The youngest child of slightly older parents, only one of my grandparents was living when I was born. With the wisdom and enthusiasm of four grandparents and then some, Nana was more than enough. She emigrated from Scotland when she was four and, like many first generation Americans, led one of those lives you might read about in the immigrant memoirs that sometimes appear on best-seller lists. And like many first generation Americans, she never complained and rarely talked about what I am told was a difficult childhood. Instead, Nana counted her proverbial blessings and focused on the simple things, like baking perfect molasses cookies or playing card games with her grandchildren.
On Friday, we at Falmouth Academy were blessed by the presence of 127 similarly inclined guests, most of whom were introduced by our students as their grandparents. There was a certain magic in the air that day. The presence of our grandparents slowed us down a little bit and invited us to reflect with gratitude on our many blessings, in particular the blessing of this fine school and the caring teachers and peers who populate it. Our students, who operate almost entirely within the confines of their particular generational sliver, were reminded that they are a part of a broader, richer intergenerational human experience. Conversations undoubtedly turned to “what school was like when you were a kid,” as our students realized that these grandparents were at one time teenagers themselves. Distracted by the “now-ness” of youth, I expect, however, that very few looked ahead to a time when they might be the grandparents, being escorted proudly through whatever school might be like in that distant (but not too distant!) time.
Like families, the best schools engage regularly in this kind of intergenerational thinking. The school our children enjoy today, the facilities and faculty, the curriculum and community, exist because previous generations were thinking about the future. The time, talent, and resources they were investing clearly benefited the students that sat before them at the moment, but what makes schools a little like families is that today’s kids reap the rewards of the stewardship of yesterday’s students, faculty, parents, grandparents, and friends, just as the Falmouth Academy of tomorrow will owe a debt of gratitude to those of us caring for it today.
In a few short months, we will turn our attention to the important task of strategic planning. Much of the thinking and subsequent work that we will do throughout that process will be directed toward the future, on behalf of students who may not yet attend our school (who may not in fact, even be in any school yet!). We do that work willingly in part to honor those who did it for us and for our children.
We take this leap of faith because we have confidence that Falmouth Academy students, perhaps more than most, have been taught to pay it forward. Clearly, the education a student enjoys here will benefit him or her individually and in the short term, but just as compelling, perhaps even more so, is that when we invest in Falmouth Academy, in whatever way and at whatever level, we do so knowing that today’s graduates will be eager and equipped to be the change we seek for a future world that needs them. For obvious reasons, grandparents, I think, understand the concept of intergenerational thinking more easily than most. It is through this lens that they gaze with pride at their grandchildren, secure in the knowledge that whatever sacrifices they may have made were made on their behalf, perhaps even on their grandchildren’s grandchildren behalf. Those of us who work in schools are wise to follow their example.