Last fall I wrote a post for my school’s blog, West Hills Stories. It’s about endings. And beginnings. Here it is:
Every once in a while I create an experience for my students that is cool and even surprises me. My “Farewell Address” is one such activity. Several years back I decided to define an end-of-the-year moment of closure with each class. I wanted a time to celebrate our year together, to reminisce, to toast the wide-open futures of each student in the room. I wanted more than the perfunctory collecting of books, doling out of grades, and ticking down of the clock that seems to define intervals of learning.
Here’s how it works. I advertise my farewell address as a “do not miss” moment. I commandeer the last ten minutes or so of class. I bring in bottles of water, one for each student. I tell each student to grab a bottle and crack the lid but not to open it. Many guess that a toast is coming. And they’re right. But I embellish the farewell address with thoughts, advice, challenges and requests. I recognized there’s a good probability this might be the last time we ever speak, so it needs to be meaningful. The moment is bittersweet. Each year I make small tweaks to how I do it, what I say, and what I request. Some years make me tear up. Last year was one of them.
The students are aware that the toast is really a sip of bottled water. But for some I transform their vision of it from just being ordinary water to being a “bottle of dreams.” Most think it’s funny, but buy into it. They can look at the water for what it is, or they can visualize it being whatever they want it to be. It’s about belief. It’s about the power of their minds to pretend for the sake of silliness that it’s a potent non-alcoholic elixir that marks the start of new beginnings, especially for seniors. The moment is simultaneously deep and light-hearted. I ask them to keep it as a reminder of the farewell address.
During this year’s graduation procession, as students were leaving the field, I had several of them tell me that they still had their bottle of dreams. Students saved an empty water bottle for years because of the meaning we attached to it! How cool is that? My farewell address has become one my classroom traditions, and will only get better.