Head of School’s Notebook — Celebrations

May 29, 2020


Just a few weeks ago, I received instructions from the County of Santa Barbara on the do’s and don’ts of “vehicular graduations.” Cars parked a certain distance apart, only family members in the vehicle, windows up, that kind of thing. I started laughing when I got to the part about not leaving the vehicle, no matter the circumstances. The language was emphatic, “Guests are not allowed to use on-site restroom facilities.” Can you imagine? It made me think of my Mom on family road trips when I was a kid. If you asked to stop to use a bathroom, she handed you an empty bottle.

My wife thought I was losing my mind, so uncontrollable was my laughter. It’s actually not funny. But I couldn’t get over the absurdity of it all. And it’s probably better—at least with respect to graduation planning in a pandemic—to laugh than it is to cry.

I have spent the week talking to each of our seniors and their families, and sharing the vignettes we prepared for their graduation. In most cases I asked the newly minted graduates how they celebrated their big day. The responses were telling:

“We ordered takeout!”

“I was going to have some ice cream … but I forgot.”

“We had some friends and family over … but we stayed six feet apart.”

“I went for a hike.”

“I cried a little.  Happy for what I had.  Sad for the way it had to end.”

Our celebrations are necessarily muted these days, but they are no less meaningful. Ginger and I splurged on Memorial Day weekend and got a pizza at Giovanni’s in Carpinteria. It felt like a big deal, and it was. It is probably not a bad thing that we are finding joy in what we might have previously thought of as little things. Maybe the perspective will help us when we are once again able to gather and travel and breathe deeply.

Wednesday was our Moving Up Day, a moment we traditionally honor with meetings between rising seniors and faculty, some remarks, and an all school barbecue. Instead this year we met virtually in advisory groups and then gathered collectively on Zoom to honor the ending of this school year. The program was a distant second to past practice, but at least it enabled us to mark the day together. Even understated or restrained celebrations have meaning.

That seems the takeaway so far to this admittedly trying time, that everything we do or don’t do has meaning. We made each individual “graduation” this year for our seniors personal because the Cate experience is a personal journey. We did not let Moving Up Day pass because it is an important moment. What we value—even amidst the constraints and worries and challenges of a pandemic—must be conspicuous, whether we are speaking of ourselves or the communities to which we belong.

The Class of 2020 – with their remarkable commitments on the Mesa and their humble celebrations off of it – seems to know that intrinsically.  Said one member of the class to me recently, “I’m looking forward to going to college with classmates who have wrestled with the same things I have this Spring.  Because we have learned something about ourselves and the world over the last few months.  And we are going to use that knowledge together.”

How fortunate that those very students will have a role in shaping our post-pandemic world.