Summer Interlude & A Final Graduation

Ordinary Time – July

In my heart, I knew this year would mark my last graduation at St. Augustine Catholic High School. Our administrative team and I had waited until the very last moment to make that announcement. It had been my final request that the May commencement be focused on our seniors rather than the fact that their school principal would be retiring. I had already let a few people know that my husband had been offered a chance of a lifetime position that might ultimately stretch our home boundaries across the country to Washington, D.C. While our roots would remain solidly planted in the Arizona desert we call home, I could not stay in a position that I might have to leave over the next few months.

I bargained with God not to let me cry at every juncture of the goodbye process. He didn’t agree to my terms, and I felt like an emotional wreck by the time I drove out of my parking spot for the last time in mid-June.

Now it is July, and the bell will soon sound the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. For the first time in years, I will not be making the inaugural morning announcements. Already, the school’s website has changed to reflect the new faculty and staff. The handbooks have been updated, class rosters set in place, instructional resources ordered, and school policies refreshed. Even without me, those tasks have been accomplished.

This summer has been one of mixed emotions. For decades, this season has been defined by the end of one school year and the beginning of another with maybe a week or two of vacation squeezed in. As much as I determined that the success of the school was contingent on my being on “alert” 24/7, I am now experiencing what I have always known – no one is truly indispensable. Desperate as that sounds, it is also quite humbling. I may feel like I have lost my direction, but in reality, I am simply forcing myself to take a tentative step onto “my road less traveled.” Who knows what I will discover? It’s scary, but I think it might also be okay. 

My heart is beating an odd cadence as I try to put into words the feeling of being untethered to what has been my community for so long. I have avoided writing for the past few weeks because my thoughts are scattered, and my identity is obscured. This blog – my rough draft of a future book about being a secondary school principal – is out of order. I started it in Lent with the idea that I would chronicle a full academic year in the life of a high school principal. I would post essays throughout the months, rounding them out with articles I have written over the years for my school newsletters. I would do this until I reached Lent again. Then, in the editing process, I could gather all these posts, organize them into a school year, and publish (Still) Extraordinary Time, my second foray into authorship. But now, I find myself writing about retiring at a point when I should be writing about a new school year. I confuse myself.

One truth I have discovered is that it is often better to dive into the unknown rather than think about all the things that can go wrong. This post represents an interlude (and probably the last entry in the book when I finally get to that point!). I will continue to post to this blog the ponderings and essays that I have rightfully written over the years. After all, those experiences I am sharing were mine, are mine…and honestly, capture moments in the lives of so many of us involved in Catholic education – hence the reason I feel compelled to share them. (Really, who cares if this is out of order? I am not even sharing the blog with that many people anyway. And honestly, if I really lose focus, I could simply delete all of this and not concern myself with the order at all! WordPress is my playground.)

Whew! I feel better. I have been wrestling with my deflated muses for weeks.  Now, I have a direction. The next post will bring us into a new school year based on the experiences that many of us in education share. At some point in our lives, we are all first graders, high school students, and graduates. Change is part of the process.

Our Story

Palm Sunday – April

The priest usually invites his congregation to sit during Palm Sunday’s “longest Gospel of the year.” Children are admonished to stop squirming while many of us continue traditions of politely listening as we weave our palm fronds into crosses while the Passion is re-created at the front of the church. 

Over the years, I have noticed my own response to Palm Sunday’s readings shifts depending on where I “am” in my life. When I was younger, I thought it was clever that we church goers had a part in the reading. But as I got older, I realized that my assigned lines in the play were horrible. Why would I, a believer, ever yell “crucify him” about my Lord? At the same time, I also grew to realize how easy it is to get caught up in a crowd mentality of joining the uproar, never questioning, and feeling indignant without knowing why. 

I constantly caution my students to resist peer pressure, and yet I wonder if I would have been able to stand my ground for Jesus? Perhaps I feel unsettled during the reading because I might relate more to Peter than to the women weeping at the foot of the cross.

Today, I try to listen to the Passion as a more mature student of life. If I simply get up after Mass and treat the reality of the Easter story as if it were a news item buried in the crime section of the local paper, then I am no better than a casual bystander in my faith. I could shake my head, worry about the victims, hope that somebody makes sure justice is done, and then move on through my days. But I can’t do that anymore. Jesus fulfilled prophesy. He lived fully. He offered signs of his divinity even as a man. He did everything he could to help us understand, and yet he had to die for many of us to even begin to take notice. 

As my ability to dig into the text and texture of the Gospels has grown, I have discovered that my own role in the story of the Passion should not take place on the sidelines. My vocabulary and responsibility toward articulating my faith has deepened. I can relate to the bystanders seeking what they thought was justice. But this cannot be my excuse. This is Holy Week, a final few days in this season of Lent to accept the faults of my own humanity, to seek reconciliation for not accepting the messages of Jesus, and to begin to rise above the roar of the crowds. I am free to choose my own lines to recite in the story.

Principal’s Ponderings

Vocabulary Lessons

The Advanced Placement Literature and Composition exam consists of 55 multiple choice questions and three essays. Questions are based on excerpts from prose and poetry and mostly focus on a rhetorical devices to include structure, diction, tone, and point of view. Several queries pinpoint specific vocabulary that relates to literature.

Recently, the AP Literature class worked diligently to memorize 101 terms. This did not seem to intimidate them at all. Vocabulary lessons are nothing new to them. As early as kindergarten, children take home packets of words to remember and spell. Later, they identify those words as parts of speech and learn to appreciate how they can cleverly string those words into sentences. Before they know it, the whole world opens up to them because they can read and write!

Most of us who live by the school calendar along with the liturgical calendar, recognize that the vocabulary of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter also evolves as children grow.

Elementary vocabulary lists might include words likebunnyegg, and carrot. In Catholic schools, add words like GodJesus, and cross. As students work their way through middle school and high school, a rabbitmight become a cottontail, and a crossmight become crucifixion. Terms may even traverse across the curriculum into religion and history classes to include miracleprayerresurrection, and the Triduumof Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday’s Easter Vigil.

The “literature” of Easter, so eloquently told in the stories of the Acts of the Apostles, the poetry of the Psalms, and the inspired words of the Gospels, weaves this beautiful vocabulary into the very essence of who we are and what we believe. On Easter Sunday, we will read how God anointsJesus with “the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10), of mercythat “endures forever” (Psalm 118), of the paschal lambwho “has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5), and of the resurrectedChrist “taken from the tomb” (John 20).

What we read takes on meaning while we digest the vocabulary of the text we read. This helps us pass AP tests and write essays. More and most importantly, however, these words become the most convincing way to express the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of what we experience in life. To be brought into the context, the time, and the lives of others helps us understand ourselves.

The Easter story is ourstory.