Graduations, Paths, And The Road Ahead
June is a month of beginnings and endings. For most schools and school districts, June represents the end of the school year. But June also represents beginnings. June represents the beginning of summer for many students. June also represents the beginnings of adult life, for the graduating students of the class of 2021. A few weeks ago, I was honored and privileged to deliver the commencement address for The Pinnacle School and The Spire School of Stamford, Connecticut.
June 18th was a gorgeous day for a graduation ceremony – ordered right out of central casting complete with blue skies and puffy white cumulus clouds. Students shifted in their seats, arranged at round tables in an outdoor pavilion underneath a retractable roof at the Tokeneke Club in Darien, Connecticut. I haven’t been to a high school graduation ceremony since my own thirty years ago, but rarely have I been as touched as I was by the stories of the students who stepped up to the podium to accept their diplomas, to accept their gift of a specially and particularly selected book from the faculty and staff, and to say a few words about their journey.
I won’t paraphrase my entire speech except to say that in a society and world obsessed with goals, often the true measure of a person is not about where he or she ends up, but how he or she gets there.
The road to graduation for students in special education is often not a straight one. Many students have attended multiple schools in their career, often multiple schools in their high school career. Sometimes they’ve been bused a long distance to a school outside of their public school district. Many students have walked into new schools, year in and year out, and struggled through environments that could not or would not support their individual needs. As I watched each student from Pinnacle School and then Spire walk to the podium to give their individual speeches about their paths, I was blown away by the collective resilience that I saw in the students, and felt in the room. Their bravery, hard work, perseverance, and yes – resilience – was an inspiration to everyone in the room.
We have heard a lot about resilience this year – the resilience of young people, and of students in particular. There is no person more resilient than a student in special education, who returns to school each day, without the support that they need to succeed in the classroom. There is no person more resilient than a parent of a student in special education, sending endless emails and leaving constant voicemails in the unceasing advocacy process on behalf of their child. For students in a COVID and post-COVID word, resilience is the word of the year; for students in special education, resilience is th word of every year.
We as human beings are largely focused on goals. We are focused on the end point, the conclusion, the target. But what makes us uniquely ourselves is not the goal, or the conclusion, or the end point – it’s the PATH. Your paths will all be different from one another. Some of you might be off to a four year college. Some of you might be spending a year or two in a transition program. Still others might be exploring other paths towards your future. Your paths are all different but each one involves steps that will take you down the road to being the person that you are meant to be.
The path isn’t always going to be easy – it certainly hasn’t been for me. Many times I have looked up at the sky, or down at the ground, and wondered why. Just this past week, I have had the opportunity to ask the question why? Why has this happened? What should I do? And then I put one foot in front of the other, and take my next step on the path. As Winston Churchill once said, and he knew something about failures and setbacks, as well as bravery and triumph – “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Each one of you has taken very different pathways to be here today. Our paths are not straight. They are winding, and twisted. Sometimes they double back on themselves, and sometimes you can’t see where you are going. But your path is YOUR path. Your path is you. Embrace your path because at the end of it lies the person that you were meant to be – with all your faults, accomplishments, mistakes, imperfections, and triumphs.Christine Lai, Special Education Legal Fund
Congratulation to the Pinnacle and Spire classes of 2021.
NOTE: Thank you to The Pinnacle School, The Spire School, and Greenwich Education Group for inviting me to share in this incredibly special day. A special thanks goes out to Tammy Moscrip, Charlie Manos, Dede LeComte, Sunan Jones, Amy Daniels, and last but not least – Victoria Newman.