On Monday night, I found myself at kindergarten graduation. It was a small affair, with ten children and their parents and family, in the auditorium of my son's school. Most of the ceremony involved the children singing songs, and comments from the president of the Board of Trustees (whose dry remarks went over my head, and I'm sure went over my son's head, too, judging by the spacey look on his face during those five minutes). Towards the end, each of the children were recognized separately: the children's teachers had written a few sentences about each child, describing them--what "work" they loved best, what characteristics made them stand out, how they fit into the classroom community--and these comments were read as the children were called up to receive "memory books" that they'd made (not diplomas, thank goodness).
It was an emotional affair for me, because it was the first public milestone for my little boy, who, I guess, is no longer really that little. I watched him up on stage, filled with pride and joy but also with wistful longing for the small, exuberant form that has somehow morphed into a gangly first grader. There will come a time, soon, when he no longer wants to crawl into my lap, or hold my hand when we go for a walk, or hang out with me and talk on our front porch swing. I will miss those things, more than he will ever know, even though I know I'll be proud of the person he will become.
My son was feeling a little mixed, too, I think. Up son stage, as the children sang "What a Wonderful World," his face changed, and he looked upset; my husband made faces at him to try to get him to smile, but I. told me later how he was happy to be graduating, but sad that he would be leaving his teachers and friends. "And Mom," he said, "sometimes you just feel happy and sad at the same time." Smart boy.
I'd just watched, a few days ago, the video of Wellesley High School's commencement speech, which has been making its way around the internet, and couldn't help but think about its message, about the fact that no child is special. And yet, here we were, recognizing each child individually, in the classic Montessori way. How to reconcile those things?
Back where I used to work, we had just shy of 1,500 students participating in commencement ceremonies each May. And still, we called every name (even the completely unpronounceable ones); every student walked across the stage, some in ridiculous high heels that practically ensured they'd trip, some in boxer shorts and flip flops, some in the traditional formal dress of foreign countries. They waved to their parents and friends, they beamed when we called their names.
The thing is, every person is special. Yes, there are thousands of valedictorians, quarterbacks, prom queens, presidents of the student council. But that doesn't cheapen the achievement for the individual, or the fact that the individual matters. Maybe sometimes we lose sight of the journey in pursuit of the achievement; still, the achievement deserves recognition, not because it's unique, but because the person who achieved it is.
I know that the point of McCullough's speech was that we should seek knowledge and experience for its own sake, not for the accolades that we can earn as a result. And I couldn't agree more. I don't want to raise my children thinking that they are entitled to advantage; the students who brought that attitude with them to college were the ones who invariably failed, either in academics, or in their interpersonal relationships. But I do value the name-calling of every child who graduates, and the celebration of their unique contributions to the world. Because they are all, every one of them, a gift.
Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps
For the dipping sauce
2 T. agave
1/2 c. warm water
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. rice wine vinegar
2 T. ketchup
1 T. lemon juice
1/8 t. sesame oil
1 t. hot water
1 T. mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
For the stir-fry sauce
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. agave
1/2 t. rice wine vinegar
For the stir-fry
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. sesame oil
1 package of extra firm tofu (12.3 ounces), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
8 oz. radishes, sliced
1/2 onion, diced
2 T. fresh ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 c. rice noodles, cooked according to package directions
6-8 large leaves of iceberg lettuce
Make the dipping sauce: In a medium bowl, dissolve the agave in 1/2 cup of warm water. Add the the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice, sesame oil, mustard, and garlic. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate. Immediately before serving the wraps, mix 1 teaspoon of hot water
with the mustard and garlic.
Mix the soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice wine vinegar in a small bowl. In a wok or large saucepan over high heat, add the oils and heat until shimmering. Add the tofu, occasionally stirring, until lightly browned about 6-7 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium, and add the water chestnuts, mushrooms, onion, ginger, and garlic. Pour the prepared stir-fry sauce over the veggies and continue to
cook until heated through, about 5-6 minutes or so. Remove from the
In the meantime, prepare the lettuce leaves by placing the desired amount of rice noodles in the center of each leaf. Add the stir-fry mixture as desired and serve with the prepared dipping sauce.