By Peter Noonan
Congratulations to our Class of 2021! You’ve made it! Your class survived a year that included experiences that no previous graduating class ever imagined. The long-anticipated piece of your senior year was the move to a new high school building, but your journey included so much more! A global pandemic, social unrest following the murder of George Floyd, and awakening to racial injustices in our society. You navigated a college application process with little clarity about how it worked. You endured the uncertainty of pass/fail, credit/no credit, no-zero policies, standards based learning and grading, SAT- and ACT-optional applications. You did it all while wearing face coverings and staying socially distant! This year has been a challenging, heart wrenching, creative, and mostly ambiguous journey that is wrapping up with the availability of a Covid vaccine, the invasion of Brood X 17-year cicadas, and the first-ever graduation from the grounds of our new high school.
Through it all your community has learned from you. In reflecting on all of the issues that our schools and community have been through during the last 18 months, I am heartened by the approach that our current graduates have taken to these “unprecedented” times (That will be one word of many we should all eliminate from our collective vocabulary going forward). I witnessed in you, collectively, this year, incredible flexibility, kindness, and care for others. You model a belief that we should approach each day with our best intentions at the forefront, and a spirit in which you appear to be continually gracious for all the gifts you have been given in school and in life.
In FCCPS we tout our International Baccalaureate (IB) program as something special that sets us apart from the rest of the country and the world…and for good reason. The IB is, at its core, a set of principles that I believe our broader local, state, and global community should aspire to.. As you walk across the stage for graduation, after significant work within the IB programme for the past 12 years, most of you can rattle off the traits of the “Learner Profile” (perhaps, with mild sarcasm because they have been repeated…a lot). This is who we strive to be as a community and as individuals: Inquirers. Knowledgeable. Thinkers. Communicators. Principled. Open-minded. Caring. Risk-takers. Balanced. Reflective.
Remarkably, it is precisely these qualities that carried the whole community through the last 18 months to help you, our Class of 2021 graduates, reach this pivotal point in your life journey.
Watching you navigate all the aforementioned trials and tribulations during the last “mile of your climb” has reinforced in me that resilience is a byproduct of all of those traits. By integrating all of these traits, you will be able to thrive and achieve your goals as you move forward.
Seniors led the charge in FCCPS for the past year by ensuring great Covid mitigation and modeling for younger students. You modeled safe sportsmanship. You adjusted to different schedules. You cared for the mental health of your classmates. You advocated for the best interests of students. You helped organize and attended marches to support racial equity and social justice. You were integral in making your new high school a home supporting and participating in live sports, music, musicals, and other amazing events. As you move onto the next phases in your lives, your overall ability to adapt, modify, and overcome a myriad of obstacles is a strong lesson in resilience every person in this community should aspire to.
As a parent of a graduating senior myself, I think your parents would all agree that this year is not what any of us wanted for you. But you adapted, and overcame, and learned new things. While there was much that was lost, there was much that was gained by being resilient, and practicing those IB Learner Traits. You not only accepted the realities and challenges you faced, you also thrived despite them.
When we look back on the last 18 months, we will see this as a pivotal time in our country. It was filled with sickness, death, loneliness, culture wars, political polarization, and more. However it has also been full of hope. The members of this senior class are the models of resilience we need. We each should strive to mimic the graciousness and flexibility you showed in the face of ambiguity and adversity.
Our world is in much better hands because of who you are becoming. I’m so proud of the Class of 2021. Your parents, siblings, neighbors, and community are so proud of you!
I am grateful to you for helping me to continue to learn how to navigate through life!
Dr. Peter Noonan is the superintendent of Falls Church City Public Schools