The Class of 2023

Congratulations to Riley, Mishayla, Natalie, Louisa, Raven, Nico, Hamish, Jaden, and tens of thousands of other young people who crossed the stage to receive their high school diplomas last month. The challenges they face are numerous, but we have had conversations with these eight young people, and they are ready to find their place in the world of adults. It is inspiring to know them and in the case of our beloved grandson, Jaden, to have had the privilege to be involved in his life since he was born.

Challenges for the class of 2023

This class entered high school as ninth graders and were sent home after spring break as their world morphed into the unknown world territory of pandemic. Everything around them was closing and in chaos at precisely the time young people were meant to expand and reach out. The norms they and their parents took for granted were gone. Flexibility became an essential survival skill.

As high school juniors, they re-entered their school buildings wearing masks and working to re-establish relationships, extracurricular activities, and some sense of academic normalcy. By the end of 2021 most mask requirements were dropped. But trust takes time to re-establish.  Patterns don’t happen overnight. We must not take for granted the individual courage and determination this generation of students called upon to succeed in graduating from high school.

Graduation at Culver City High School

Jaden and his parents, Joe and Sally

When we entered the football stadium where Jaden’s graduation took place, I looked around at the crowd of caps and gowns and their proud families. Tears welled up in my eyes. More than a half century ago I was walking across a high school stage in southern Minnesota. And just like these young people, I was eager to take the next steps in my own life. It was the Viet Nam war era. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy would both be assassinated the following spring. There was chaos around me, but my focus was on finding my place in the world. And walking into that stadium on that cool June morning in Los Angeles the words of our grandson somewhere in the sea of blue gowns and gold tassels rang in my ears.

When asked how he felt about graduation, he responded, “I am excited to be going to college, to meet new people, to see another part of my state.”

He is not focused specifically on the challenges of politics in his own country, the war in Ukraine, climate change, racial conflict. He is aware of these things, but focused on the next steps he can take in his life—succeeding in his new summer job, planning for college orientation in the fall, thinking about what his major might be. And that is exactly what we need him to be doing. We have always needed the exuberance, energy, and skill of young people to come along side those of us who are older and more worn down by the challenges of life.

Graduates listening to speeches

Jaden’s grandparents and father in the stadium, photo by Sally, Jaden’s mother

The field was filled with students of every race and ethnicity mingling around looking for friends. High fives and hugs were caught by cell phone cameras by parents and family members bubbling with excitement and pride. After the audience was seated in the football stadium bleachers, the class of 2023 walked onto the center of the field to the recorded notes of “Pomp and Circumstance”. We all stood. Some of us cheered. Some of us shed tears. The time-honored ritual of high school graduation had begun.

The ritual of high school graduation

In most communities this ritual includes processing into a stadium to the song “Pomp and Circumstance”, the wearing of caps and gowns with school colors, speeches by some faculty and students, a march across a stage to receive a high school diploma, the throwing of caps into the air, and a recessional. There is comfort in this continuity—a sense that the world is progressing as we have known it.

Another important aspect of a rite of passage is the presence of family and community to witness the ceremony. Jaden’s parents, sister, and four grandparents (Washington state, Minnesota, and California) came to participate. My sister, Margaret, and her son, Frank, flew in from North Carolina. His aunt drove in from east Los Angeles. This widespread presence signaled to Jaden that we take seriously this achievement.

Jaden’s mom, Sally, Aunt Margaret and cousin Frank from N.C. at the Griffith Observatory

Jaden and cousin Frank touring LA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jaden opening a card at his graduation party

Jaden and sister Sasha at the graduation party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a wonderful weekend of good food, games, tours, and important conversations. At his afternoon graduation party, Jaden called his own circle and asked those present to share a strength they see in him and something he needs to improve as he makes this big step. Each person’s comments and the accompanying stories spoke volumes about the esteem this young man is held in by those closest to him.

Grandpa Joe and Aunt Juell

Living room set-up for Jaden’s graduation circle and party

 

 

 

 

 

 

The graduation cake

Kudos to Jaden and his family

To Sally and Joe—congratulations! A parenting job extremely well done.

Be well, Jaden. Thank you for being such an eager participant in our Whidbey Island Granny camps all these years, for allowing us to help with the college application and choosing process, and for speaking so openly to us from the time you were a young boy.

Do good work  in the world. Your communication skills, work ethic and moral compass are deeply needed. Sonoma State University is lucky to have you as an incoming freshman and you will learn a lot in return.

Ann wearing the Sonoma State University t-shirt, photo by Christina Baldwin

P.S. To read about the road trip we took, driving 2,838 miles to the graduation, read Christina’s blog:https://christinabaldwin.com/road-trip-hello-again-hello/

 

A surprise

It is a warm, sunny Monday afternoon in mid-May on the lawn outside South Whidbey Elementary School. Our group of two teachers, a dozen first and second graders, and myself as a volunteer are sitting on the lawn in a squiggly shaped circle. We have spent the last two hours visiting their pollinator garden, reading a book, and writing in journals.

Visiting the pollinator garden the students have established in the back of their school—with the help of fifth graders.

The book the class is reading together.

