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4 minutes reading time (822 words)

Savor the in-between spaces

Elizabeth Homan, 2022

Dr. Elizabeth C. Homan, superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, provided these remarks at the 2024 commencement.

Good afternoon graduates, families and faculty, and congratulations. Today marks the end of one journey and the start of another; the closure of one book, and the opening of a new one. In moments like these, in our culture, we listen to -- or, in my case, give -- speeches as a way of marking transition. Often, these speeches look both backward and forward. My task today is to celebrate the moments that came before, and to highlight with anticipation and excitement at the possibilities ahead.

And so, I am going to follow the cultural script, with a few words about the moments you have mastered as a graduating class, and a few words about what I hope for you in the future. But first, I want to ask that we all take a moment to appreciate this moment. This in-between space.

I used to be an English teacher, and those who know me know that I love to tell stories and love to hear the stories of others. This moment -- right here, right now -- reminds me of the feeling I get when I finish a really excellent book. That feeling includes a sense of accomplishment, but also sadness for what is now complete. The joy of a good book is in the reading of it, and when that experience ends, there can be disappointment, even longing.

In this between-moment, you might look to the library bookshelf for the next possibility, to google for recommendations, to your friends and family for something to fill the void that a compelling story had once occupied. In this moment “between books,” the possibilities for what comes next are endless: What genre will you choose? What adventure do you want to have next? What new insights will the next stories provide?

A similar moment in your life

You are in a similar moment in your life right now. You are celebrating what has been, and what comes next, all at once. There will be many emotions here, some of them conflicting with one another, and all of them important to the moment. While you sit in this in-between space, I invite you to take in for a moment all you have accomplished as the class of 2024:

  • You have won division championships with your strength, speed, aim and balance.
  • You have come to Arlington from Brazil, Italy and Vietnam to learn in a new culture while also learning about a new culture.
  • You have completed internships at the State House, in architecture firms, in libraries and research organizations, law offices and physicians offices and environmentalist organizations.
  • You have earned college credits before setting foot on a college campus by taking advanced coursework and challenging yourselves academically, and
  • You have earned prestigious awards in the arts and standing ovations at Carnegie Hall by challenging yourselves artistically, and
  • You have earned spots at 129 different universities from California to Florida to Maine by challenging yourselves to pursue your dreams, your passions and your interests.
  • You are off to serve your country, to attend universities in Canada, the U.K. and Ireland.

While here at AHS, you have led your peers in reshaping Arlington High School and truly the entire Arlington Community. From the founding of “practice buddy” programs to advocacy for our local ecosystem in the midst of climate change, from presentations to Town Meeting and School Committee to advocate for meaningful change, the Class of 2024 has continually taken the leadership initiative to celebrate and uplift all identities, experiences, and ways of learning and loving one another. We could not be prouder of the work you have done to advocate for yourselves, one another, and your community.

Enjoy the tension

In this moment between all you have done to earn and enjoy all that will come next, I encourage you to enjoy the tension of this moment. There is loss here. The good book is closing, and you will look back on it and remember not the specific words, but as Maya Angelou reminds us, you will forever remember how the stories and the people held within your memory made you feel.

Also in this moment there is an electric anticipation, an excitement as you decide which book to pull off of the shelf next. Enjoy the in-between space while it lasts, because it is brief. As you choose the stories that will fill your life, never lose sight of the multiplicity of perspectives, ideas, and insights still waiting for you on the shelf, or of the lessons the previous text taught you.

Onward, Class of 2024 -- and may your future shelves be filled with many joyful stories.

This viewpoint  was published Monday, June 3, 2024.

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