By Rhonda Saunders, FHS Parent.
This was my first year witnessing Fairhaven School’s diploma candidates declare their intention to graduate. For half an hour each, the candidates addressed how their experiences while enrolled at Fairhaven have enabled them to develop the problem-solving skills, the adaptability, and the abilities needed to function independently and responsibly in the world they are about to enter.
I listened without saying much, both because I’m a noob Assembly member and because the environment was intimidating to me in a graduate school dissertation defense way, and these candidates are months away from their actual defense in front of an actual diploma committee made up of staff members from other Sudbury schools. Because I couldn’t imagine being a 17 or 18-year-old person under this kind of pressure, I was terrified for them.
My initial terror was such a complete waste of energy, though, because the candidates spoke like people who live without intense ridicule or baseless judgement about who they are. They spoke like people who didn’t have to earn their personhood. They carried themselves like already-people and not future-people. Sudbury schoolers are often described by others as confident and articulate, so much that it’s become something of a running joke. But the best jokes are funny because they’re true.
The candidates were prepared, genuine, intuitive in their interactions, and open to all kinds of feedback in a way that had to have erased any lingering doubt for any attendee about what Fairhaven graduates are ready for after graduation. They’re ready for whatever they can dream up, and they’ve had the gift of time, space, and access to unique resources to prepare for their own adult lives using approaches that the “gap year” after traditional high school is becoming so popular for these days. Fairhaven students have had “gap lives” in all the best ways. They’re so ready.
I didn’t have to do anything remotely similar to this to graduate from high school (not that anybody at Fairhaven is required to graduate). I needed only to figure out how to take tests and feign learning. It prepared me for nothing that was to come, and I don’t say that thoughtlessly–I’ve struggled with it and come to terms with that reality.
The level of self-awareness and undaunted curiosity about what is possible in these diploma candidates made my heart scream for a school re-do. I can’t get a re-do, but I can share my passion for the Sudbury model, and for self-directed learning in general, as a way to do some small part to open up essential freedoms to all children. Real freedom to learn and grow this way should not be a privilege.
While many of this year’s graduation candidates are considering post-secondary schools, I’d hire any one of them straight out of Fairhaven in a hot second. I’m so excited for them. Their joyfulness and fearlessness are contagious and I know they’ll bring it with them wherever they go. Want to feel this kind of hope for the future? Attend next year!*
* The Declaration of Intent to Graduate is open to members of the Fairhaven School Assembly.