I love the cyclical nature of schools. There is an optimistic beginning, lots of hard work, good learning, occasional stumbles, heartfelt laughter in the middle, and a meaningful “good luck!” on Continuation as our Colorado Academy Eighth Graders step toward high school. Each student enters as one person, and departs a little bit wiser, a little bit more skilled, and, I hope, a little bit kinder. Each year I get to share a few thoughts at Continuation with our Eighth graders and their parents. I always hope that I have chosen the right message, but the funny part about being a teacher or principal is that it is probably ten or twenty years before we get to see the outcome of our efforts in the wonderful, community-minded adults our students become.

Nuggets of wisdom 

It’s true that I have 510 school days available to me to pass along a story or two, or even a dollop of wisdom, since I get to spend Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grade with each Middle School student; still, Continuation is special, in part because it is the last time I have a “captive audience,” so it matters to me what I share. In this case, my message was pretty straight forward, “Sharks only grow to the size of their tanks.”

Ok. There you have it. Sharks and tanks. What more could I possibly share?! Isn’t that self-explanatory? I could now send this terrific group of young people off on their way to Upper School, assured that they would find their way. 

The meaning of sharks and tanks

 My message to our Eighth Graders is about limitations—limitations that are externally imposed…like a tank, or your own thoughts. In my experience, there are two sorts of limits that can stand in the way of a young person’s bright future. The obvious one is the tank…your surroundings—the friends you choose, the decisions you make to be cool or part of the “in” group, your decision to do risky behaviors…those kinds of things—THE TANK. These decisions will limit your experiences and your opportunities as you try to conform to what you believe others want. I asked the students to do their best to avoid getting stuck in the tank and instead to be themselves, the very best YOU, every day, every minute.

The other thing that will hold a student back are the limitations that one places upon him or herself. I encouraged each to be open to all of the things that each could be, not just to the things each is now, but to the person each CAN be—allow yourself to dream and to change. If you see yourself as an athlete now, I hope that you will allow yourself also be a great student, or surgeon, or politician in the future. I hope each will fight self-imposed limits and reach whatever goals you set for yourself. In short, don’t listen to that internal voice that may tell you that you can’t do something; always believe that you can.

 A new beginning?

While the Eighth Graders stride toward high school, a new Fifth Grade class is on its way toward the Middle School halls. We’ll use this summer to think about what went well as a school and what we can do a little bit better to help next year’s students. I hope you will all enjoy the summer. Play a bit, read a bit, and enjoy family. We will be here in the fall, ready and waiting to support next year’s students challenge their limits.