As a group, they represented an impressive array of excellence. Both in terms of goodness and accomplishment, the young people gathered on the lawn in front of Colby Hall were some of the best people I have ever met. They were leaders in Academy Theatre, athletics, music, and service organizations. They had proven their communication skills, problem solving abilities, and strong characters in their Capstones and beyond. They were gold medal winners, state champions, all-star musicians, and even a Gatorade Player of the Year. Most importantly, they cared deeply for others. But almost none of them had flown a kite before.
They were assembled—or rather running around—on Colby lawn as the result of a presentation by Neva Bostic in my senior Literature and Composition class. Neva, a star athlete on several state championship teams, had encouraged her high-achieving classmates to take a break from worrying about exams, prom, and graduation to focus on the present. In groups of two, students followed Neva’s directions to create small kites out of straws, plastic bags, and string. Having enjoyed this activity and created kites that they thought would fly, they asked if they could go outside and try them.
A video taken by English teacher Nicole Begin, who had heard the commotion outside, captured the subsequent scene: teenagers nearing graduation and adulthood dashing across the lawn, laughing and shouting, celebrating whenever a kite took flight. I was reminded of the symbolism of kites in books like The Kite Runner, where flying a kite is a defining act of childhood. However, that day, I was reminded of much more as well.
Earlier in the class, Shawn Guckin, another champion in both athletics and SkillsUSA, had presented about his experience of building a kite with his elementary-school-age brother Daniel. Shawn reminded us of the symbolism of the kite in the play we had just read—Master Harold…and the boys—in which flying a kite was used both as a way for a middle-aged black man to mentor and uplift a hurting white boy and as a way to inspire us to transcend racism. On their kite, Shawn and Daniel wrote the names of people who have helped and mentored them during this difficult year during which their family has struggled with significant health issues. Shawn explained that, while he had first thought of flying the kite with Daniel like Sam and Hally do in the play, he had decided to hang it on his wall to remember the people who had helped him and his family and as a reminder to be grateful for the love that surrounds us. He asked each of us to draw a kite and list the names of those people in our lives who support us in hard times and who remind us that we are loved.
The whole idea of flying kites also reminded me of alumna Leila de Bruyne, our 2015 Commencement Speaker, who after college founded Flying Kites, a not-for-profit organization that has established a school and safe haven for the victims of poverty in Kenya, especially children. I never asked Leila how she decided on the name “Flying Kites”, and I couldn’t find any explanation on line, but in watching these seniors experience a childlike joy and in hearing Shawn’s story of love and support, I think I have a good idea. Flying Kites is transforming primary education in rural Kenya by providing children with skilled and engaging teachers who believe in every child’s capacity for inquiry, critical thinking, and competence. At the same time, they are providing families with clean water, sanitation services, and health and nutrition services that allow children to thrive. I am sure that the people of Flying Kites also celebrate the childlike joy of their students and the mentor’s joy of watching a child thrive despite hardship.
As we come closer to graduation and saying farewell to the Class of 2019, I keep coming back to Neva’s activity. We made kites out of ordinary things in our lives; nothing fancy and actually looking a little sad, these kites looked like hopeless and hapless efforts as the pairs took them out on the lawn. However, as they caught the wind and danced—and even flew—it felt miraculous and wonderful. The ones that flew the highest were the ones that were given the most string, whose fliers gave them the greatest freedom to catch the wind and stay aloft.
This last observation reminded me of something I feel every June, and I am sure that my colleagues and dozens, if not hundreds, of Academy parents are feeling the same thing. We have used all of our gifts and resources to give the best we could to our students and children. We have done the best we could to get them ready for this time of their lives, when they are ready to launch into the wider world. However, we do not just set them free like a balloon to float wherever the wind takes it. No, we still stay connected, holding a string that will allow us to give a tug this way or that, to prevent them from hitting rooftops or becoming entangled in tree branches, to run or pull them closer when the wind dies down or threatens to send them crashing to the ground. The best part, though, that fills us with the most joy, is when we let the string all the way out, allowing them to fly as high as they can, enjoying the widest view and dancing in the wind.
Watching those students on Colby lawn that morning, I was supremely confident that each of them would fly high, and I was equally confident that—having learned how to build a kite, learned what it means, and learned how to fly it—they will help others discover the joy of flying kites. How could we ask for more?
Tom Lovett is Headmaster at St. Johnsbury Academy.