Jen Schuckman’s Remarks at the 8th Grade Celebration

Head of the Middle School Jen Schuckman gave the following remarks at the 8th Grade Celebration in May 2021.

Good evening and welcome to all of you!  I am Jen Schuckman, Head of Middle School. Family and friends watching from home, thank you all so much for tuning in to celebrate this extraordinary group of individuals.

8th grade, Class of 2025, here we are. Celebrating you. Celebrating what you have accomplished. Celebrating all that you have become. In some ways, you have left me speechless as I reflect on how you carried yourselves this past year. However, it has been far too long since we have been together and you have earned this moment of celebration. So let me begin by sharing a few accolades from your teachers past and present:

Labeling the 8th grade as “adaptable”‘ would be an understatement this year. They were very mature with understanding the limitations on our teaching and went with it.

They leave a legacy of being the pioneers into the unknown and taking the step off the ledge without knowing where it might lead. They also have fully embraced wearing sweatpants to school and I hope they get to wear them until they graduate. They certainly have earned it. Fair warning, Upper School!

Your perseverance is truly astounding. I witnessed firsthand your hard work and determination in both fifth grade and during projects in the Makerspace. I am extremely impressed with your ability to adapt to changes and work through adversity.

They have allowed a safe space for me to be myself, even as their old teacher. This class has a welcoming and safe spirit about them. My hope is that next year when they welcome even more students to their 9th grade class, they are just as open and welcoming to them as they were to me.

I was always amazed that at the end of every class this year they would always say “thank you” to me as they were leaving. Every single day. I hope they realize how valuable that was to me.

And to be fair, faculty, they had a few nice things to say about you as well:

Our teachers strive to get to know us as people, and not just as students. There is a constant drive to create life-lasting bonds despite the hardships of this past year. Most importantly, they work hard in every aspect of the job that they do. Thank you MICDS teachers.

Thank you to the teachers who want us to succeed. Thank you for your help sessions and teaching us what it means to be a learner. You have prepared me for Upper School, and we were lucky to have you supporting us this year.

This school is a family and I am so glad to join it.

So what if I said that tonight is all about gratitude? You might be thinking, “what is Mrs. Schuckman talking about? We lost so much this past year…we missed so much.” Yes, I certainly acknowledge that. But let’s pause and think about what you might have gained. For this past year, you have seen life from a whole new perspective. You have watched your families adapt and protect and ensure your safety. You have experienced school through a new lens and that has led to some skills and strategies that you might not have otherwise acquired. You witnessed all your teachers become “first year teachers” as they humbly learned how to teach all over again. You both extended and received grace and compassion unlike any other. And you watched over each other and figured out how to be your very best selves in this new normal.

So while you might want to focus on what was missed, I hope that you will recognize some of the hidden gifts that added joy to your days—the extra time at home with family and loved ones. The discovery of a new hobby that now feeds your soul. The extra snuggles with your beloved pets. The relaxed dress code and extra sleep in the morning. Life slowed down in many ways and you now have a snapshot of time that is all your own.

I hope you will bear with me as I share one quick story. When I was a child, my family was all about the road trip vacation. My dad would meticulously calculate luggage space, food stops, gas mileage, and a very particular route to be sure we saw the essential roadside landmarks. And I have lots of wonderful memories of these special times with my family. But there is one memory, in particular, that I hold dear. And that was the drive that didn’t go as planned. We were heading home from a trip to the beach to celebrate my parents’ anniversary and about halfway through the road trip our vehicle broke down. We had seven of us stranded in a location that my parents weren’t familiar with. And of course, these were the days way before cell phones and Google maps so it was a bit more complicated to manage. And what I took away from this impromptu adventure was better than any lecture or lesson. I learned how to triage an emergency and find shelter in a strange place. I learned patience and tolerance as I, being the youngest, ended up riding in the middle front seat of the rental car rather than the cozy back end of our van. Yes, there really used to be a front middle seat in cars! I also learned that my siblings and I could join forces for the good of the cause—my parents were exhausted and they did not need our extra squabbles. My parents got us home safely and then I watched my dad and brother hop right back in the vehicle a few days later to drive another 15 hours to go pick up the fixed van. My dad missed work, came back from vacation with more stress, not less, spent more money than anticipated, and yet he did not complain once. He just did what he had to do and found the joy in the journey. And now, as an adult, I look back and realize how one little turn of events can change your perspective. I learned to pay attention to the beauty in the glitches and the joy of the delays.

So I tell you this story to encourage you to take in the moment…this past year was your unexpected detour, your delayed flight in a strange city, your off-roading mishap. Do not worry that you won’t make it to your destination…you are still on track and, in many ways, you are more prepared than any other 8th grade we have sent to Upper School. You are brave and you are kind. The independence, patience, compassion, and adaptability you have gained are truly gifts and I hope you will hold them close as you head north.

It has been a while since we have said it together, but let’s always remember to be good humans and to do the right thing…