The OPRF High School class of 2018 is on its way. But the sendoff wasn’t Sunday’s commencement ceremony. That was just the rubber stamp: Hand out the diplomas, let out one more resounding joyful cheer, then on to the parties and the rest of their lives.
The real sendoff took place on May 25, the last day of school for seniors. Early that evening I walked past the school’s main entrance and found the sidewalk leading to the front doors liberally chalked with farewell messages in bright pastels — an outpouring for the outgoing class.
I don’t know if this is a longstanding tradition or just a spontaneous eruption of good feeling, but the sentiments expressed provided a window into the hearts and minds of our kids as they face this first great rite of passage in their lives.
High school students spend four years cheering each other on in sports, the arts and other extracurriculars, and OPRF is a particularly exuberant place for that sort of thing. So chalk this display up to one last pep rally, extending best wishes to seniors on their last day.
The sentiments were generous, effusive, and meant to inspire:
You Are Enough (included twice)
You Are Beautiful
Be Funky, Be Weird, Be You
You Deserve All the Love and Support You Need
@No Brakes Allowed
Doubt (circled, with a diagonal line nixing it)
Today Is Your Day. Own It
You are valid!
Grades Don’t Define You
Be Yourself. Don’t Let Others Change You
You’re Beautiful. Yas Suh!
U R Killin It
You Get In Life What You Put In
Your Future Is Bright, Grab Some Shades and Relax (beneath a smiling sun donning sunglasses)
Everything Will Be Okay
Everybody is Beautiful
Be True To Yourself
Today Is Going To Be AWESOME
You Are Resilient
Be Bright. Be You
You Deserve To Be Happy
You Are The Best You. Win You
You Are Amazing
Don’t Be Afraid To Try
You Deserve Respect
Know Your Worth
It’s the Last Day
Good Luck, Seniors (surrounded by exclamation points)
Growing Up Is A Beautiful Experience
It struck me as a catalog of what matters most to these young adults: Self-worth, inner beauty, resilience, overcoming the doubts and fears that hold us back, taking charge of their still young lives, craving respect and validation, deserving happiness, not being defined by grades, staying true to who you are, keeping your core unchanged by what’s to come, seizing the day and the future.
The messages were written (and drawn) with considerable typographical flair and diversity, accompanied by pictures of suns, hearts, flowers, rainbows and stars. And plenty of animals.
I listed them in my own order, ending with my favorite: Growing up is a beautiful experience.
It is, don’t you agree? And if departing graduates feel that way, we’ve done our job.
Growing up is beautiful but bumpy, the teen years emerging from a crucible of melodrama, awkwardness evolving into confidence. But the pains of growth, as some have already learned and the rest (we hope) will, are an integral part of what makes this process beautiful.
This sidewalk message board, I’m guessing, was created by rising juniors — a worthy exercise since they are just a year removed from their own departures.
Of all life transitions, none is quite like leaving high school. The world widens beyond the homes and neighborhoods where we were raised. Like that letter in the play Our Town, sent to “Jane Crofut, The Crofut Farm, Grover’s Corners, Sutton County, New Hampshire, United States of America, Continent of North America, Western Hemisphere, the Earth, the Solar System, the Universe, the Mind of God,” which the post office delivered in spite of its dizzying cosmic address, leaving those who heard about it in momentary awe. After high school, we live in an expanding universe. Terrifying at times, but also awe-inspiring.
Leaving high school we get the first inkling that, as Emily Gibbs learned from the perspective of the cemetery on the hill high above Grover’s Corners, life is “too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
For now that realization is just an inkling, as it should be. Walking out these doors for the last time as students, the senior class takes with them the echoes of four years of cheers, everything they’ve learned (in class and out) and, for good measure, these heartfelt wishes, scribbled in sidewalk chalk, emblematic of childhood past, created by those who will follow in a seemingly endless succession that dates back to the 19th century and moves forward toward the 22nd.
Each member of the class of 2018 aspires to be unique, worthy of respect, resilient, amazing, bright, and beautiful. Well, they’re already beautiful.
As I pore over the creative bounty at my feet, a group of students comes out the front doors. One of them, who looks to be a senior, glances down and says, “Look at this.”
Then moves on.