Grads from throughout School District No. 42 will be heading onto the dance floor this month for their symbolic first steps into the adult world.
While each of them has faced challenges and triumphs worthy of the relief and joy they and their families will know, there is a group of students in our midst that has been learning the unrelenting steps to the dance of adulthood all year.
Many of these students, but certainly not all, attend Garibaldi secondary and have been witness to too much tragedy this year as they have mourned the loss of their friends in two separate car accidents and the sudden death of a long-time teacher.
I would really rather not talk about this right now. There are pictures to take. Hair to do. Presents to buy. But this graduation feels different somehow. These kids have worn black more often than they will wear their tuxes and gowns, and the tragedies, the grief, and the strength of this class of 2012 are wrapped up in every corsage and bow tie.
So, I am writing this instead of shoe shopping because I need to tell them how extraordinary they have been.
I have watched many of these kids grow up. They are tough and beautiful. And they don’t need platitudes about looking to the future. Or about being steadfast. Or carefree. Or anything, really, that I might dream up.
Instead, they have already learned in their bones how to move with dignity in the sometimes unrelenting adult world.
And along the way they have taught those of us watching and caring for them a few things about grace.
They kept their anger in check when their hearts were breaking and turned their grief into a positive force to keep each other safe on the streets. They’ve held each other up and helped each other through each day. And in a reminder to the rest of us, they have refused to give up their zeal for life. Even if, for a while, they had to force joy out of each other until they remembered what it felt like to look to the future again.
Every step of the way in this difficult dance, each time the music changed or the tempo shifted, a quite stunning group of teachers and administrators helped them weave their way through their grief and lead them forward.
Mr. Gordon Hausknecht, who passed away last month, was a teacher and mentor to many of the staff at Garibaldi. And it shows. The school has been a crucible of care and creativity for just about everybody who has attended the place in the past five years.
It’s a place where honesty and respect are nurtured every day, where kids are heard, where who they are matters more than what they accomplish – and that helps them accomplish a whole lot. This is handy when you head to school each day, unsure of yourself and your future. But during a tumultuous year such as this one, it has been, quite simply, vital.
I have a feeling this environment has a lot to do with the way these kids have come through this difficult year full of honest pain and possibilities. We forget sometimes, especially in this politically charged place, how deeply these people care about our kids. Teachers and administrators, custodial and kitchen staff, they have walked a line of professionalism and personal commitment perfectly.
There was a phone message waiting late at night for my daughter after the first accident from a personally devastated teacher, checking on her, caring for her. There were equally impressive quiet observations and kind words as administration and teachers reached out to their charges.
This could have only happened on a foundation of trust and honesty built over years of hard work. It’s a choice to invest the time and effort it takes to connect with these kids. It’s not easy. It can break your heart. But kids are smart and they know the difference.
And recently, having learned a few more steps in the difficult dance, these kids reached out when their teachers’ teacher passed away. They followed the steps of these adults with similar kind words and unexpected hugs. They understood it was their turn to lead. And they did.
Grad talent night was one last chance for the class of 2012 to do what Garibaldi kids do so well: put their emotions into words and music. There were a lot of laughs, but it also became apparent the pain was still close.
In one piece, teacher Ms. Ramona Elke sang while extraordinarily talented dancer and grad Julya Rempel moved beautifully during an emotional tribute to those they had lost. The rest of us watched her strong sure steps as she moved in unison with Elke’s cracking voice.
Together, they were achingly flawless.
Lynn Easton is a freelance writer and parent of a Garibaldi student.