is a wonderful testament to the value of the project itself. The 24 teams all faithfully pedaled to the bitter end while being entertained by wonderful live music. The mood was electric throughout the day. Interestingly enough there there was also an atmosphere of total cooperation amongst all of the students and faculty and the participants.

Congratulations are due to the many people involved. That the Department of Education is promoting this form of education gives great hope to a bright future for the youth of the province. Teaching and learning respect for people of all cultures and those who face colossal challenges is the real crux of a great education, in my opinion. I would be surprised if anyone involved in Rock n Ride will ever forget the experience. I know I won't and I am grateful to have been able to participate.