Montessori in Action: An 8th Grader’s Graduation Speech
Wow… eleven years! It has flown by so quickly. I won’t say it feels like yesterday when I walked through the front doors for the first time; I know that it was a little longer than that, but has it gone quickly.
I won’t lie and tell you I knew that this was home from the beginning- it took some getting used to. I remember the first two weeks quite distinctively. I would cry and cry, not wanting to let go of my mother’s leg. Someone would have to come and coax me off of her leg every day, and then I would set off to work. After a few weeks, of course, I fell into a rhythm of walking the halls and soon developed a sense of normalcy, but I think it was more than that- it was a sense of comfort that I fit in somewhere. I made some amazing friends in those years, some of whom I am still good friends with today. More importantly, I gained some of the most important life skills I would ever learn, like pouring water from pitcher to pitcher, or picking up objects with tongs and tweezers. By kindergarten, I had fully assimilated myself with the school, I was doing superlatively. Just as I had finally become comfortable, my world was sent into a tailspin… Lower Elementary.
As it turned out, introducing myself to Lower Elementary was actually much, much easier than preschool. I knew most of the kids and felt comfortable with the teachers, everything seemed just swell. Some of the coolest projects I have ever done were created in that room. On one occasion, two other students and I set out on an exploration of ancient philosophers, astronomers, and teachers. We studied Copernicus, Socrates, Galileo, Plato, Aristotle, and others. It was amazing for us to be introduced to the ways these geniuses had seen the Earth, space, religion, how the universe came to be, all of the truly pressing questions for us at that time, some that still interest us today. We never did find out the meaning to life, although, I will say those early introductions into topics like physics, foreign study, astronomy, and debate, really kindled a love of learning that hasn’t left us, and hopefully never will. That is what is so great about Montessori and the Montessori philosophy. It allows students to not only learn at their own respective pace, but also to study what interests them.
My love of math also began in the later half of my Lower Elementary years, I was offered the opportunity to work as quickly as I liked, and when I exhausted the available curriculum, I kept on going with the Upper Elementary material. I think I ended up with cube roots at the end of the third grade, but that wasn’t really the point. The point was that we were exploring what we loved while considering the curriculum at the same time. Upper elementary was ahead, and it would be the most exciting, yet difficult period of my life.
Rumors float around about the Upper El, we hear about unsatisfiable teachers and absolutely insane workloads. It is one of my missions today to put those rumors to rest. Upper El, as scary as it may be, is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It changed me from a little boy who was afraid of his own shadow, to a (still) little boy who said what he believed (respectfully, of course). I learned to stand in front of an audience and present. The first time I ever presented, I was almost in tears… it was horrifying. Now, standing before you I ask, can you see my legs shaking? I will tell you I had many evenings where I was brought to tears over this or that, but I am better for it. It taught me how to manage my time, and how to quickly and effectively get my point across with eloquence and without seeming like a sesquipedalian who was trying to be loquacious, verbose, or pleonastic. Some of my best talents were also developed while in the upper elementary. Not only have I continued my pursuit of math and English, I have also found how adept I was in the use of technology; I have continued this study in Middle School with the Web Design elective.
If I had to pick the best thing about Upper Elementary, I would say that it was the way that we were taught. We were continuously taught in new and exciting ways, trying out experiments, and cooking some of the best risotto- ever. This, of course, was all in the name of science. On one occasion, we were tasked with seeing who could get their rocket to fly the farthest. We, being Montessori students, instead of wasting our time with finding the best propulsion method, came up with something different. We used four, two-liter bottles of Coke, and utilized them to shoot our rocket just a few inches. Then, we pulled a ripcord that released mylar balloons, sending our rocket blissfully into the sky. We don’t know how far it traveled, but I don’t think that the point of the assignment was to get a rocket to travel. They wouldn’t have cared if it had traveled one mile or 1000 miles, the goal was to learn to work with others to solve a problem, something extremely important in the fast-paced, community-minded world.
I wasn’t nervous when I entered Middle School for the first time, I knew that my Upper El class had prepared me for whatever they threw at me. The workload wasn’t bad, I actually had more free time than I had in the beginning of Upper Elementary. Something very important was introduced into the mix, something that I had only dappled with slightly in my life so far. The big “s word”… Structure. Let me back up and explain this. When I was in Upper Elementary, I was assigned work, and almost the entire day was dedicated to work or lessons. I would say that at least seventy-five percent of the day was work time, with only the other quarter for meetings. This number was flipped on its head when I walked through the big double doors, I did the calculations and found that seventy-nine percent of the day is now dedicated to lessons, with only twenty-one percent of the day being specifically dedicated to work time. This is more important than it seems because it prepares us for high school, which is the next big step in our lives. Middle School is the bridge between our loosely structured Upper Elementary years to the extremely structured and rigorous High School curriculum we will soon be taking on.
I was looking for some sort of message to give to you, something really inspirational that would explain to you everything I have learned in the past eleven years. Instead I found this, from the 2013 commencement speech at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor done by Twitter CEO Dick Costollo. “Not only can you not plan the impact you’re going to have, you often won’t recognize it when you’re having it…The impact is what others frame for you and the world after it happens. The present is only what you’re experiencing and focused on right now…You cannot draw that path looking forward. You cannot draw any of your paths looking forward. You have to figure out what you love to do, what you have conviction about, and go do that.”
What I have gathered from all of this, in what was said, implied, and not said at all, is that these next years will be the most exciting, yet trying, difficult, yet amazing, years of our lives, and no place could have prepared us better than my Montessori school. It isn’t guaranteed that we will all be successful, I can say with a safe amount of certainty that we will have to deal with rejection at some point in our lives. This isn’t the important part, however. The important part is that we stand back up and try again. We have to have our own convictions and principles and stand by them, unshaken by adversity. We will have trials and tribulations, but we must push past them. I have learned so much these last eleven years, not only what has been taught in the curriculum, but also in the life lessons that we experience every day. Before I relinquish this stage, I would like to thank all of my classmates, for making these the best years of my life, my teachers, for educating and helping me through it all, Mrs. Kay Neff, for creating my wonderful school, and most importantly, my family, for always standing by my side, being there for me, and allowing me to attend this place I feel honored to call my second home!