Thursday, May 18, 2023

Godspeed, Class of 2023

Some thoughts on and for the Class of 2023 for my semi-annual unofficial commencement speech.

“They’re just really good kids.”

That view was shared with me last week by a colleague, as we talked about the school year on the last day for seniors at Cherry Creek. I was having a nostalgic moment because, well, last Wednesday, my daughter turned eighteen, and she attended her last day of high school the following day. Thinking about her and her friends, I beamed with pride for my daughter, her classmates, and the entire class of 2023. There’s just something about these kids.

“I’m going to have a hard time letting this group of seniors go,” said Alex Burkhart, theater teacher at Cherry Creek High School. The class of 2023 will always be special for Burkhart, for in his fourth full year at Creek, they were his first freshmen class. But it’s not just sentimental. They seemed pretty special from the get-go, as when their ensemble cast nearly brought the house down with their performance of Mary Poppins in March of 2020, just a week before stages went dark. In their four years, this class has been above the drama.

Burkhart’s thespian troupe co-presidents campaigned to lead the board as a team because there was no competition between them, just collaboration. It was symbolic of the confident maturity with which they’ve led. Each class is, of course, unique, and when I think of the class of 2023, I will always smile fondly about this group of “really good kids.” That sentiment has been echoed numerous times this year. Another colleague who sponsors a leadership group said of this year’s class, “They have a pretty special bond that I don’t know I’ll see again.”

If we had to choose one word for this year’s graduates, whether it’s high school or college matriculation, it would have to be resilient. At both levels, the class of 2023 entered school in a seemingly normal fall with the usual bit of excitement and a dash of reservation about what their next four years would hold. We all know how that went. But more than this group of young people being so strong and showcasing such endurance, I think they serve as a helpful reminder of the resilient nature of the human spirit. We are all strong, and we can all carry on, because that’s what we do.

To end the year, I’ve been teaching, or actually helping my ninth graders teach themselves, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. They are exploring his existentialist Code Hero Santiago, a fisherman struggling through an unimaginable string of bad luck – eighty-four days without a fish. Yet despite the hardship, Santiago’s eyes remain “cheerful and undefeated.” That’s a wonderful way to look at the kids of the class of ‘23 – cheerful and undefeated.

The senior class at Cherry Creek went through school during their football team’s historic four-peat state championship run. So, in a way, these kids are perpetual champions, never knowing defeat. And that spirit is the soul of the class of 2023. They are champions, and like Santiago, they remain undefeated. Even amidst serious challenges and setbacks, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and prepare for what comes next.

In a theatrical bit of poetry for graduates, the musical this year at Cherry Creek – the culminating work for the thespians of 2023 – was Man of La Mancha. It’s the story of Don Quixote, the man who “dreamed the impossible dream.” He’s a man who remained forever undefeated in his mind. He is the idealist and eternal optimist who saw the world, not as it is, but as he hoped, wished, and believed it could be. In the fearless spirited pursuit of his dream, Don Quixote lived an idealized life, one of nobility and chivalry and triumph. Like Santiago and the class of 2023, he was forever cheerful and undefeated.

In the iconic song from the musical’s finale, Don Quixote sings of his quest “to dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to run where the brave dare not go.” That is the heart of the class of 2023, and I see them with faith and hope and optimism. On their journeys, knowing what they know, they will “right the unrightable wrongs” and “the world will be better for this.” That is their quest, and they will, cheerfully and undefeated, “reach the unreachable star.”

Godspeed, Class of 2023. We are so proud and impressed, and we can’t wait to see what you do next.