Bringing learning to life during school closures

June 25, 2020

A tribute to the Class of 2020

For the first time in my history as an educator, I did not attend graduations in June.

Watching students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, dressed in cap and gown and beaming with pride is the most wonderful time of the year for school staff, administrators and trustees as well as students, their families and friends.

Graduations have not been cancelled in Rainbow Schools, but they have been postponed until it is safe to come together again. That’s when we will celebrate the Class of 2020, including the presentation of awards, greetings from special guests, the granting of diplomas, and the much anticipated address by valedictorians.

The irony of it all was not lost on Chelmsford Valley District Composite School’s valedictorian who delivered a video message to his classmates via the virtual world as the school year drew to a close.

“We are living in unusual times, the consequences of which mean that I cannot address you in person,” said Connor Gammon. “ But events like these, as challenging and difficult as they may be, will come and go.”

He added: “Life is a progression of temporary moments, and before you know it, this too shall pass, and we will once again be together, pursuing our goals. Do not waste your time on trivial matters, but pursue things that are worth your life and happiness.”

In a spirited and sentient speech, Connor hit the mark when he said none of us could have predicted what this year would look like. “I can’t imagine the challenges and stress it must have caused for our teachers and staff to completely revamp their entire program amidst the chaos of their own children learning from home.”

He added: “You are without a doubt, the most amazing teachers and staff that we could have hoped for, especially in these uncertain and frightening times. You have afforded us all so many great experiences and have always gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure we reach our full potential.”

As I reflect on a school year that was anything but typical, I can say, with complete confidence, that this unprecedented period of school closures called on all of us to think differently as we re-imagined reaching minds and touching hearts.

Through this new way of living and learning, we witnessed the building of character. And our graduating students, who were part of this historic moment, learned lessons that reached far beyond arts, athletics and academics.

Connor Gammon expresses this well in his remarks:

“It is only through the challenging times that we realize the depth of our resiliency, and this year has seen tremendous amounts of resiliency and determination. I hope you all can take these lessons with you as they will serve you well in every aspect of your life.

Be bold, be brave, and never be defined by your mistakes. The greatest courage comes from your ability to be vulnerable and to admit that we all need help sometimes. None of us has gotten here today completely alone. An important thing that I have learned from this global pandemic, is that we are deeply social creatures. We thrive on interaction and the relationships we create with others.

Another very important thing that 2020 has taught me is that we always have to be prepared to change our ideas of success. With the dramatic changes in this school year, it’s ok to be disappointed, it’s normal to miss our friends and to grieve what would have been an amazing graduation celebration. Some of us have had it harder than others during this stressful time, but we’ve managed to be creative, resourceful and to come up with ways to celebrate one another and our achievements.”

I have had the pleasure and privilege of hearing many valedictorians address their peers in halls filled to capacity. This year’s valedictorians, like the entire Class of 2020, have the distinction of having lived through an unparalleled moment in time and will always remember what they were doing when this pandemic occurred.

I could tell that this historic occasion served as a deep source of inspiration for Connor Gammon.

“Finally, I would like to leave you with a quote from Bertrand Russel, renowned British philosopher, mathematician, political activist, and Nobel laureate. His words echo truth from the past to a very relevant time in our current lives,” he said.

“I should like to say two things; one intellectual and one moral. The intellectual thing I should want to say is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only and solely at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing I should wish to say.

The moral thing that I should wish to say is very simple: I should say – love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way. And if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”

Well said Graduate Gammon.
Congratulations to the Class of 2020.
You make us proud each and every day.