Sept 18, 2020 Message to Members

‘Look at this photograph…’

I bought my first car in the summer before grade 12. I felt so grown-up – so old – when I pulled into the parking lot on that first day of school. Fast forward to 2020: on the first day of school, I pulled into that same parking lot. Again, I felt old…but it was different. The first Friday of this school year, I was eager and grateful to spend an hour at a school alongside a Principal as he greeted his students. It was a vicarious pleasure, and it was wonderful. To top it off, I arrived as the teachers and the Principal were out front welcoming back grade 12 students. I couldn’t help but wonder how the students felt as they arrived, queued up at a distance, with masks on their faces. So much of the day ahead for them would be familiar, yet it would be so very different, too.

That morning, I could appreciate that feeling. I noted the school parking lot was virtually unchanged by the decades since my own arrival on the first day of grade 12, but now it was reserved for staff.  As I toured the building site with the Principal, courtyards had become enclosed foyers, while lockers and classrooms looked identical. The stairwells were unchanged, but now populated by different mentors. We passed staff and students in the hallways, each with kind and welcoming eyes that were only just visible above masks proudly branded with the school logo. Everything was the same, just different.

Walking down the ‘Hall of Fame’, the Principal and I had to pass many graduation composites, finally reaching the one I knew best. There I was: same guy, just different. Looking at that photograph, Nickelback’s reflective lyric came to mind, “And this is where I went to school…” In ten months, this school will add another photograph to the wall, and the Class of 2021 will celebrate their achievements, but it will be different.

And isn’t that what we are feeling this week? That so much is the same, yet so much is different. For the most part, we’ve returned to sites we know well, but they have been altered by time and circumstance. And the few short months since March have changed us, too. We are not the same, and school is not the same. It’s different.

Despite this, a close colleague shared with me that on September 14, things were great: it was the first day things felt ‘normal’ for him. Interesting that his state of a good ‘normal’ includes frequent hand washing, masks in common areas, and staggered arrival at various entry points.  But I know that it also includes the faces and voices of our students and staff, and maybe that is where we embrace our ‘normal’: with our people.

For all of us, and in many different renditions, the 2020-21 school year commenced this week. And it was different. As our first days of the full return to classes unfolded, the media focused on the challenges we face with COVID-19. In the weeks to come, we recognize that there will be more in the wings to challenge us. It’s important to hang on to your own ‘normal’. Hang on to your people. And don’t forget to take some pictures.