By ending the year with an awards ceremony, the school shows that education is more than knowledge transfer; education involves forming the human person to have the capacities to value what should be valued…
In one sense, this ceremony seems superfluous; we could start summer break an extra day early. No pedagogical activity occurs on the last day, yet students are still expected to attend. When all is said and done, perhaps days like these are the enduring moments in an educational journey. Education involves many necessary components: assessments, knowledge transfer, seating charts, carpool lines, food delivery systems. Without these, the task of education could not occur. And yet, they are not the totality. We human beings are more than numerically quantifiable beings, and education does more than can be officially measured.
The school year contains multiple liturgies within it: classroom beginnings, school assemblies, lunchroom repetitions, the cycle of teaching, reviewing, assessing. Once a year we take a morning and honor those specific achievements. Having this ceremony once a year elevates its importance. In the Christian calendar, there are hundreds of feast days and moments that point to the glory and grandeur of the two poles of Christian liturgy: Christmas and Easter. Around the glories of incarnation and resurrection the rest of Christian doctrine swings. Each of these high holy days includes a forty-day fast, preparing the hearts of the church to commune with God in a different way than the normative pattern of the week. For a secular 6-12 private school, Christmas and Easter cannot function the way they do within Christ’s church; instead, we have a single brief awards ceremony to remind our students that there is more to life than their GPA.
Part of the educator’s task involves shaping students into human beings with an appreciation for the important things, those things with no practical benefit yet of enormous value in themselves. For most of the school year, there is a clear reward system in place: hard work is rewarded by good grades. But this awards ceremony takes place after that grading incentive is completed. Instead of a reciprocal reward, the end-of-the-year awards ceremony offers an opportunity to recognize those who exemplify the values of the school, and in so doing summon the heart to a vision of possibility.
At Thales Academy Rolesville, the end-of-the-year awards serves several purposes. We begin with academic awards: conferring the Valedictorian and Salutatorian medals upon the two highest graduating students, recognizing those students who have demonstrated superior skill in language study (Latin, Greek, Spanish), and acknowledging the results of academic competition (Junior Classical League, Debate). We then move on to recognize students in each grade who exemplify the spirit of the school through the Thales Outcomes. These non-cognitive skills include attributes of “unfailing integrity,” “astute problem solver,” “strong work ethic,” and “excellent communication skills.” Students do not vote for these awards but are instead nominated by their teachers. Here is an opportunity for teachers to uplift the highest values in the school community as exemplified by specific students. By the conclusion of the ceremony, fifteen outcomes have been upheld, and a single student embodying all fifteen receives the Thales Way award.
There is a lot happening in this ceremony, but two elements merit commentary. This ceremony taps into a genuine human desire for achieving glory. People want to win renown; we love stories celebrating the man or woman who came from nowhere and achieved greatness. The ancient Greeks elevated this quest for glory to a possible way of defeating human mortality: the warrior who achieved kleos (undying fame) would, in a sense, never die because his story would resound through the ages. 17th century French monarch Louis XIV tapped into this human desire for glory, and by making himself the source of glory in France created the most powerful administrative nation-state in early modern Europe. Glory is something people want to achieve; the question remains, how does one win it?
Moments like this end-of-the-year awards ceremony provide an opportunity to answer this question. In this moment, teachers honor those who exemplify certain habits and virtues alongside those who achieve a certain kind of academic proficiency. We do not honor the person who lied most effectively; wit receives no formal accolade; late-night cramming and its temporary results win no prestige. Instead, the awards illustrate the highest values of the school: integrity, virtue, leadership, service, and persistent scholarship. Unlike the Greeks we read, or many of the historical figures we study, we do not honor the strongest warrior. Instead, we elevate the pursuit of virtue through the life of the mind as the life our students should strive to emulate. Our awards ceremony shows the students that if they want to win renown in their school community, these are the attributes they must cultivate.
By ending the school year on this note, the school shows that education is more than knowledge transfer; education involves forming the human person to have the capacities to value what should be valued. Grades, report cards, final exams: these things matter temporarily. Witnessing another student receive honor for his unfailing integrity and thereby resolving to seek greater personal integrity oneself… such a moment is formative for a lifetime.
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