Bigger Places

Our valedictorian speaks to BFA's Class of 2015.
Our valedictorian speaks to BFA’s Class of 2015.

“There are bigger places out there than Kandern…. And thank the Lord for that.”

BFA 2015 Valedictorian

Talisman headshot, circa 2002. Photo: Courtney Irby
Talisman headshot, circa 2002. Photo: Courtney Irby

The morning of graduation day at Black Forest Academy, I received a message from a  former BFA student. “Did you go to Ballard high?” he had written beneath a picture of my alma mater. After confirming that yes, this was my high school, I had a few seconds of nostalgia. Like, 9 seconds. I thought of a day when the staff of the Ballard Talisman newspaper posed next to that sign in Brady Bunch-style photos. (See photo left. You are welcome.) It was a bright spring day my senior year, so bright that I had to wear sunglasses because my prescribed angle put me smiling directly into the sun. With middle-parted hair, sunglasses and silver hoop earrings, I gave a demure smile to the top left, even as my bright future lay in stunning non-mystery just three miles southeast of that point.

Then I moved on, leaving that day behind for the many that came after. I was more mesmerized, honestly, by the delightful twists of fate and design that have led one of my students from this high school in Germany–a student who is now studying what I studied at the university where I attended–to be having dinner across the street from Ballard High School. The world is big and small, I thought.

Hours later I sit near the back of BFA’s auditorium, already hot on a day that promises to break 30˚ C, and squinting again. This time I’m trying to make out the face of a young woman in my small group, this year’s valedictorian, as she confesses guilelessly that speechmaking stresses her out and that her billowing robe makes her “feel like Voldemort.”

I often cry at graduation, and this year is no different. I’m proud of these students, whose names and talents and handwriting I’ve come to know, and eager to see what they’ll make of life beyond the narrow borders of our little town. Four years ago, when I played viola in the Seussical pit orchestra, I watched many of these students as ninth graders, animated onstage and a little clumsy off of it. They are and aren’t those same people this morning. It’s hard to see them go, but we, their teachers, knew this would happen. We hoped it would happen, even. Maybe not as soon as it’s seemed, but this triumphant crowd of robed graduates was the goal.

Now they’re ready, primed for adventure beyond the blue doors of Black Forest Academy. As I scan their faces, so tiny against the wave of blue, I try to imagine them in six months. Making friends, signing up for lab time, going to get slurpees at 7-Eleven at midnight. Or in ten years, finding jobs, homes, and families or continuing in their wandering. Just as I was unable to see a decade ahead when I was seventeen, that day I peered into the sun outside of Ballard High School, I can’t quite imagine their futures. Surely they’ll be as different as mine was from what I expected, and I pray that they’ll be just as beautiful.

“There are bigger places out there than Kandern,” our valedictorian is saying. “Bigger than Holzen, Wittlingen or Marzell, bigger than Schleingen. Even bigger than Basel. And thank the Lord for that.” The reminder is as much for the rest of us as the graduates themselves, I realize. They know that the world is enormous. Though I traveled just three miles from Ballard High to Seattle Pacific, all of them have already come much farther, just to be here in the first place. They’ve always existed far beyond our borders, and my daydreaming takes me to their other homes, to India and Dubai and Russia, places that are already part of their wide worlds. Now they’re traveling again, either back to where they’ve come from or onward, for brand-new shores.

Our valedictorian finishes by encouraging her classmates to serve and love Christ wherever they find themselves, in whatever they do, and that’s my prayer also. Whether in college or working at Canadian Tire, at Capernwray Hall or on a ship sailing around the world, I pray that our students would seek Christ in new ways, and discover more deeply what it means to love him, wherever he takes them.

I’ll drive by Ballard High in a month or so, and doubtless then it will bring more memories with it than this morning’s photograph unearthed. But so will SPU and Bethany Community Church. So will Oak Tree Starbucks and Ingraham High School. And so does BFA, every day, pleasantly haunting this small town with all the people who have called it home, if only for a little while. High school was grand, a place of growth, community and discovery. But as our valedictorian reminded us, I thank God often that it was only one of many such places for me, and that growth, community and discovery never end as we follow Christ throughout our lives.


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