Encomium: (noun; from the Greek) a speech in praise of a person or thing, often with biographical elements
Forgive me if I wax both eloquent and sentimental during the twilight of this school year. With last night's graduation ceremony, NCS has more than doubled the number of our alumni by graduating six very fine young people. If I'm destined to spend my lifetime crafting people instead of things, you can at least give me the privilege of showing off the merchandise.... hehe
Seven years ago, when I first darkened the door of a school as a full-time teacher, one red-headed sixth grader also slipped tentatively out of his mother's car and walked a seeming mile down the sidewalk into our building for the first time. Casey was an odd kid -- I'll be honest. But he found a niche and dug in. I remember watching Casey interact with his elderly grandmother and his energetic nephew and niece at our first-ever public drama performance (duet acting scenes, fall 2005). He carefully tended to the needs of both old and young, proud to have three generations of his family in attendance. Spending 7 years in the same tiny community changes a person ... and changes the community. I wonder whether the seniors' willingness to begin a widow's ministry in our community may have grown out of Casey's subconscious concern for the elderly.
Two years later, many new families joined our fledgling upper school from rather far away. The commuters came from all over -- Clemson, Belton, Hartwell. I still can't believe that moms were willing to drive an hour twice a day to run carpools just to get their kids to NCS. I hope we are worth it! [There's nothing more weighty than looking a parent in the eye at a conference, knowing they write big checks every month despite a tight budget because they believe in what we are trying to do at our school. So scary! Such a responsibility.]
Beginning in 2004, Aaron, Ryan, and Nate each have left a profound impression on New Covenant. I'm not sure who leaves the deeper mark -- the teacher or the student.
Aaron's humor is legendary -- a razor-sharp wit that quietly provokes floods of laughter from anyone within earshot -- but I think many more people will listen to Aaron over his lifetime because of his wisdom and sincerity. He speaks Truth, and the rest of us stop bustling around and take notice. I think he's going to surprise a lot of people in college ... and in life ... who won't know what to think of the tall, quiet kid with the country accent. Especially if he finds another pair of hip waders....
Ryan might be one of the most laid-back and joyful kids I've ever worked with. I mean, everyone has bad days ... but Ryan's are still somehow not as bad as others. He has always been up for a challenge, a game, a special-dress day, a trip. He landed the valedictory spot not out of some lucky draw from the "genius hat of genetics" but by busting his tail and faithfully plodding through mountains of homework day after day for five years. People who take a quiet, satisfied joy from the daily grind of life just might be the most valuable people in the Universe -- because they make this planet bearable for the rest of us who can't do anything but complain.
Nate is a tornado, I've decided. I mean that with all positive connotations.
He exploded onto the scene at NCS as an intense 7th grader, instantly rocking the community out of its boredom and (entirely not his fault) inciting a world of drama among his female classmates. No one forgets his face or name once they've met him, even adult friends of mine who barely spent a few minutes in his presence at some random school function. He's still exploding -- repeatedly pounding out intense roles on stage that leave audiences sick with laughter, shaking (or crying) with fear, weeping with heartfelt sorrow. More than anyone else in his class, I think Nate "gets" just how important community is at our school and (more importantly) in life. There's a reason why every little kid in the school considers him a communal "big brother."
All of that passion is going to pour itself into a Kingdom purpose ... and then we're going to see just how much a tornado can get done once it's been harnessed.
Abigail joined us a year later as a high schooler. I think she needs to receive the "Never Gave Up" trophy: It's tough being the only girl in a group of boys.... yeah.....Wow. haha. I remember when they were all 15 or 16 tyears old and relationships were so ... crappy. It wasn't anyone's fault; it was just rough. And now Abigail can dish it and take it with her classmates, expressing a comfortable friendship with these guys she can't really escape. I can see her walking with confidence into some business meeting 5 years from now, able to handle whatever life throws at her. After all, she somehow didn't crack up in Brothers Grimm when confronted with Nate wearing a dress.... twice.... or when Aaron's nose fell off... twice.... I'll stop now. *coughs*
Ben is our latecomer, joining us only 2 years ago. We kid him that it took moving from a high school of 2400 to a high school of 20 to knock the provincialism out of him. Since arriving, he's touched three foreign countries and two US major cities thanks to NCS trips.
I can see Ben becoming our Senator in a couple decades, delicately balancing the difficult ethics of bringing faith to bear in politics. He'll be the guy who listens a lot before speaking; who studies an issue before trying to deal with it; the senator who drafts a plan that addresses our educational woes, the poverty of our inner cities, the fact that our foster care system is too broken to actually help anyone. ...He's certainly got the smile to be a good politician! *chuckles* Fortunately, political science won't demand that he hold a stern look while one of his best friends dances around in his face playing a psychotic invalid ("Fall of the House of Usher"). (Psychotic invalid, you know who I'm talking to!)
Ah, I am so proud of these kids! Their vibrancy and enthusiasm for what lies ahead excites me! Adults need youths around to remind us that our job is not to do everything ourselves. Our job is also to train those younger than us to do a better job than we ever could.
How does a young school figure out whether its vision/mission is on target? How can we measure our "success"? And what is a "successful" education anyway? Lots of schools brag about SAT scores, scholarships earned, famous graduates, and Ivy League acceptances.
I think New Covenant will discover much better benchmarks than academic laurels or bragging rights. John the Apostle, writing (most likely) in his twilight years and after severe torture for his Faith, said in III John, "I have no greater joy than to know that my children walk in truth."
My dear friend "St Cheryl" says of her kids (and to her kids), "I absolutely *love* the people my children have become." She is so wise. I cannot tell you how delightful it is to watch the rose of a life unfurl its petals and begin to show off some of the details, the rich colors, the sweet perfume. Godliness is its own fragrance. Righteousness crowns a person with glory and honor. Watching these students, whom I have had the privilege of 'gardening' for a few years, unlock such a vast storehouse of talent brings me great joy.
But anyone can sharpen gifts or unpack talents.
Grace demands more of us -- our lives are not our own to squander as we please. Breaking the sin-curse on this world will take a miracle. Fortunately, the Cross provided one ... and gives us hope that our lives actually matter.
I hear a Grace-drenched message from our Seniors when they speak about life and what they value: Just as the God of all Grace has forgiven them much, so they head out to pour themselves out in a thousand different ways to make this world a better place -- for the Gospel's sake, and the sake of the Name.
And I get to claim a tiny, tiny piece of it all when we finally see, with Heaven-opened eyes, the ever-widening circles of these seniors' influence on the world.
*weeps with joy*