Recalling my own graduation from Archmere Academy makes me reflect on all of the mixed emotions I felt – excitement, happiness, a sense of accomplishment, nervousness, anxiety, and expectations for college and a career. As the school year draws to a close, I expect that many of our seniors have the same thoughts and feelings.
The May issue of The News Journal carried an article by Danielle Paquette of The Washington Post, called “Meet ‘Generation Katniss:’ Born between 1995-2002.” The title references the popular series, “The Hunger Games”, and the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. Specifically discussing young women and their attitudes and feelings, Paquette quotes British economist, Noreena Hertz, who, from her research with young women in the U.S. and Britain, states, “This generation is profoundly anxious.” She goes on to say that our young generation has witnessed international threats of terrorism, domestic job loss, gender pay gaps, distrust of the motives of large corporations, civil unrest, accumulating college debt, high stakes testing, competitive college admissions, and the challenges of educational reform. And they read and view images of all of these things practically in real-time. Is that not enough to contribute to an individual’s anxiety?
So, how do we adults help our teens to cope with the images and messages of the world? What assurances can we give to help them cope with the anxiety and nervousness that they may be experiencing?
My experience of most Archmere students is that they are high achievers and prize academic success. From the Academy’s earliest years, Archmere students have sustained a school culture that supports stretching personal limits of learning, and “setting the bar high.” This achievement culture can be wonderfully creative and supportive, particularly when it is understood that failure is celebrated as much as success, because through failure we also learn something – what not to do, how not to go about tackling the problem, what assumptions made might not be true. In other words, through exploration and experimentation, we may not only solve our initial problem, but we may also broaden our understanding of the topic, recognizing typical pitfalls and red herrings, and, potentially accidentally discovering other revelations tangential to our original quest. If we can incorporate this philosophy into our students’ sense of achievement, I believe that can help reduce greatly students’ anxiety as it relates to their academic career. They should not be expected to walk an academic tightrope, and particularly a tightrope without a safety net! That does not mean that students should not plan or organize or develop a career path based on their passions, interests, and skills. It does mean that sometimes students have to be flexible enough to consider other academic and professional paths that may be quite different from what they and/or their parents had in mind.
As parents, teachers, and adults, I believe that our most important role is to be the guides for our young people, relating to them our own personal journeys, filled with “fork-in-the-road” decisions and choices, and offering them support by truly listening to what they are saying to us, and responding with sincerity and empathy. We also need to be role models – walking the talk. This adult task is not an easy one. When either of my own children call me from college and graduate school and “want to talk”, most of the time I feel good about the opinions I am offering to them about the issue they wanted to discuss. But there are those times when the issues may be more complex, or we may not initially be “on the same page” as they say. After ending the phone call or Skype, I question if I was at my best. Did I say the right thing? Did I offer good advice? In those times of self-questioning I usually have to resort to reflecting on my personal beliefs and values – almost as if I were lining them up on a cloth like silverware ready to be scrutinized and polished. I think about my conversations with my children and ask myself if what I said and how I said reflected my core beliefs and values. And if I realize that I spoke harshly or out of emotion because, as they say, your children “know how to push your buttons,” then I ask myself why did that bother me so much. I usually find the answer in my own upbringing.
My beliefs and values were shaped by my Catholic faith, my family, and my educational experiences – most particularly, Archmere. For me, this exercise produces an internal calm and quiet that allows me to work through especially difficult situations – those that generally make us nervous and anxious.
Paquette concludes her article with optimism, saying that, although this young generation has experienced much to cause anxiety, being so aware of the problems of the world may inspire them to devote their lives to solving them. Quoting Hertz, “This generation celebrates difference, diversity, their own independence . . . they want to create, lead and be heard.”
The last Green Concert of the 2014-2015 series held in the Patio featured our student musicians. Claire Caverly. a graduating senior and a national award-wining soprano, sang “Laurie’s Song” from Aaron Copeland’s “The Tender Land.” It was a beautiful and fitting ending to the Concert and to the school year, perhaps capturing the personal sentiments of Claire and so many seniors who are being graduated not only from Archmere, but from other high schools and universities. This is a hopeful time of year when the talents and optimism of our graduates should sufficiently suppress our anxieties. Laurie says it best in her lyrics,
Once I thought I’d never grow
Tall as this fence.
Time dragged heavy and slow.
But April came and August went
Before I knew just what they meant,
And little by little I grew.
And as I grew, I came to know how fast the time could go.
Once I thought I’d never go
Outside this fence.
This space was plenty for me.
But I walked down the road one day,
And just what happened I can’t say.
But little by little it came to be
That line between the earth and sky came beckoning to me.
Now the time has grown so short;
The world has grown so wide.
I’ll be graduated soon.
Why am I strange inside?
What makes me think I’d like to try
To go down all those roads
Beyond that line above the earth and ‘neath the sky?
Tomorrow when I sit upon the graduation platform stand,
I know my hand will shake when I reach out to take
The paper with the ribboned band.
Now that all the learning’s done,
Oh who knows what will now begin?
Oh it’s so strange, I’m strange inside.
The time has grown so short; the world so wide.
To the graduates of the Archmere Class of 2015, congratulations and God-speed. Perhaps when you arrived as Freshmen four years ago you thought the space inside our fence was plenty for you, but now, four years later, you have grown in so many ways and are prepared “to go down all those roads beyond that line above the earth and ‘neath the sky.” Know that you will always be a part of Archmere and Archmere a part of you.
To all of our parents and Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors, thank you for sharing so much of yourselves to make the 2014-15 school year at Archmere so successful. Our students are preparing for AP and final exams – a potentially stressful time. And I know that the year was not without personal challenges, disappointments, and anxious moments, but I hope those times were balanced with successes, accomplishments, and happy celebrations, all contributing to our collective growth in “pietate et scientia.”
Enjoy the beautiful Spring weather and best wishes to all in the last few weeks of school!