Friday, April 10, 2015

On the Road with the Class of 2015 - Part 4

As I’m writing, we’re somewhere in Georgia winding our way home at the end of a whirl-wind, eight-day senior trip to Orlando, Florida. We just completed a driver switch and we’re back on the road. We bid farewell to Lew and his wife Carol who not only provided our transportation this past week, but also became our friends and a deeper part of our famiLEE. This is not the first time Lew has driven for the senior trip and we hope not the last. The couple is from the Grand Rapids area and their familiarity with our district served to deepen the bond. It was heartening to see the number of students that gave Carol a hug and Lew a handshake goodbye.

I have some mixed emotions from my experience this week. Earlier as we embarked on our journey home, the kids gave me a Disney coffee mug for coming along and helping out. It was a considerate gesture and if there’s something I learned about Godfrey-Lee kids over the past thirteen years, they love to express their thanks in often small but meaningful ways. I saw that early on when I came to Lee Middle School as principal during the summer of 2002, when I drove past a car wash on Burton Street where high school kids were raising money to help out a family that had just lost a child in a tragic mishap. I’ve witnessed it time and time again since.

In truth however, my reward was far greater than a symbolic gesture of a coffee mug, which I happily place on my desk on Monday morning as a reminder of this unique experience. I can’t begin to quantify what I learned over the course of our adventure from these young men and women, who in just twenty-eight school days will each pass from student to graduate of Lee High School. If the past is prologue, after that eventful day it is unlikely that I’ll see or hear from most of them again. They’ll move on. Others will take their place. But having lived with them in close quarters these last eight days, I’m confident that despite some blemishes (we all have them), their teachers and parents have done a good job and each will be ready to move on to new challenges and adventures. To witness this firsthand and have the opportunity to know each of them just a little more is all the reward I could ever want.  It was also a joy to watch them
interact with their two teacher chaperones; not only the fun the students were able to have with or at their expense, but the genuine respect they have for Mr. Cahoon and Mr. Snyder.

Despite all the fun we had this week, I see in their eyes and hear in their voices that they’re ready to be home, to see their family and friends and get on with their lives. As is often typical, a few got on each others nerves, likely as much from the exhausting agenda as it was from not being used to sleeping four in a room. After only a short time some behaviors became predictable: the little conflicts, the minor struggles to meet curfew, the difficulty of waking them up in the morning, and consistent tardiness of one group in particular wherever we went. It was all part of the extended learning experience this trip provided for each senior along with responsibility of managing themselves 1,200 miles away from home.

With the exception of a few years, the tradition of a senior class trip is well embedded at Lee High School dating back over many decades. Some of the earliest trips were short, over-night excursions to Chicago by rail and steamer for a day in the Windy City. During Congressman Jerry Ford’s time, the senior class would venture first by rail and later by bus to Washington, DC. Many of these classes were able to pose with the eventual president in a photograph on the Capitol steps. In the latter half of the seventies, the trip was changed to a week in Florida. A lot of work goes into planning and preparing for each trip, and ultimately in supervising the trip itself. The dedication of teachers like Mr. Brian Cahoon, Mr. Pete Foote and others before them are just another part of what makes Lee High School that much more special. All week long as I was able to post photographs of our adventure to Facebook, many alumni commented on their respective class trips and the memories that came flooding back.

I know now first-hand how they feel.


On the Road with the Class of 2015