Graduation Weekend Revisited
Finding a moment to think during the month of May is difficult for many Seniors. Recalling past experiences and reflecting on a decade of classroom instruction is marked by simple practices. Gathering around the dinner table with a box of photos for graduation boards, piecing together slideshows after dusting-off old CDs and sorting through Facebook photos, are rituals that cause pause. At Hillcrest, there is so much more processing than simple preparation for a graduation party.
Hillcrest's reflective times begin as Seniors gather together to decide their class song, class Bible verse, and the general order of their Senior Class Night. Tumultuous meetings where 40+ high school students look to boil down the personality of their class to a simple theme with a 20 word Bible verse forges the class.
Students think back to the first day of junior high. The years from junior high to high school transition new students into their class. Some join them at the semester break of their freshman year, building bonds in the dormitory and friendships in the classroom. Others start Hillcrest their sophomore year as the class begins to take-on an identity of intercultural ties. The junior year brings students from the east and west coasts. Class meetings are louder and there are more personalities and opinions to appease. The senior year brings new students with high expectations of growth, change, and development in a one year Hillcrest experience. Student testimonies are captured at Hillcrest, documenting the individual lives that experienced the movement from high school student to equipped follower of Christ, future father, mother, and employee. The testimonies cause pause, a time to verbalize a change the students have witnessed at Hillcrest.
The cherished weeks in the month of May bring the first lasts the students will experience. The last time they attend the Junior-Senior banquet and the post-party at the Perham Area Community Center. It's the last time they receive a report card from Hillcrest. The last time they have math class outside. The last time they gather for class meetings. The last chapel service with their friends. The last time they will run into the dorms after school to gather with their closest confidants before walking for a post-school coffee.
Students plan to attend the weekly Principal's Breakfast where they will share their plans after graduation. They receive a blessing from President Brue and Principal Isaac. The time with Hillcrest's administration leads them to think back to the first time they gathered in the Chapel and Principal Isaac prayed or the last prayer day they attended where they led their group in prayer. This time of reflection gives perspective for their experience. A wayside rest on their road to graduation.
As graduation weekend begins student testimonies play before the All-school Concert. What is normally a bustling crowd of 300+ people is hushed at the voices of Hillcrest's seniors. Applause follows the story of JK Lee who experienced a life-changing move to Christ following his classroom experience at Hillcrest. Smiles emerge on faces of attendees as they realize the unlikely road Mackenzie Dunsmore took to Hillcrest Academy. Laughter follows Kevy Konynenbelt's testimony as she shares her preconceived ideas of apologetics being an academic exercise, and the realization she has that it is actually a practice in spiritual disciplines to see the hand of God in the world; a road that has enabled her to share her personal faith in Jesus with unbelieving friends at Hillcrest.
Intermission in the concert leads President Steve Brue to share news of Hillcrest's expansion. Students in the pews begin to process how they will build community and have new opportunities to forge friendships in the commons area of the Student Union that will complete renovation this summer. As the offering plates are passed following the intermission, students gather on stage to continue their song. A group of Seniors close the concert with a song they have all grown to love during their music experience at Hillcrest. The smiles and hugs following the concert is a small glimpse into the impact their music rehearsals, competitions, and tours have had on them. As tears fill their eyes it is easy to see that they have reminisced on their growth, and the role music has played in their time at Hillcrest.
After a hoard of graduation parties where students share their plans and goals with friends and family, Hillcrest's Seniors join their families in the Student Activities Center for the Senior Banquet. Gathering in the mezzanine, students take pictures with cell phones of friends and their family in formal attire. Parents from as far as South Korea stretch their arms around their students' friends. Smiles and handshakes break the barrier of relationship for many families who have only met their senior's friends through Skype and Facetime.
The Banquet is a highlight for many families who sit with other students and their families in an honored position as the program outlines the Senior class. Facutly and staff provide a program, reciting a specific blessing written for every student. Parents grab tissues and smile from ear-to-ear as they discover how well Hillcrest's facutly and staff know their student. The blessings are a charge for students, a calling to attention their gifts and how God has prepared the student for a life of eternal significance.
Student greetings close the special gathering. Hillcrest's senior class elects two representatives to speak on behalf of the class to the gathering body to share the impact Hillcrest has made on them and their friends. As the speeches close it is easy to see the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of students at Hillcrest Academy.
The banquet hall quickly transitions to an auditorium as the Senior give hugs to their families and line-up for the processional. The gym is soon occupied by friends and family, who pull-up chairs next to parents and receive a debriefing on the banquet program. As the seniors enter the room in their formal attire they begin to carry-out the planning of their class meetings. This is Senior Class Night, and the program is theirs to run. Their top-ranking students share experiences. Accolades are given to students, notably Hillcrest's Tri-College Math team that earned honors and is carrying a tradition of dominance in local competition that Hillcrest has had in Mathematics for nearly a decade. As the awards are delivered specific honorable accolades are given to students. The Joseph Undseth Scholarship and the Mike Rhode Memorial Award are two that bring a tear to every eye in the room as the students selected are highlighted to embody the character both parties were looking to spotlight. The evening closes with a special address by a Hillcrest parent, a parent many in the class respect and would love to spend a year with to glean knowledge and insight, but alas the class only receives a 20 minute address that leaves them thinking, something this class loves to do. Senior Class Night highlights the character of the class, a tradition at Hillcrest that requires processing, thinking back to the way God has fortified their faith while in the Castle.
The final gathering of the class of 2015 begins with the commencement exercises. Watching the 50 year Golden Alumni walk across the stage leads students to look to the future after processing their past. They all hope to return as fans of Hillcrest, just like their alumni brethren are doing during the 2015 graduation exercises. The commencement address highlights the character and thoughtful nature of the class, delivered by CLBA President Paul Larson. Following the address students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, a goal for many and the mark of a chapter in the lives of these students who are now pondering their future after their Christian education preparation at HLA.
The class forms a receiving line in front of the historic Hillcrest building, following the formal experience in the Student Activities Center. As the line of congratulations fades the students slowly walk to the front steps of Hillcrest to carry out a timeless tradition. Two guitars emerge from the red robed students on the steps, Jee-Hoon Park sits on an african drum and begins to beat away. The class sings their class song with a series of friends and family snapping pictures to document the final time the class of 2015 will all gather in the same place.
Hillcrest leaves a significant impact on students. Teachers, curriculum, student life experiences, and many other intentional activities have caused students to think through their life and its significance. Their time together has taught them that Jesus Christ makes their lives significant, and their call to leave Hillcrest is communicate the message of how God created the world, planned a way of salvation after man turned his back from God, how God died and rose from the dead to bridge the gap between God and man. The students know that their future relationships will be a light to others of the relationship God desires with every person. The testimony of the class of 2015 shines because of the love of God in their class. They will look back after processing their time, guided through experiences that have fortified their faith, to see the guiding hand of God.