“… And that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17b-19
Since my own high school graduation in 2002, I have attended eleven graduation ceremonies. (In fact, the only year since tenth grade that I haven’t attended a graduation was 2006, the year I finished college and decided to stay in Italy instead of returning to walk in SPU Commencement. No, my parents aren’t terribly surprised to find me living in Germany.) Two were at Seattle Pacific University, and were endless, distant affairs dripping with titles and pageantry. Eight were for various Seattle Public High Schools (four Ingraham, three Ballard and one Roosevelt, if you’re counting), replete with the clichés and exultation that usually accompany public school ceremonies. And one, the last one, was here at Black Forest Academy, the most unique one of all.
Graduation at BFA is laden with ritual. Students pre-arrange signals with their dorm siblings, so that each fresh diploma presentation is followed by a cheer, a gesture, or a sign of solidarity from a few dozen others, on stage and in the audience. Before receiving their diplomas from the Vice Principal, graduating seniors each hand over pieces of a gift to the Director, the first of three administrators on stage. Last year, it was brightly-colored ties, some eighty-five of them. This year, students placed a potted Canadian maple on stage, and each brought a small bag of dirt to the stage, planting a tree for our Canadian outdoorsman of a director. They process to organ-played “Pomp and Circumstance,” like every school everywhere, but recess to the theme from Ken Burns’s Gettysburg documentary, pairing up to walk out with quirky and jovial familiarity.
The most striking feature of BFA graduation, however, is its individuality. A school with 60 students per class has the opportunity, precious and incomparable, to invest personally in each student. This normally means time to read a dozen drafts of a paper, or the possibility of having an entire class over for a movie night. For graduation, this means we have time to speak briefly to the gifts and character of each student as her or she receives a diploma. In front of an auditorium full of friends, teachers, mentors and parents who had travelled thousands of miles to be here, our students were praised, blessed and sent out.
Last week at was Graduation Sunday at Black Forest Christian Fellowship, the English-speaking church where the students and much of the staff attend. One of the dorm parents, Jim Paterson, spoke about BFA as “a space between,” a community that is as temporary as it is beautiful, existing only a for a time to meet the needs of those who are blessed to live and serve here. The school will remain, year after year, but never will never be quite the same as we remember it. People graduate and enroll, moving out an in in an ever-changing parade of packing and farewells. It’s true of every school, in a sense, but more noticeable here, where bonds are strong and community is paramount.
As our graduates start to make their way by car, train and airplane to the next chapters of their lives, I realize that what BFA has offered these multinational, third-culture kids is a foundation. Whether or not they leave here saying they’re “from Germany,” they must leave knowing that they belong to the family of Christ, this community that has loved and known them, and now sends them out with prayers, hope and joy.
And while the school may look different, each year, we take joy in knowing that by the grace of God it will continue to be what it needs to be, a place of love and learning for those of us who remain.
Please pray for our seniors as they embark again, traveling on to new destinations and lives, that they remain rooted in the love of Christ. As always, thank you for the prayers that have made this year a brilliant one for us all. Have a blessed summer!