One can see the signs of the holidays everywhere on campus. Our Christmas tree is up in Kleinert Commons at Midway; wreaths now adorn the main entrance on our Hillcrest campus. Tacky sweater day has come and gone in the Upper School, and next week our Christmas pageants will take place at the Church of the Transfiguration – an annual rite of passage for our youngest students and celebration of the season at Parish for decades.
Ask any of us who have committed our lives to school work, though, and I think we would agree on one of our favorite signs of the season: alumni returning to campus. These visits are joyous in so many ways. Memories are rekindled and favorite stories are retold. But, most significantly for we teachers, the return of our graduates offers both affirmation and a powerful reminder.
It affirms that our investment in our former students has yielded dividends. We see how they have constructed meaning from our classes or leveraged skills honed on our campuses to succeed in collegiate and graduate studies. We can feel in their desire to return that our presence in their lives – though relatively fleeting in the scope of a lifetime – has informed and enriched their journey to adulthood. It is among life’s most indescribable joys to have former students tell us – either in word or through their presence – that we have had an impact on them.
Sitting with a graduate also reminds us to clean the lenses with which we view our present students. Occasionally, in the intense work which is teaching and mentoring young children and adolescents, we teachers see the shortcomings of a challenging student as intractable. We may also be fooled by our superstars, presuming their talents and accomplishments mean an unimpeded path to success in college and beyond. Our graduate reminds us that with a student, as with a stock, past performances do not guarantee a future result. As such, through our alumni, we are called to stay in the moment with our present students. Who they are today is not who they will be tomorrow and the relationship we have with them today can be a powerful shaping agent.
We are also reminded that this journey is uniquely personalized. I marvel at how the journey of self-discovery continues, and usually accelerates, once students leave the safe haven of our campus and protective nests of their parents’ homes. Key moments of self-discovery and maturation occur for each at distinct times. Pivot points offered by new networks of friends and mentors, exciting and unforeseen life and learning experiences, and sometimes even setback and pure happenstance add texture to the personal narratives of our graduates. I never tire of hearing these stories as those we once knew as little children and ungainly adolescents return as young adults finding their way toward a purposeful life in the real world.
At Parish, we’ve reached a thrilling juncture in our history. Alumni of Parish Day’s 6th grade abound dating back to the late seventies, but Parish Episcopal distributed its first high school diplomas in 2007. A critical mass of Parish Episcopal alumni are now out of college and, in strong numbers, returning to Dallas. They are all in their twenties. They are accomplished yet seeking, wondering what life after college portends for them and eagerly exploring new opportunities. It is incredibly exciting for us to see this first generation of our alumni entering this life phase.
We know how schools like ours have historically engaged alumni – annual events like homecoming and reunions, career days and distinguished alumni awards, and legacy events as children of graduates become students themselves. All of these are wonderful and will have a place at Parish.
But true to our spirit, we are wondering. Given that this is our first generation of “adult alumni,” we are posing questions like these:
- How might we rethink the relationship between Parish’s graduates and our school moving it beyond that defined by traditional alumni activities?
- How might we engage alumni meaningfully as mentors and sources of enrichment for our present students and programs?
- How might Parish continue to impact favorably the lives of our alumni and continue to serve them as a source of enrichment, learning, and opportunity?
In this season of presents, we look forward to the gift which comes in the form of a visit from one of our graduates. We also embrace the opportunity before us to position Parish as a gift which keeps on giving to its graduates well after they have left our campus.