High school graduates

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(Host) Commentator Allen Gilbert reflects on the hopes and dreams of this year’s graduates.

(Gilbert) Five years ago, at this time of year, I wrote a commentary about a student art show at my local high school. I described the work of two students whom I had known through elementary school and who were now in seventh grade. They had taken photographs for that show and written short essays around the theme, “Who I am.”

I was floored by the sensitivity and reflection of their work. I hadn’t guessed the lengths to which they’d been exploring, experiencing, and wondering about the world. One student wrote at the time, “I’m a girl who wants to make the world a better place, a child who wants to talk to animals, a girl who wants to grow wings.” The other student wrote, “I feel like the world is moving so fast that I can barely keep up. I am just a 12-year-old girl but my thoughts really do matter. I have my dreams, and I hope they will come true.”

Now, five years later these students are wearing academic robes and packing for college. I asked them if they would reflect back on how they’ve grown in these last years. What does the world look like to you now? I asked. Who are you?

The first student responded, “When I described myself in seventh grade, I wrote what I knew – and I believed I knew – all there was to know. Looking back on my writing, I am still everything I was that day in seventh grade, but now I know I’m even more, and I understand that I will never know exactly who I am if I continue to grow. I am still a dreamer, a poet, and a believer with my zodiac sign around my neck. My dreams are too big now to fit in my sock drawer.”

The second student said, “I am the same girl that I was five years ago, but now I know that everything that I could ever want is within my reach. I am a hard worker who sets goals to achieve, who has learned to ignore anybody who doubts me. I am a young woman who loves to laugh with the people she loves. I have some of the same dreams as years before, but I also have new ones, plans for the future, the next step in my life. The world is still moving fast, but I am able to keep up. I have learned to follow my heart and to seek what makes me happy.”

These are young adults who, as when they were children, continue to stretch their minds, bodies, feelings, and hopes. In seventh grade they were discovering that the world was much bigger than the town where they grew up. Now, diplomas in hand, they’re about to explore the wider world.

I send them congratulations. I wish them the best. And I’ve promised to check in with them in another five years.

This is Allen Gilbert.

Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. He has a longtime interest in public policy issues.

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