It’s something. It ain’t nothing. But what exactly is that moment when fifth graders are ready to move on to sixth grade? Oak Park elementary schools have rightly decided it is not graduation. That rite properly comes at the close of eighth grade.

But, as our kids prepare this week to depart the schools that took them by the hand from kindergarten to the quasi-independence, absolute tween-ism of grade five, it is assuredly a leave-taking of childhood. A line is drawn clearly between Barbies and boys, between Disney’s Lion King and Disney’s High School Musical. Ready or not-whether talking of the parents or the kids-a passage has begun.

Last evening at Beye School, where our daughter Mariah has made her way, there was a “celebration” of that passage, a celebration of the preparation for launch. It was mostly perfect in tone and in substance.

There was processing, not in a practiced way that suggested high school caps and gowns, but in a one-more-time down the aisle of this little auditorium that doubled on rainy days and Fun Fair Days and what seemed once to have been an endless string of Spring Sings.

There was singing. My goodness these kids sing and perform. What great experience. There were speeches by the principal-Three things: Keep learning always. Choose to be happy. And be a person who makes a difference in the world.

Then there was the passing of certificates, not diplomas. And here was the bliss. Here, as each of four teachers called each student by name, was the finale of what a neighborhood school can be when it reflects brightly the community it has assembled around it.

Each of 80 students, called forward by teachers who know them intimately. Teachers who ride the roller-coaster, who see sides of our kids we seldom see, who are driven crazy by the same things we always see, who see growth and stalling out.

As they were walking to the podium, each teacher read what the student said they wanted to be remembered for at Beye School. And then, with that student at their side, the teacher talked about how they would remember that child. The teachers talked of hard work, of divergent thinking, of sweet smiles and strong voices, of loyalty toward friends. Some students were lauded for intellects already taking flight, others were singled out for perseverance in the face of challenges.

What was clear though, what was embracingly clear, was that each of these 80 children were known. Not casually. Not fleetingly. But truly. Clearly. Lovingly.

And that was both the magic of the celebration and, for me, the sadness.

Next year, bigger schools, multiple teachers, a mix of new children and families. Certainly it brings opportunity but it also ends the intimate connection. Something gained. Much lost.

A few weeks ago, in one our patented morning scrambles (What? You mean you have them, too?) Mariah says, just as we should have been heading out the door, “I need three pictures of me. Baby, toddler and now.” Unlike finding her shoes, the pictures actually came easily and off we went, the purpose of the pictures unknown and forgotten.

Until last night when, to close the celebration, some 240 pictures of our kids went up slowly on the screen. Each classmate as an infant. Each classmate, many now recognizable, as a toddler. Each classmate, now known, now ready for launch.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...