Placing the capstone signifies achievement. In masonry, the capstone denotes the completion of a structure –a wall, an obelisk, a temple. A crowning achievement. It says I have steadfastly labored and completed a job. My reward? Much like a video game, I’ve merely gained access to a new level. I’m awarded some points, some recognition, but I’m pressed into the next challenge. And I normally proceed on to that next task—a perfunctory procession—without much reflection. It’s what I do. No need for analysis.
But when we cross developmental thresholds in life—when we put a cap on those periods, we need moments of reflection. Imagine we are students in transition. We should contemplate the process and the progress—the paths we’ve taken, those we’ve avoided, and the myriad that lie before us. Neglecting all of this jeopardizes so much. Do I have a sense of self? Have I cultivated a body of values? Have I thought about my future? I’m not talking about a career; I’m only 14! But do I have a sense of where I want to be as a person? None of this happens without some reflection.
Most cultures love to mark these moments with public celebrations. With fanfare, formality, and Sir Edward Elgar, we revel in the students’ achievement. With aphorisms, quips, and quotations, we mark the occasion. We hear quaint readings, music practiced and perfected, a budding vocalist, and we indulge in excerpts from the portfolio of the years. This is pro forma and wonderful!
But this year, 8th grade English teacher Katherine Berdy changed things up a bit. She made the reflection a grade. And, significantly it was a public endeavor, involving and being presented to a village. In lieu of a final exam, 8th graders had to complete a Capstone Project that asked them to reflect on where they’d been and where they wanted to go. The assignment was authentic, subjective, and student-owned; just as they own their own individuality, so they should define its manifestation.
And they were brilliant! Several students have their futures planned, and they traced the trajectory from 5th grade straight to the conclusion of med school. Others have no clue what they want to do, but they know their strengths. With deftness and uncanny introspection, many invited their souls and produced lovely meditations on growth and change. Still, others simply welcome the journey. Like Cavafy, they’re not concerned with finding Ithaca; they’re consumed by each experience along the way. In real and potentially profound ways, our students are marking this passage for themselves. While not completely eschewing our attempts to define the moment for them, they’re concluding their own chapters and sharpening their tools for the next. Comparatively, the revelry seems a little silly.
The capstone does signify achievement, but it’s also a springboard, an invitation—an acknowledgment that there are miles to go and more yet to do.
Check out these two, which speak with a uniquely global scope.
Director of the Global Initiative
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