Dr. Grauer's Column - The Age of Questioning
The Age of Questioning
Matriculation Ceremony, October 25, 2022
These words are for the members of The Grauer School's new freshman class, and we are posting them here for all to share. These words can also serve as encouragement for schools to celebrate the coming of age of our youths all over the world. Click here to watch or listen to this column in a recording created by Dr. Grauer!
At The Grauer School, we started matriculation ceremonies in 2010 as a way of inviting students to take up their roles in “coming of age.” The marking of coming of age is probably as old as humankind and yet, as we have become more diverse as a nation and a world, it has become difficult to reconcile all the ways of marking this amazing passage that you are now making at your age.
In the old English universities like Oxford and Cambridge, the term matriculation was and is used for the ceremony at which new students are entered into the register (matricula) of the university. We adopted the term matriculation for students entering our high school, which may be the most impactful years of our whole lives. You are entering a passage.
Traditional cultures all over the world assign “rites of passage” to coming-of-age youths, normally around ages 13 through 15, defined by some kind of big experience to mark this special time. There is good reason to go through a passage when you come to a certain age, not the least of which is this: It might seem like the most natural thing in the world—you can feel it! You’re growing up. But how can you prove it? How can you earn it? How can you celebrate it?
This is a metaphorical passage, not a physical passage like a hallway. The passage is the milestone in your life, another metaphor. In some cultures, the passages are prescribed, and many are creative or challenging, if not terrifying. Masai boys are going out and kill their first lion while Mexican are girls taking the center stage at their quinceañera celebration. Youths may do the fox walk through the woods, or some other test of will.
My favorite story this year is from the Cheyenne River Sioux. Indigenous “Americans” (they knew it as Turtle Island) once shared a deep bond with the Plains bison (which we often call “buffalo”). To revive that connection, just this year, a Cheyenne River Sioux community leader organized a traditional buffalo hunt for coming-of-age kids. 46 kids along with 18 adults got up at 4:30 in the morning, drove out on the plain and had a ceremony, listening to prayer songs. They formed a big prayer circle and smudged everybody (they do this with burning bundles of white sage or sweetgrass), and then they did the hunt.
As incredibly heartened as I am to learn about the first people of our land, I have been appalled at the coming-of-age expectations of some repressive authoritarian regimes, increasingly a risk today if you read the news. Last week in Iran, the armed forces sent out a song to school children all over the country making them sing along. The song went:
I’m a child,
But the life of my whole family belongs to you!”
The government staged literally thousands of kids performing this song, crying, wearing mini-military outfits. Creating a passage wherein youths pledge their whole lives to a ruler is obviously something that is appalling in a world where we are born free. I want our students to grow up free to find your best ways for living and being of service on this earth. I don’t want you to devote your life to me!
The next part of this story is amazing. Here is what the Iranian kids did—they began protesting in their schools, something that has never happened before. Now the government does not know what to do. School girls are taking off their headscarves in protest. Boys are leaving class. Those kids created their own rite of passage into their independence, even though no one even planned or expected it to turn out that way. The Iranian kids expressed their experience of coming into a new awareness. They are entering an age of questioning. They are questioning their lives and their authorities.
Here is the point to all our new freshman: People your age all over the world are waking up to their coming independence.
Classes of 2026, here and around the world! We want you to find causes and take action: that is what makes you come of age. We want you to question whatever you find needs questioning.
Instead of calling it a “coming of age,” I’d like you to think of it as the Age of Questioning.
When you were a small child and you read something, you accepted those to ideas as true. Someone told you something and you said: “Oh!”
Coming of age means: You hear something and want to find out about where the information came from. “How do you know that?” you will ask. You have entered the Age of Questioning. “How did you arrive at that conclusion? —I did not arrive at that same conclusion.”
In the end, by the time you graduate, you will be hunting not for lions or buffalo. You will be hunting for evidence, ideas, and data that will bear out an idea or shoot it down.
You will be looking for information. You will be looking for truth. For independence. For freedom!
Let me be concrete. I just received this incredible essay from an esteemed Grauer School Senior and Student Body President Andi W. '23. She started out like some of you have and has been passing through an Age of Questioning gracefully. I would love each and every freshman class member to savor her words of wisdom, as you might want to pass down when you are a senior and preparing to graduate and leave home:
I recognized by middle school that the culture was holding me back. I knew that the plan assigned to me was not mine. This was the first time in my life that I started to open my eyes and consider who I wanted to be. This awakening came with a flood of possibilities and anxiety at the same time. It was both invigorating and overwhelming.
My transformation was not immediate. I first learned that I could speak up in class. Then, I realized I could publicly disagree with male classmates. I could even challenge an authority figure.
What a beautiful coming of age! Did you know that the best of our scholars are not the ones who know the most answers? No. Our best are the ones who ask the best questions. They are incredibly curious.
Those of you who are intellectually curious and who are intrinsically motivated will have the most enriching high school experience and will be more prepared for graduation, more prepared for leaving home and making your way in this world.
The news is, at least at our school, we do not require you to hunt a lion, stay alone in the desert for three days, get full body painted, or go on a survival trip. But here are some coming-of-age ceremonies you can do yourself, right here:
- Get lost for a whole weekend or vacation in a big project you are doing, even when you think you can’t go on, persevering until you punch your way through it.
- Try new stuff that you were afraid to try in middle school.
- Go to office hours in a new subject.
- Start showing up in a club you feel drawn to in some way.
- Play a new instrument.
- Go to STEM club and build a drone even if you are not a techie.
- Don’t wait for your friend to start a new thing. If you feel drawn to something, do it!
As you matriculate, you take on a new teacher: The world. What do you have to ask of this wide-open planet? What do you have to offer it?
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