Education Matters: Rites of passage

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The first Saturday night in May, under an almost-drizzly sky, our streets seemed suddenly taken over by young men in tuxedos and young ladies in long, formal dresses. There was no mistaking it: prom night was upon us.

We spied a group of six girls with one guy, sashaying their way through the Co-op parking lot and up hill into downtown. Through the window at a restaurant on Main Street, we spotted another table full of them, menus in hands, preparing to order. Coming home "the back way" from Guilford, our car interrupted an impromptu photo shoot on the top of a hill. The fairways on the golf course hosted more corsages and boutonnieres than carts whizzing to and fro.

Facebook pages lit up with parents posting candid shots of daughters getting up-dos on their hair, and dads helping with ties and cuff links. Our little group of parents included some we've know since before marriage, some we'd never met, and some we've known for almost all our children's lives. One of the other moms and I marveled together at watching the two of them as friends at this stage of their lives. "I remember holding him at birth," my friend tells me.

"Same for me," I answer. "I remember holding her, too." I look over at another of the boys looking so handsome in his tux, and mentally compare it with the photo I have somewhere of the two of them sledding at age four. I move to the next one, and I see him on the Small Fry field, swinging for the ball with all his might.

But we don't have all night to stand around in these thoughts; they are off to their dinner reservation. The day had already been busy for the juniors in this group. All three of the boys had started the day with another rite of passage: taking SAT tests for college. My husband and I felt we could help out minimally by making sure he was up — not that he needed us for an alarm, of course. We bugged him about eating breakfast, and we made sure he had the necessary calculator. He was out the door by 7:20, a bevy of sharpened pencils at the ready. "Good luck!" we called after him. I stood there a moment, thinking that it was up to him at this point.

Less than a week later, we lacrosse parents were huddled together under various umbrellas and waterproof blankets, gallantly cheering on the varsity lacrosse team as they battled the reigning state champ in a downpour. Our conversations increasingly have turned towards colleges this season. Where are they applying? What deadlines are coming up? What is the most important thing for their son?

For years, we've listened as people asked our kids, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" It was a laughable question: most of the time, they didn't even know what they wanted to eat next, let alone what type of work they might do. Suddenly, though, that question seems ever-so-much-more relevant.

The lacrosse season is coming to an end already, one of the parents observed. Actually, we all note together, the entire school year is coming to an end.

"And next year, they will be seniors," we say to each other. There is a moment of silence between all of us. We stop to think ... we supposedly intelligent people ... we who know how to read calendars ... we who have known for years that this group of kids will graduate in 2017 ... and we, of course, we have always known that 2017 comes after 2016. It just seemed a lot further away in 1998 and 1999, when these kids were babies, when they started kindergarten together in September of 2004, when they started middle school.

Rites of passage. They never stop.

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com.


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