Introducing our Senior Class

IS Families,

You may have noticed mention of me getting to share a sandwich with small groups of 12th graders over the last few weeks. With that sequence about done and very much top of mind, let me share a few broad observations about the students at the top of the mountain here. My guess is that that the way they are says a lot about our school and what happens here over time, something you probably would like to know:

First, though, I hope last week’s message landed OK with you. It generated less response than any of the previous columns, something that could signal either broad agreement with what was written or general unease that kept people from their keyboards. As you no doubt noticed, I offered no easy fixes or specific calls to action—that’s not my place yet and maybe not ever, but the tuition question sits there waiting for our response, and not alone as a tough one. Looking forward to some deep conversations with anyone who’s game.

As a bit of a relief from the weight of all that, permit me to brag about our Seniors, something that I’ve heard them do almost never, btw. Here’s what happened—my colleague Alice posted a signup sheet for lunches happening a couple times a week after I sent a class-wide message, and they just organized themselves from there. Then we gathered around a probably too small table, with me offering nothing but a sandwich and a napkin (no beverage or dessert even), and I asked to hear their stories, about themselves and their school.

The first quality demonstrated in those informal gatherings is openness. Every single one of those students shared something pretty unforgettable with me—and they surely didn’t have to. And they listened to one another, actually engaging rather than just waiting for their turn to talk. They asked me questions too, with what felt like genuine curiosity. The image of teenagers engrossed in their phones, unaware of others, does not apply to this bunch, at least not around me.

Next, they were grateful. Thankful for the modest meal, for each other, for the chance to get an education at Island School, among other things, now realizing that they’re about done with all the formal instruction that most people on the planet ever get. Not jaded, not entitled, not bratty in the way that we all worry private school kids can become. They know they have a lot of reasons to feel fortunate. There’s a refreshing kind of modesty in the way they think. Sure, they can be self-absorbed and messy, as adolescents tend to be, but nowhere near what I’m used to seeing. They cleaned up when lunch was over.

These thirty-something Seniors also seemed far less anxious and worn down than what we hear about happening so often at high-pressure schools elsewhere. With a scant few exceptions, they’re not fixated on college, or more accurately on a particular college acceptance as a verdict on them as people. They’re excited, for sure, to pursue the next steps in their educational journey, but they manifest a healthy understanding of the inevitable twists and turns in the road ahead. And as busy as they clearly are, while strengthening programs typical of high schools much larger than ours, they aren’t exhausted by the whole thing, the way you hear about happening in Palo Alto or Cambridge or Chicago.

The list could go on, but for the sake of time let me close by confirming how welcoming they have been, in a sincere way, one that I attribute to a kind of maturity that may come from growing up in a very strong culture of connecting. I’ve yet to meet a cutthroat Island School kid, or to hear a horn honking in the pickup/drop-off line for that matter. Think about the children we are raising together and think about the messages they’re getting about how to walk in this world. We may be striking that balance between growing up too fast and not growing up fast enough. Sure, we can always improve, but to my way of thinking we are coming at that challenge from a position of strength.

There’s a lot of talk about “portrait of a graduate” lists as windows onto schools, and they’re nothing wrong with making one, here included. But the portrait I’ve seen so far may prove to be more lasting, and it may set us apart more than more formal curriculum and external metrics. There are reasons why these young people are so impressive, probably directly rooted in the breadth of backgrounds and life experiences they bring to us each day, and it’s well worth our time to think about those reasons as we imagine Island School’s future.

Feeling very lucky,