Big Girl Graduates From Pre-K
Classmates celebrate in person after long year of rectangles
It was almost exactly a year ago that I sent the first edition of the newsletter version of this imaginary newspaper that I illustrate every morning for our daughter1, with the top headline of “Kid Bids Hyped Farewell to Teachers”. This exercise started just as school ended, and now it is ending again. Having already written the long, maudlin thing a few days back, I will not go into sepia-toned detail about what the year meant to us, and to her, but I did want to note at least one difference between last year’s (mid-pandemic) news and today’s:
This time, she got a graduation.
Kina strutted around the corner yesterday morning to her actual schoolyard (which has been here all along, as it turns out) to celebrate her commencement—from a year of school that technically predates her formal education. With her, in real life actual person, were seven or so of her twelve classmates, most of whom had never actually seen each other’s feet. These kids, who’d spent the entire school year together, hovered around each other with vaguely awkward-first-date vibes, dancing the same dances and singing the same songs in perfect synchrony and contentment (though all at a distance of six feet). In another version of this last year, they’d have formed noisy clusters, but here they orbited each other like timid little stars in the firmament of the playground. It was all very tentative, but still sweetly charming.
A trellis had been erected among the picnic tables, and each student, in turn, marched through it with their teacher, Ms. Olenick, to pose with their certificates and look slightly proud and confused. Parents stood nearby, took pictures, clapped—this was, actually, normal; all of us, on one day, at the end of all this, standing on the same ground and being happy for our kids, in a way that we never had the year before. All the students hugged Ms. Olenick and uncorked the bubble wands she’d given them as gifts. Little soapy orbs floated across the playground. The kids made their way home.
We saw them all again on Zoom today, for their last day of school. With Ms. Olenick, this time, was Kina’s other teacher, Ms. Perez, and both of them spoke sweetly about the year we’d spent together. Everybody cried. We cried. I think everybody wanted a do-over, now that the city is coming alive, because don’t these kids deserve it? You don’t get years back, though; this was pre-K, and it was absolutely good enough, and loving, and sacred. Some of these kids may never see each other again—on rectangles or in rooms—but they will have shared an uncommon experience together, whether or not they remember it.
I will, though, without a doubt. Thank you endlessly, Ms. Olenick and Ms. Perez; you did so, so well by these kids, and by us. We will never forget it. She will see you next year.
I reserve the right to celebrate that anniversary this Sunday.