Graduation Day in Sylvester Village

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Earlier this week I did something that I couldn’t possibly have anticipated would be part of my Chan Chich experience: I attended a primary school graduation.

Sylvester Village is a community where employees of Chan Chich and Gallon Jug Farm live with their families. The Casey Community School is where many of the village’s children go for their first years of education. As one might imagine, the school is not very big. In fact, this year the school only had one kindergartner. Growing up in suburban America, this was very different from my early education which had about 24 kids in a first grade class with multiple classes per grade. However, perhaps the biggest difference from my experience was the school’s emphasis on community.

When I arrived at the small ceremony, the room was packed with audience members occupying every seat and standing where they could find room. You could tell that the event was important to family members as mothers and sisters filed in wearing nice dresses and people took every opportunity to take photo after photo. The three students actually graduating from the school were not only dressed in caps and gowns, but had also received honor cords, and for one, a valedictorian stole. All the children moving up a grade had on their “Sunday best”, the lone kindergartner had even put on a very small tuxedo for the occasion.

If the sheer guest turnout—which even included non relatives such as archaeologists, big cat researchers, and even Chan Chich interns—wasn’t indication enough of the strong community here, the words of the ceremony’s speakers definitely were. Among the standard graduation phrases of encouragement, recognition, and inspiration, the keynote speaker and student speeches continuously referenced the connection between the students at The Casey Community School. Not only did they all encourage each other to maintain their friendships from their time there, but to remember, as the valedictorian said “to learn to appreciate others” and collaborate with those around you to make a difference for all.

All of this was strikingly different from my pre-collegiate education. From what I can remember, while my graduation ceremonies were reflective on the good memories and friendships built in the years past, they were more individualistic. They emphasized how each of us can go out to the world and make a difference and how the world for each of us had limitless possibilities. While The Casey Community School also highlighted these notions, they included the value of others and community benefit. Upon reflection, I can’t help but think that this could be related to the appreciation of education. Where I grew up in upstate New York, I was very fortunate to live in a community where not only was a primary school education the norm, a high school diploma was practically a given. With a 99% graduation rate at my high school, it was an anomaly not to have one.

Following the graduation, I can’t help but compare the differences between the two.           After spending the past three years in the competitive atmosphere that is Cornell University, it was refreshing to be reminded how special even a primary school education can be and the importance that a strong community can have.

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