Wednesday, May 18, 2005

We are all freshman; we are all seniors

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At the piano-Kieran Patrick Dowdy of
Huntsville, Alabama on the occasion
of his senior piano recital, Sunday, April 18, 2005
In the foreground, his parents, Jim and Rachel Dowdy


The cloudless morning of September 11th brought the class of 2005 into high school and into a new era of life in America. We all became freshman again, treading nervously a new terrain.

We who teach have walked with them on a kind of balance beam seeking a point of equilibrium that may exist at some point out of our range of sight, perhaps out of our dimension. On the morning of September of 11, 2001 my government students opined that their current event assignment was SO boring. The headlines consisted of an education initiative (always exciting to teens) and a couple of shark attacks. The shark attacks were disturbing, no doubt, but hardly brought about any sense of personal threat to our suburban land locked teens.

What followed the World Trade Center attack was the end of our insulation. Shocked into awareness of threats that had existed for a long time, they saw headlines transformed from tedium to terror. From random shark attacks to beheadings.

Then we went to war in Iraq. As Jimmy Carter accepted his Nobel Peace Prize bombs went off in Bagdhad. The political fallout went from the smashing of Dixie Chix CD's, to french fries, to elections in Iraq.

In our examination of public policy, I often felt that we had to balance the possibilities for solutions to world problems with the gravity of the threats. Because even while living with the fog of war--kids still need to be kids.

In those days before September 11, this class charmed us through their toddlerhood, amused us with missing and disproportionately big incisors, entertained us with their voice changes, and startled us with physiques taking adult shapes, overnight, or so it seems.

We assumed this Class of 2005 would have a world like our’s in which to mature. We assumed that we could prepare them for the ups and downs, and to a great extent we have.

But even as we walk under a cloudless sky, we are a country at war.

This week, graduation ceremonies begin, tassels will be turning, taking these kids away from us. The subject of the photo on my blog today rates as my favorite among the class of 2005. He can be favored because he doesn’t go to the school where I teach, and because he is our nephew, Kieran Patrick Dowdy, the child of Jim Dowdy, my husband’s brother, and his wife, Mary Rachel Formby Dowdy. Graduating from Huntsville High in Huntsville, Alabama Thursday night of this week, he will be noted as a summa cum laude scholar. Along with his stellar academic achievements, he has the added charm of being an accomplished pianist.

As we sat at Kieran’s senior piano recital, mesmerized by his rendition of a Rachmaninoff piece, my heart jumped in my throat when my camera captured Jim and Rachel in the foreground with Kieran performing in between them. For a moment I saw them representing all of us who have launched our children. Sitting, watching, and absorbing the artistry of life. Feeling at once the joy and the pain of being a family. Contemplating what love has wrought. Hearing the music, cheering the achievement, anticipating what's next.

We watch this class of 2005 on one hand confident we have equipped them for the trek ahead. We watch this class of 2005 with an unraveling sense that they are walking a path that we have never walked. Both sensibilities are true.

We are all seniors. We are all freshman.