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Glenwood Graduates Receive Messages from CHCCS Graduates

Until this year, the fifth grade graduates at Glenwood Elementary School (GES) embraced a cherished tradition of welcoming back former Gators who are preparing to graduate from high school. The GES alumni would arrive in their caps and gowns and when everyone had gathered, they led the current fifth graders through the hallways to the gym for the graduation ceremony.

Janine Barr, a GES fifth grade teacher, listened to her students express their sadness and disappointment about missing the powerful connections their older siblings and schoolmates had enjoyed. 

She emailed high school counselors, asking them to share her message with seniors. “Like you, graduating fifth graders throughout CHCCS will not have a traditional graduation,” Barr wrote in the email. “Although so much may be considered lost, I hope you could consider offering them some hope.” She invited seniors to write brief messages of encouragement to the fifth graders at GES.

Fifteen messages arrived in just one day. “Their words were inspiring, emotional, wise and poignant, personifying the good in the world and in our community,” Barr said. “I appreciate their willingness to share and provide words of hope and wisdom.”

Gator graduation drive through On Thursday, June 11, fifth grade students and their families were invited to drive-by recognitions during two hour blocks in the morning and then again in the afternoon. All fifth graders receive the graduates’ letters, with their class t-shirts, yearbook, and a certificate. For students who were unable to pick up their belongings Thursday, the school has offered other dates and times to collect them.

The collection of messages opens with a note from Barr:

“Dear Graduating Fifth Grader, 

Like you, graduating high school seniors will be unable to have a traditional graduation. You would have had Glenwood Alumni, high school seniors that graduated from Glenwood Elementary, escort you into your graduation ceremony. Seniors from every high school in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have written you letters. These letters are words of wisdom for you as you prepare for the next part of your journey in school. Read these words and know that there are so many people in the world cheering you on and believe in your greatness!”

Here now, for all fifth graders and former fifth graders to enjoy, are excerpts from the messages (shared with permission from the seniors):

Lauren Baddour (CHS) wrote, “I remember my fifth grade graduation, I was sad to leave my elementary school and nervous about what the future would bring. I wish I had known that the best is yet to come. The happiest, most exciting, days of your life are ahead of you. 

Think about the new friends and teachers you haven’t met yet. Maybe you’ll try out for a new sport, or learn how to play an instrument, or even speak a new language. 

Don’t be afraid to try new things. Figure out what you like and don’t like. And try to meet as many different people as you can because before you know it, you will be walking across the stage at your middle school graduation.”

"The odds were far from in our favor on this one. You as a fifth grader. Me as a senior in high school," wrote Brooke Fields (CHS). "Neither of us got quite what we wanted and expected out of the ends of our school years. I didn't expect to walk through my high school for the last time ever in March, and I am POSITIVE you didn't see the same coming for you either. I know this is hard to accept right now- but this is only the BEGINNING! 

When I was in fifth grade I had little idea of what I wanted to do with my future, and now I am headed off to nursing school at a 4 year University in the fall! I know looking back that if I was to tell myself specific things it would be to believe in myself, be courageous, vulnerable, and don’t EVER be afraid to ask questions. 

But I can tell you, you are going to come out of this whole thing stronger, braver, and be an outstanding individual because you were able to learn so much about yourself during this time!"

Gator drive through graduation “I was pretty scared to go into middle school;” another student wrote (who prefers to remain anonymous). “I had read all the young adult books and thought it would be a terrible place with a bunch of bullying and popularity contests. But I'll let you in on a little secret: these kinds of school-related media are the biggest lie we have ever been sold. Middle and high school has been a great experience with highs and lows, great classes, fun times and even better friends. I'm sorry you weren't able to have a real graduation, but in many ways the idea of something is a lot better than the real thing, so you'll always have that with you.”

“My biggest advice for entering middle school is to be true to yourself,” wrote Pema Herr (CHHS). “As long as you stay true to who you are, you'll make new strong friendships and strengthen current ones. Another piece of advice that I would like to give you is to write a letter to yourself at the beginning of each year and then read them at the end of your three years! I didn't do this and I regret not being able to see how much I changed. Lastly, try your hardest! Your peers and teachers only want the best for you and to see you succeed.”

Hannalee Isaacs (CHHS) shared her advice, "Ask questions. Be curious. Keep asking those questions until you get an answer that you understand.

Thank your teachers and parents. They have put so much time into helping you learn and grow, and they truly care about your success in life. 

Find ways to remember elementary school. Whether you want to write some of your favorite memories down, take photos, or you keep your favorite shirt from fifth grade, make sure to record your elementary school experience. You are living history right now doing school and graduating during a pandemic. Document this moment. 

More than anything, be proud of yourself. Graduating elementary school is a big deal and you should be so proud of yourself.”

“Hello, and welcome to the Big Kid club!" wrote Robin Gao (ECHHS). "When I was in your shoes and ran up the stage during my graduation ceremony back in 2013, I probably should've run slower—or actually walked like everybody else did—so I could hold onto my younger moments for a tiny bit longer. Don't worry about all the silly or foolish things that you remember from the past… for one, you'll probably forget those moments, and for two, you now have a chance to start brand new in this next phase of your life. 

Middle school is a place where sometimes you want to fit in and buy all the "cool clothes" but really, none of that matters when having the greatest friends next to you is actually the coolest thing you could ever experience. Don't get mad at Mom or Dad when they don't feel like buying you another pair of shoes that you saw all over social media. You'll be just fine. Instead, use this as a learning experience to ask yourself what you actually like, maybe a hobby like painting or building machines, and focus your attention on what you enjoy.

So even with all these new ideas, experiences, opportunities, and privileges flying at you from every direction, take a deep breath and appreciate the moment. You are slowly, but surely, growing up, and it's a wonderful time. Lead a life that in seven or so years you can reflect and be proud to say, 'Gosh, I used to be so silly but look at who I am now.'

Best regards Big Kid, you'll be doing big things.”

GES graduation drive through And finally, words from Rachel Grau (CHS):

"I wish I could tell my 5th grade self at graduation… not everyone is meant to be in your life forever. As you begin a new chapter of your life in middle school, you may start to explore new interests and meet other people who share those interests.  Sometimes friends grow apart, and while that can be sad, it is also proof that you are growing and changing and no one can fault you for that.  People may come and go, but what you learn from them never changes.

I wish I could tell my 5th grade self at graduation… don’t be so hard on yourself.  Making mistakes is a part of life.  It has taken me many years to learn that sometimes there is nothing you can do but accept what you cannot change, and instead, focus on what is within your power.  At some point, you will fail a test, say something unkind to a friend, or disappoint a family member.  Instead of dwelling on what you have done wrong, learn from your mistakes, accept growth, and forgive yourself.

I wish I could tell my 5th grade self at graduation… you shouldn’t let academic success determine your self worth.  Going to school is an amazing way to gain knowledge, meet new people, and explore your interests.  However, it’s important to remember that tests and grades only measure what a teacher has taught you.  What you excel at may not be something that can be tested.  You are a unique and extraordinary person.  Don’t let anyone steal your shine.  Focus on being a thoughtful friend, a helpful classmate, and a respectful student.  Learn a new skill, pursue what inspires you, and discover what makes you special.  You don’t need an A to know that whatever your talents may be, you matter.

No matter what your experience may be, please know that your life is so much bigger than what happens during these next three years.  Use this time to make new friends, learn more about yourself, and have fun! Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t pass up opportunities to explore what makes you happy.”

                       Congratulations, Gator Graduates, and all CHCCS graduates of 2020!

                       GES graduation drive through