A movie director would want a brilliant sunny morning for the first day of school. Wednesday morning was such a day, as I milled around the crowd, greeting students and parents at the Junior School on their first day of school. Outside the Kindergarten classroom is a new outdoor play area: wood chips and miniature cedar structures that already, on Tuesday morning, the kids were crawling over. As it happens, I knew a number of the new parents of those Kindergarten children; by and large, the kids themselves were quickly engaged in this new world. The parents were looking on, knowing this is one of those inescapable big moments of passage in life: the first day of Kindergarten.
Fortunately, the morning is brisk and planned; quickly the students go off with their teachers and start absorbing the world in a more organized way than they are used to. Parents may not know it, but within days the heartache of seeing their son or daughter disappear through the school’s doors will be replaced by the gladness of knowing that yes, this energetic and sometimes chaotic-seeming life that now fills the students’ days is in fact the right one. Students love to learn, they love to learn with other kids and a teacher, and although they may no longer be quite the boy or girl the parent had a month ago, they are becoming more and more the person they promise to be.
The day before, on Tuesday afternoon, the boarding parents came to our house, Reynolds House, for a break in the activities before saying good-bye to their sons and daughters. They have been here for several days, most of them, because we conduct a “boarding orientation” for them that eases both them and their children into life at SMUS. We had parents from Mexico, Germany, Kazakhstan, China, Brazil, United States and more: 26 countries in all. More than Kindergarten parents, they are leaving their sons and daughters behind, to learn the lessons of self-reliance, self-discipline and sharing a room at close quarters – lessons they will never forget.
I am able to tell the parents I understand much of what they and their sons and daughters are experiencing. I was once a boarding student myself, embarking upon those lessons and more at the age of 14. Also, I was a parent of a boarding student, who went off to school in a different part of the country. Even if that were not the case, SMUS has looked after boarders for over 110 years, and we have been practicing what we do for a long time. This is reassuring.
For me this September represents a different moment of passage, as I and my wife, Joan, begin our last year before retiring. In Senior School Assembly on Wednesday I referred to this fact, and indicated that probably I am closer to the Grade 12 graduates than any other group in the School: they will go off to their next exciting step next June and so will I.
In the meantime, there is an awful lot of excitement in the coming year that none of us wants to miss.