Commentary: Celebrating imperfections and never, ever giving up

By Jim Russell
Empire Press Correspondent

We knew the Nova High School 2016 graduation ceremony was different the minute we entered the Quincy Jones Auditorium at Garfield High School in Seattle.

Volunteers gave us a flyer with Nova’s mascot — the Sloth — on one page, and the names of the graduates listed in groups under the first names of their coordinators. One of our twin grandsons was listed under Eyva.

We knew these graduates were unique after the principal, dressed in a traditional business suit and tie, invited the 55 assembled graduates to march to their seats. Their outfits ranged from Spiderman to a black-and-white backless formal handmade dress to a tank-top T-shirt. Their hair showed sensational styles and green color.

The principal introduced two graduates who were the co-emcees. The emcees introduced the coordinators, with humorous respect by their first names. Coordinators had worked with students from one to four years and knew them very well.

Each coordinator read a 45-second introduction celebrating the students’ gifts and imperfections, including respect for overcoming the daunting personal struggles and tragic external hurdles that had smashed down on their pathways.

Then the graduates were given 45 seconds to speak.

We were captivated by their gratitude for their triumph.

One former graduate read a poem declaring we were celebrating imperfection.

Time and again the students said, “I didn’t think I’d ever make it.” They had failed at other high schools, some as many as three times. Doubt dominated many students many times.

The dominate theme from their talks was gratitude for the entire Nova High School community. They thanked those individuals who never gave up on them. Someone, several who never, ever gave up on them. Sometimes it was a coordinator, or a family member, even a friend. One thanked our grandson who convinced him to come to Nova.

Eyva introduced our grandson by saying, “Standing before you is a piece of Nova magic who will study history and social justice at Evergreen. I don’t see a scared freshman damaged by middle school yearning to be accepted. I see a college professor advising students not to make the mistakes he made.”

We were overwhelmed with gratitude when he stood before a packed auditorium thanking her and the other coordinators who never gave up on him. And his family, for always being there for him. And most especially, for the Nova community. “I have never seen a more loving group of students and teachers,” he said.

That night I asked his twin brother if he had thought about going to Nova instead of Garfield. His graduation was scheduled three days later, after which he’ll transfer a backpack of college credits when he enrolls at Western Washington University. He said, “I just couldn’t see fitting in the social atmosphere at Nova.”

He’d found his social climate in the advanced prep classes at Garfield.

And his own imperfections. His language arts teacher told him two weeks before graduating she wouldn’t approve him walking across the stage because he hadn’t finished his work. And he knew it. Devastated, he told his mom and dad who visited with the teacher and the vice principal. They told the teacher he was ready to turn in his work if she’d accept it. She said she knew she’d gotten his attention about his imperfections and would accept it. He walked across the stage last Tuesday night.

We’re celebrating imperfections in our children as we recall our own imperfections as teens and parents and, most importantly, for all of us who never give up on them and all the people who never gave up on us.