Writing in a journal at day’s end. (Children’s faces purposely obscured.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fifteen minutes before the close of the school day it is time for the daily check out circle. Their teacher, Miss Ristoff, reviewed behaviors for circle. One child volunteered to lead. Another placed a water bottle filled with picked daisies for the center. Another child suggested everyone say names so I can remember them.

Centerpiece of our circle: a water bottle of picked English daisies.

He began our round of checkout by saying his name, his nick name, and his age. The child next to him passed, not yet ready to speak, and the twig being used as a talking piece went to the next child. “My name is Evan. My nickname is “Ev” and I am 7.3 years old.” By the time the talking stick reached me, nearly everyone has checked in.

“My name is Ann and because it is such a short name, I don’t have a nick name. And I am 73 years old.” I saw some raised eyebrows on the other side of the circle. The girl sitting next to me said quietly, “That’s older than my grandmother.” Smiling, I leaned over to her and responded, “I am a grandmother.” And then I passed the talking piece on.

I can’t stop smiling. For the past several decades I have lead PeerSpirit circles in places ranging from hospitals to university classrooms to non-profit board rooms in many different countries. Nobody in this circle knows or cares. They are just present to their own circle, as they should be.

The closing round of the talking piece is a response to the question, “What is a ‘glow’(something that went well) and what is a ‘grow’ (something that could have gone better) from today that you experienced?”

It is now ten minutes to 3 p.m. and some of the students in other classes are beginning to file out of the building. Yet, the two teachers maintained calm as the natural twitch factor of first and second graders began to ramp up.

First and Second grade teacher Caris Ristoff setting up the journal writing exercise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternative Learning Experience teacher, Andi Kopit, reading a book to the students.

“OK, everyone stand up and do either five somersaults or five jumping jacks,” said Ms.Ristoff. Little bodies instantly went into action. In three minutes everyone was done and sitting back in circle. It took some refocusing, but we were checked out and the students ran inside to pick up their packs a few minutes after 3 p.m. This was a masterfully held circle. Perfect in its timing, respect for individual voices, and content.

I had volunteered to spend an afternoon with the students so they would better know me when I came to be part of their field trip later in the month to visit a blooming prairie. I should have guessed that the students and their teachers would be familiar with circle. However, I had no idea that sitting in a circle with them would be such a poignant reminder to me of the power of circle.

These youngsters are being raised to understand and love the natural world around them. And they are being raised to listen and respect one another. This bodes well for the future of the world around them. And as a complete bonus, two of them gave me a hug on their way into the building!

The Last Spring Break “Granny Camp”

Our two LA city grandchildren have been coming up to visit for most every spring break since they were two years old. Since Jaden is 18, that is nearly 16 years—interrupted a couple of times for a larger family trip, including one year to South Korea. This spring is the last time they will come together because Jaden will be in college next year.

Their mother and father no longer escort them. They have grown into two fine young people who are remarkably helpful and competent. And, since they like to earn money, our weeklong time has gone from a focus on entertainment to an opportunity to learn some outdoor chores—not something they get to do in their LA apartment.

Sasha, Christina, and Jaden on the ferry to Whidbey Island for their last annual granny camp.

Vivi welcoming Sasha and Jaden to our home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nature exploration has always been a part of granny camp

Of course, we always get out to explore nature. This time a campfire and hike with our friends and theirs, Nicole and Janet. And that’s the thing: our friends have become theirs over the years. (I don’t have photos of all the adults they spent time with, but you know who you are and your presence in their lives means a lot.) Community has been an important part of their time with us.

Nicole, Janet Sasha, Jaden, Christina and Vivi hiking at Ft. Ebey State Park

Jaden perched on a cedar stump at Ft. Ebey State Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sasha preparing to put her intentions into the campfire.

Outdoor chores for pay had a big appeal

Because we live rurally, there are many opportunities for outdoor chores—planting the first seeds in the spring garden, splitting wood to dry for next winter, and raking up debris from under our big Douglas fir trees.

Sasha planting the first pea seeds of the spring.

Jaden moving logs to split.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sasha using the log splitter.

One of the values we teach our grandkids is the importance of community volunteering. They worked with our local well association to clean up debris from winter storms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daily circles and evening board games balanced out their experience

Time indoors cooking together, drawing animal cards for our morning circles, playing board games in the evening, and, of course, playing with Vivi filled our days. The weather was more challenging than usual, but we persevered.

Oh, no, snow during spring break!

Evening board games were an important part of the week. Christina and Sasha playing tile rummy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for colleges with Jaden

An added element at the end of this year’s time in our home was taking Jaden to visit Sonoma State University—one of three college acceptances he has gotten.

The morning before we did the campus tour we drew animal cards at the restaurant and spoke about the things to look for in a tour. And reviewed questions we might ask.

Jaden standing in front of the SSU Charles Schulz library next to Lucy of the snoopy cartoons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed with friends Sara Harris and Ken Smith to add the experience of a local connection and the reminder of community.

 

 

 

At day’s end after the campus tour we drovean hour to Bodega Bay State Park to take in the magnificence of the Pacific Ocean.

If there is any greater privilege than having an opportunity to pour love, encouragement, skills and possibilities into a young person, I don’t know what it might be. Thank you, Sally and Joe, for entrusting us with your beautiful children.