Filling the stage of Horace Mann School's Gross Theater the 85 members of HM's Fifth Grade class shared one common characteristic: the smiles they wore throughout the ceremony that marked the end of their Lower Division years. Gathered together as a grade on Friday morning, June 7, 2019, the students shared those smiles with their teachers, administrators, parents, guardians, grandparents, siblings and family friends who comprised the graduation audience. The students also listened to words of encouragement and advice from those who had taught and guided them during their last year in HM's Lower Division, including their Lower Division Head Deena Neuwirth, their grade's team leader Sandy Rubenstein, and from Horace Mann Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly. Click to read more and see photos.
Filling the stage of Horace Mann School's Gross Theater the 85 members of HM's Fifth Grade class shared one common characteristic: the smiles they wore throughout the ceremony that marked the end of their Lower Division years.
Gathered together as a grade on Friday morning, June 7, 2019, the students shared those smiles with their teachers, administrators, parents, guardians, grandparents, siblings and family friends who comprised the graduation audience. The students also listened to words of encouragement and advice from those who had taught and guided them during their last year in HM's Lower Division, including their Lower Division Head Deena Neuwirth, their grade's team leader Sandy Rubenstein, and from Horace Mann Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly.
After greeting the students and welcoming their extended family members and friends to HM LD Head Neuwirth turned to the students and described "the blessing" of teaching them and getting to know them well, especially over the past school year when she, herself, had had the opportunity to return to the classroom while also pursuing her Division Head responsibilities. Recalling with the students a book they'd read together, Neuwirth reflected on the voyage taken by protagonist Charlotte Doyle, of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. "As I think about the next voyage that you all will take among uncharted waters ... I want to remind you of the lessons we learned," said Neuwirth. "The first lesson ... is a lesson on identity" – a subject the class had asked questions about while reading this book. Applying their questions to the students' own lives Neuwirth continued, "What questions will you ask ... as pertains to your own identities? ... Remember, you have the power and intelligence to identify yourselves in any way you wish, and still think about how that identity will contribute to the larger community in positive ways." The second lesson that Neuwirth wanted the children to think about was the idea that "change is inevitable ... The novel reminds us that change is part of life." She thus advised that, as the students move on in their education, they "allow (themselves) to ... open" themselves to change ... to "transform into someone new, and dream of the person you one day wish to be. Give yourself permission to reinvent who you really are." The "third and final lesson" Neuwirth wanted the students "to call upon (was) the idea of finding (their) inner strength ... Inside each and every one of you is tremendous strength and conviction. You must embrace life's challenges. The only way to build inner strength is to stand with the challenges that come your way, not against them. As you embark on the next part of your journey, remember your inner strength," the Division Head urged, "and take comfort in knowing that every challenge is yet another opportunity to build that inner fortitude that each of you have inside of you."
The Fifth Grade Team Leader's Fond Farewell
Addressing the students for a final time as their Fifth Grade Team Leader Sandy Rubenstein shared a bittersweet moment with all those gathered. The day's graduation ceremony would mark he own final formal HM event, for Rubenstein, too, would be leaving the Lower Division—retiring after 44 years of teaching at Horace Mann School. Telling the students how proud she was of them and of their hard work, their positive energy and accomplishments, Rubenstein enumerated ways in which they had committed themselves to helping others. At HM they'd partnered with the Division's younger students, making them feel comfortable at special events, and taking incoming kindergarteners on tours of their school. Outside of HM they'd spearheaded fundraising campaigns for several causes. Through the graduates' growth over their Lower Division years, and especially as they'd matured over the past year, Rubenstein told them, "You've become more aware of your hopes and dreams and their understanding of the power of your own voice, and thus, your ability to make a difference." Building on previous knowledge the students had become critical thinkers, bringing deeper insight to their discussions. Working together in their book clubs they'd learned teamwork, how to overcome obstacles in completing assignments, how to compromise, listen with intent, and never give up. Actively engaging with each other had encouraged innovative ways for the students to problem solve, not only academically, but in their daily lives, and in the world outside—skills they would need as future leaders.
As they travel the next road of their journeys Rubenstein told the graduates to keep in mind that "Behind you are all your memories. Before you are all your dreams. Around you, all who love and care about you." Concluding her remarks "on a personal note" Rubenstein shared: "I too am graduating to a new chapter" and extended her thanks to "Dr. Kelly, Mrs. Neuwirth, the Fifth Grade Team, and to the Lower Division's faculty, staff, students and parents" who had "nurtured my soul and spirit and provided a lifetime of love, learning, friendship, and inspiration." The teacher concluded her remarks to overwhelming applause and a standing ovation from all those gathered.
