Yesterday I attended the Remembrance Day ceremonies at my old school. And I was reminded that teenagers today are a pretty cool bunch.
Remembrance Day is a big deal at John McCrae Secondary School; after all the school was named after the war poet who penned “In Flanders Field.” And the school ceremony, and Remembrance Day itself, is an occasion that has always been close to my heart. This is the set up in the gym. I deliberately didn’t crop out the banners high up on the wall, the basketball backboard behind the screen on the right, or the clearly legible court markings on the floor. Yep. It’s a high school gym. But the carefully positioned screens, and the lighting, along with the student artwork, transforms the space for this one morning a year.
This year, thanks to my friend Evelyn, the art teacher and ceramics expert, JMSS added a new “tradition” to their ceremony. Inspired by the beautiful display of ceramic poppies outside of the Tower of London to mark the one hundredth anniversary of World War I, every graduating student of JMSS, under Ev’s tutelage, made a ceramic poppy. Then during the community Remembrance Day ceremony each student placed their poppy at the foot of the monument. That’s over 250 poppies. Not millions like in London…but pretty impressive anyway.
I always get all teary when I see the kids taking their participation in Remembrance Day so seriously. They really do get that whole respect thing, you know. From the Writer’s Craft students who write so beautifully, if a teensy bit too melodramatically, in their fictional accounts of the soldiers’ experiences. High school kids love melodrama, and there’s plenty of fodder for melodrama in writing about war; part of my job as their writing teacher was to convince them that sometimes less was more. To the students who speak, sing, or play during the ceremony. To the rest of the kids in the audience in that darkened gym, standing when they’re supposed to, and sitting quietly the rest of the time. They all understand that they need to be respectful.
And let me talk about that darkened gym for a moment. It can be a bit like that wizard of Oz behind the curtain thing, sometimes. The magic just doesn’t come off. Glitches happen. One year the sound system speakers at the back of the gym had almost no volume. Kids sitting at the back quietly strained to hear what was mostly mumbling for the entire hour. Or more than once, students who were speaking missed reading whole paragraphs, and the next person had to ad lib to smooth over the glitch. Or one year someone forgot the tape with the national anthem and a group of senior students quickly moved to the front and lead the school in an acappella version. That was pretty funny. And every year, it seems, the student MC forgets how to pronounce “Reveille”… and calls it “revile.” That always made me smile. And this year was no different.
But it’s the glitches, and how the kids scramble to deal with them, that make us remember that these are kids. And look how hard they’re trying to make the ceremony meaningful and… well, perfect. So when someone trips getting on stage in their new high heels, or flubs a line, or when the junior band playing taps misses that note and we all cringe. Or like this year, when the female MC who is five foot eight shows up in her best four inch heels and the male MC at five foot two, grimaces and says to her quietly…” You had to go for the heels, didn’t you?” We teachers smile to ourselves, or to each other.
And think that despite the bad press teenagers seem to get these days…. like The Who said… the kids are alright, you know.