Wednesday afternoon, I’m missing track practice to finish up final details for Friday’s Junior-Senior Banquet. It has traditionally been the responsibility of the junior class to fundraise and then plan this event, BFA’s version of prom.
(And by “junior class,” I mean about a third of the juniors, two endlessly hardworking class officers and ten adults to supervise. And by “supervise,” I of course mean quite a bit more.)
Event planning has never been my forte. Four years ago, I helped to plan Ingraham’s prom, and of the responsibilities of class advising, this came perhaps the least naturally. I’ve always liked the events themselves–young people dressed in their finest for an evening that feels several shades more luminous than ordinary life–but the detail-rich discussions beforehand tend to overwhelm me. This time around, I was blessed with a talented team of co-sponsors, who did much of the decorating and programming, corralling their student committees to help. As head sponsor, I did my share of message-carrying and meeting-calling, but took on just one task myself: Senior Tributes.
Each year, every senior receives a letter written by a junior. The juniors fill these letters with stories and encouragement, often expressing admiration for the seniors’ roles here and exhortation for them to use their gifts well in the future. The letters, once complete, must be proofread, formatted to be uniform, and then printed onto “nice paper” for delivery at the banquet. My job: the collecting, proofreading, formatting and “nice papering” of the letters.
It was supposed to be simple. And while the complications would no doubt be amusing to retell, I’ll shorten it by asserting that collecting 66 extra written assignments from my students in the midst of soccer, track and AP test season–no matter how brief or informal the letter–was decidedly complex.
Which is why today, Wednesday, two days before the event, I’m still in my classroom, rolling fancy paper into scrolls, attaching gift tags, and tying it all together with curly ribbon. 66 times. Actually, 64 times, because four of the tributes won’t be complete until just hours before the event.
I struggle with the whole mess of blue and silver curly ribbon, thinking again about the rituals of the end of the year and reassessing this one’s value as I become literally entangled in it. It’s important to question ritual, reasons my young-adult self. Should we be doing this? Or do we just keep doing it because we always have?
But I’m reminded of a sermon from Bethany Community Church that I heard this week on James 3, reminding me that “words matter.” James spends a great deal of time warning against the harsh words, the curses and lies that “set our lives on fire.” Yet in the sermon, my father reminded us that the good words–encouragement, exhortation, celebration–are of equal weight.
And that’s what these scrolls are, I realize. I still remember letters like these, now that I think about it. Departing from schools, homes, jobs, these were letters written to me from those I was leaving, treasured and taken along to wherever I was going. Letters I can still recall on darker days, letter that still make me smile. Encouragement matters, deeply.
It’s what motivates most of our year-endings, really, the hope that we send our students into the wide world knowing that they are made in God’s image, uniquely excellent and deeply loved, each of them. Banquets, awards ceremonies, tributes, gifts and graduation all work to build that reminder, a foundation from which they can leave this little village where they spent part of their lives.
In the midst of planning these events, I find it easy to forget their importance, to get lost in the details, to get irritated and tangled up in ribbon. How thankful I am, then, for nights like this banquet–lovely and extraordinary, or even the more ordinary interactions of teaching and coaching, where I see, every day, the critical part that encouragement plays in shaping all of us in our journey to be more like Christ.