Another milestone on a very small journey

Last week my grandson Cassius graduated. From kindergarten. He was the only one in his class, so he was the only graduate. Also in the ceremony, Dustin Standish graduated. From eighth grade. He, too, was the only one in his class, so likewise, he was the only graduate. But that didn't stop the faculty, students, parents, grandparents and friends from participating in a full-blown graduation.

After all, this is Pinehurst School, whose total enrollment from kindergarten through eighth grade you can count on your fingers and toes. But don't let that number fool you. This is the same Pinehurst School that repeatedly wins the region's annual middle school scavenger hunt competing against other public schools with hundreds of students.

For as long as anyone can remember there has always been a graduate at Pinehurst, even if it was only one. This year's program began, as all graduations do, with a processional. All the kids filed in and took their places in the chairs facing the stage. While we all sang "America the Beautiful," one of the students signed the words.

After welcoming us, the school's principal, Jim Impara, announced the names of the two graduates. When he said my grandson's name, a little girl sitting with her parents on the other side of the aisle from us exclaimed gleefully and quite audibly, "It's Cash! I love Cash." The rest of the room responded in a warm, happy laugh. They know him, too. Everyone knows everyone else up there, making it the proverbial village it takes to raise the children.

My little scholar walked up to the stage, which had been covered in blue paper, painted with clouds, a balloon and mountains in keeping with the theme, "Up, Up and Away!" He stood there, embraced by the blue all around him and the words "Class of 2007," as self-possessed as you could be at five and three-quarters, the only kid, flanked by his two teachers and facing the entire Pinehurst student body, their parents, grandparents and friends.

His teachers, Laurie Grupé and Bonnie Minutoli, spoke about how their young charge loves to learn new things. They mentioned how he started his first days at school with one friend and now has a big circle. And apparently an enthusiastic cheering section. They remarked on how he loves math and solving problems in motion.

After being suitably praised, Cash left the stage, gave his diploma to his dad and his flowers to his mom, then returned to take his place among his schoolmates. I was struck by the separation. There he was sitting in front with his peers with the older generation — the village — behind them, literally and figuratively.

Next up were two pieces, "The World is a Rainbow" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," performed on hand bells and sung by students from kindergarten through second grade displaying various degrees of missing teeth. As befitted his new station, Cash started the song with four strong rings of his bell. He would later tell me that his bell was low C. Whether sucking his fingers, singing or ringing his bell, he kept his eyes on the music displayed in front of the stage on a flip chart. Principal Impara manned the chart, pointing to each of the notes with a ruler.

Last year the school staff decided they wanted to have a music program. They got the funding from the Pinehurst School Foundation and hired Pat Alvord to be the music director. And to show what the music program could do, students in third and fourth grades performed on the school's five new keyboards. This was followed by a medley of patriotic tunes performed on hand bells by students in the fifth through eighth grades.

Then it was time for Duncan's moment of glory. Walking in procession by himself to "Pomp and Circumstance" ... walk ... step ... walk ... hands in front in a formal pose, he made his way to the stage to deliver his graduation speech: "Greetings fellow people of Oregon of the Greensprings mountain." He commented on the teachers who introduced him to painting, clarinet, bass, guitar and keyboard, and closed with words in Greek he learned as a special project.

After a power-point show of Dustin from birth to now — a happy child having a great life — the school gave him the gifts it gives to every graduate: a hardbound copy of Webster's New World Dictionary and a photo montage of his days at Pinehurst.

The finale, performed by the entire student body, was "With a Smile and a Song" and "What a Wonderful World." The last song was signed by the youngest students. The family of the kindergarten graduate was mightily smitten by his performance.

Afterwards, everyone gathered in the school annex for a reception with cookies, cake and punch — everyone but the kids. They were all outside in the school's spacious grassy lawn playing tag. Like they do every day at school, they played together, my little kindergartner right alongside the middle schoolers. Just like the family and village that they are — fellow people of Oregon of the Greensprings mountain.

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