These last several weeks area students have marked the end of another school year with graduation ceremonies, year-end band concerts, and celebrations of student athletes.
But these time-honored traditions are about much more than crossing a stage and turning a tassel.
They mark the evolution of our schoolchildren from learners to leaders.
This life change is years in the making. We know from our work with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading that students learn to read up until third grade, and from then on, they read to learn. Those early formative years lay the foundation for students to become the next generation to guide our community.
I saw this evolution in hyper-speed recently. During the last few days of school I visited a third-grade class at Alta Vista Elementary to read with Ms. Seider's students from a book series called "I Survived." These Scholastic books share stories of survival from some of history's biggest disasters. The Hindenburg disaster was our story for the day, but the collection also covers the Great Chicago Fire, the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, attacks by grizzly bears and sharks, along with the Battle of Gettysburg and the sinking of the Titanic, just to name a few of the more than 20 books written by Lauren Tarshis.
The historical fiction tales are exciting and also empowering because they show the disasters through the eyes of a young person who, of course, survives the dangerous situation. The students can imagine themselves finding solutions during the toughest circumstance, and the appeal of being an everyday hero captured the students' imaginations.
I was especially impressed by the students' demonstration of gratitude through the personal thank you notes they wrote for both our time together and the copies each received on their own book thanks to one of our generous donors. The thoughtful notes also expressed great empathy for the story's characters, revealing how that much-needed skill can be found in reading and writing lessons thanks to talented teachers.
That same energy surrounding possibility in the face of adversity showed itself in a different way with our graduating seniors at a recent Sarasota County School Board meeting. There, some 15 recipients of the Rosemary and Lou Oberndorf Town Hall Scholarships were recognized for their essays written about how their lives related to visiting leaders who spoke in Sarasota earlier this year as part of the Ringling College Library Association's Town Hall Lecture Series.
Pine View School graduate Gopi Patel read her essay that demonstrated so clearly how our students evolve from imagining survival to creating circumstances that allow themselves and others to succeed.
Gopi, who attended the lecture by Dr. Ian Bremmer, the international political scientist, was affected by Bremmer's instance on the power of collaboration to address social issues. "Collaboration is an essential ingredient in the recipe to solve the world's most pressing problems. As I move forward in my activities after high school, I hope to keep this philosophy with me in all my endeavors," Gopi wrote.
This young woman - before graduating high school - already co-founded a nonprofit organization to provide educational materials to underserved communities and even has a partnership with the Puerto Rico Department of Education to provide materials to schools affected by natural disasters.
To me, this growth of students from learners to leaders exemplifies the multi-generation work that our foundation is here to support. With our donors' generosity, we are able to help our youngest students develop skills and knowledge that eventually will help others thrive, not just survive. It is a long-term investment in our community and our families. Certificates of accomplishment will come in the form of individual successes.
If you have a story of transformation that moves you, I'd like to hear about it.