I peered in to see a group of 6th grade students singing the graduation processional, a beloved earworm for me that enters my head sometime in early May and doesn’t leave until the last student and faculty member departs campus in June. Once it enters my brain, I find myself whistling, humming, and singing it at all hours of the day and night, most of the time without realizing I’m doing it. It brings with it a flood of memories and feelings, a sense of joy tinged with sadness. It anchors me both in the lived moment of today, and in the long embrace of Hillbrook’s history.
May is full of these moments. Moments of celebration, accomplishment, and transition. Moments that capture how much each child has grown and changed over the course of the year. Moments that are unique and significant in and of themselves, and, at the same time, powerful because of their deep connection to our school’s 83 years of history.
This Friday, we are celebrating both ends of the Hillbrook journey. In the morning, our youngest students – the JK and Kindergarten crew – will participate in a Celebration of Learning with their families. “Love Makes a Family” provides the children an opportunity to showcase to their family and friends the growth they have experienced this year. This inspiring morning – full of song, dancing, and displays of student learning – has deep roots in the school’s history. While the form of the event has evolved over time, the sense of purpose and joy remains the same. And, for those of us who have seen this event through the years, it provides a powerful grounding for the extraordinary growth these dynamic young children have experienced and a compelling reminder of the extraordinary journey that still lies ahead.
In the afternoon and evening, our campus will fill up with alumni of all ages, as we host our annual Alumni Reunion. In addition to the usual reunion activities, including the ever-popular and competitive Loukas Angelo Alumni Basketball Games, a highlight this year will be the ribbon cutting for the Hillbrook History House, a multi-year project that started as the dream of a group of 6th grade girls back in 2013. Five years later, art teacher Ken Hay, Aynna Patel, a soon to be graduate of the Class of 2018, and several others have worked together to put the finishing touches on this wonderful new addition to the Village of Friendly Relations. I’m eager to see a few of the girls from the Class of 2015 who started this project when they return on Friday night. I know that in the moment I will find myself picturing them both as the girls they were and the young women they have become on the verge of their senior year in high school.
May plays tricks on me like that, as I feel like I’m experiencing the past, present, and future all at the same time.
Late last week, I had the opportunity to connect with Weston del Signore, a graduate of the Class of 2014 and soon to be graduate of Bellarmine College Preparatory’s Class of 2018. Weston will be returning as the alumni graduation speaker for the Class of 2018. Weston earned this honor as the recipient of the Hillbrook Award back in 2014. Reconnecting with Weston I was struck by how much he had grown and matured since he last stepped on our stage in 2014, and yet the person he has become – a graphic artist and writer heading off to USC to pursue a journalism degree – clearly was deeply rooted in his Hillbrook experience. He commented on how the Hillbrook program had provided him with the academic foundation and the life skills that had guided him successfully through these past four years at Bellarmine.
Weston has the rare distinction of being the only person I know to have been selected by his peers to give the 8th grade graduation speech in 2014 and now to be returning four years later as the alumni graduation speaker for 2018. I looked back at Weston’s remarks from 2014 and found this passage:
“What I guess I’m trying to say is that Hillbrook’s teachers and my peers have shaped me into the person you see standing behind this old wooden podium. If I hadn’t gone to this wonderful school and seen such wonderful people every day, I might not have turned out the way I would have wanted to. Hillbrook has prepared me for all of the challenges that lie ahead in my life in more ways than one. My teachers have taught me about arithmetic and sharing, even if I don’t want to. They taught me the Pythagorean theorem and how to spell. But they also taught me about life. Like how to apply any of what I just said to real life, a prevalent question in all classrooms. Hillbrook’s outstanding education has taught me how to put my skills to the test in the real world, something I will carry throughout my life.”
Four years later, I think Weston’s description of what he learned at Hillbrook is, if anything, even more true for our current soon-to-be graduates. If you have had the opportunity to watch any of the 8th grade capstone pitches at Flag on Mondays, you see concrete evidence that these dynamic young people are already striving to put their skills to the test in the real world. 8th graders are exploring public transportation in San Jose, how to design and build an affordable computer to increase access for low income communities to technology, expanding the role of arts education in public schools, raising awareness about access to water in Sudan, and improving the sound system for Flag (yes, there is hope for all of those parents standing in the back!). And, if I close my eyes, I can imagine these young people in four years as high school seniors, full of the same confidence and passion they have today, and yet undoubtedly more refined and polished, just like Weston, the product of four more years of experience.
Amidst the busyness of May, moments like these remind me what a privilege it is to share the journey with the students and families of Hillbrook. It is the privilege to see and celebrate what our students have become today, and to peer into the future and imagine what they will become tomorrow. It is the extraordinary privilege of being part of a community that inspires children to achieve their dreams and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world. It is a privilege I never take for granted and one that never gets old.