Songs, celebration, and a Head of School's farewell wishes
The event began with the graduates' exuberant renditions of songs in French and Spanish, and continued with their homeroom teachers coming to the podium to share a classroom memory and offer some final advice before presenting their names. "Find your joy. Cultivate new friendships. Listen to your dreams," and "apply the critical skills you've learned and the keen sense of curiosity you've developed" were among the suggestions the teachers offered. The graduates also had a chance to express their thoughts, in the songs reflecting on the year past that each class had composed.
The ceremonies concluded with Dr. Kelly's words to the soon-to-be middle-school students, whether they were moving on to HM's Middle Division, or to other schools. Describing the class as a "spectacular and honorable bunch of young learners" who are deeply thoughtful and well-prepared for their future studies, Dr. Kelly thanked Neuwirth and the Lower Division faculty and staff for all they had done to "give our fifth graders a lifetime of wonderful memories, and the skills and confidence to see their upcoming middle school years as an amazing opportunity for growth, exploration, and healthy risk taking." These "bright, articulate, kind, compassionate, and passionate" now sixth-graders had shown "they have the skills to enter middle school, and the courage to assume greater responsibility for the role they play in today's world. In short, they are our future," Dr. Kelly said. Adding to the day's excitement was the fact that the ceremony also honored "four Master Teachers we are sending out as honorary members of the Fifth Grade Class of 2019." Dr. Kelly called to the stage HM First Grade teachers Jean Eifert, who was retiring from teaching after what she described as "45 wonderful years at Horace Mann" and Molly French, together with Rubenstein and Fourth Grade teacher Marian White, for "a moment of deep appreciation." LD Head Neuwirth handed diplomas to each teacher, to another standing ovation.
Dr. Kelly then acknowledged the parents in the audience for "not only choosing to share your children with us, but for being such thoughtful and active participants along the way. Horace Mann School is a family enterprise and we count all of you as family members," said the Head of School.
Returning to address "our newly-minted sixth graders" Dr. Kelly continued, "I'd like to offer a bit of advice, or perhaps make a special request: Don't grow up too quickly. I know that might sound a bit odd, especially in light of the growth we've seen and celebrated this year." But, he continued, "Creativity takes practice," and urged the students to: "Keep doodling. Keep dreaming. Keep using those well-oiled minds of yours to imagine a world where self-driving cars are old school, and new technology looms even larger. Think of the possibilities of a planet like earth, but millions and millions and millions of miles away. Color outside the lines. See the beauty of mathematical error and where it takes you. Play. And while you're at it, don't forget the value of touch, as touch pertains to the world we live in ... We don't have to experience everything through the internet. Go outside. Feel the rain on your face. Jump in a puddle. Walk on the beach with your shoes off. Play in the leaves. Hold hands with someone. Hug the people you love. Make a snowball. Dig for treasure ... and continue to make real connections with the people and things around you.
"As we grow older we often see that most people don't do what they love. They do what they have to. While it's our job to teach you skills and content that may not yet correlate with an appreciation for the journey, it's your job to keep focusing on your passions. Structure your day and night to pursue your passions, and maybe even reach out to a parent or advisor for help in making everything fit into your increasingly packed schedules. Do what you must, but figure out what you love, even as it changes and evolves. As we grow, the need to fit in is genuine. Fitting in is a reality of the next transition – something we must worry about in contemplating switching ... to a new Division. But, please remember – your purpose is to be you. You may not know exactly what that you is, or who that you may be from day to day, but keep your focus on who you are, and what you want, and on the gifts that you have to share with those around you."
Finally, Dr. Kelly advised the students, "As you enter middle school, work hard on how you can make that you plural. Focus on how you can work to be part of a collective, part of a classroom, part of a school family in the most positive of ways. And focus on how you can include new faces in that plural you ... Make no mistake – there are compelling reasons to keep growing up, and we're excited to see you grow. But we hope you'll slow it down enough to experience all that middle school has to offer. Try a new sport. Join a new club. Participate in a different service learning activity. Consider a new world language. And, add new faces, new friends in all that you do. If you keep all this in mind, I promise you'll find yourself in a middle school that cherishes your unique talents, and values all you have to contribute to an inclusive community. Congratulations."