Across the globe, as the academic year wraps up, ceremonies are being organised in schools to say farewell to the 2021 cohort, as the community comes together to send them on their way. An event steeped in tradition, this milestone signifies the end of one stage of life and the start of another, as our graduating students head off to adulthood and pastures new. Some may remain locally, others go to far-off countries to attend tertiary education or perhaps start a career. Either way, they will be leaving an institution full of structure, for an independence that will require initiative, responsibility and self-care.

Like many schools, Verdala International School has had to find a COVID workaround for this 150-person event. Students may attend in their bubble, but guests and parents will have to watch via webinar; this is the best we can do under the circumstances. A graduation speaker is invited to reflect and inspire, and we make every effort to vary the type; from social activists to politicians to entrepreneurs.

This year, it is the turn of the arts, an area many students choose, represented by Wayne Marshall, a prominent musician, organist and conductor; a fine example of a professional who chose to follow his passion.

Graduations are a reminder of every child’s success and potential, as their next journey lies before them. Schools seek to educate, yet they also aspire to instil values that will stick. At VIS, we use the IB Learner profiles to underpin our holistic approach, with an emphasis on risk-taking, open-mindedness and reflection. We aim to nurture students’ confidence to pursue their skills and dreams with qualifications in hand. Graduation speakers often highlight this, with advice such as “the world is your oyster”, meaning you can achieve anything if you just try.

This pandemic year has demonstrated to all students… that there will be tough times ahead

However, this may be a bit harder to advocate during a pandemic. This particular cohort has seen the 2020 cohort go on to a university that looked nothing like the brochure, missing out on exams and in-person tuition, their lectures moved online with minimal social meet-ups and no extracurricular life. Our 2021 graduates worry that they may also be victims of a COVID universe, while knowing that adaptation is the only way to keep going. For our school-leavers the future does not look as clear-cut as it used to, as the pandemic has sliced through an expected pathway and created multiple questions and unknowns every step of the way.

They have lived through interrupted learning, a fear of cases on the rise, quarantines and even the question of whether or not the exams would happen.

This is a cohort that have had to learn ‘wait and see’, and be both patient and resilient. On the brighter side, due to strict protocols, we have been fortunate that our students have mostly had on-campus learning this year and could sit their IB exams; other countries have been less fortunate and been forced into a non-exam route.

Ultimately, the paradigm of further education is rapidly changing, and while the pandemic continues, it has to evolve. Universities are slowly transforming how they offer higher education, with highly-developed online courses on the up; nevertheless, it is a concern that the social experience is getting lost in the process.

While we cannot be sure or predict a future based on the security of the past, schools have to find ways to support our young adults and help them on their way. We need to offer a tool-kit of resilience that helps them cope in a world that is rapidly changing. As Star Trek fans will remember, Q says: “It’s not safe out here, it’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires but subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid.”

Our students will sail off in many directions, leaving the safety of the home harbour behind, yet they will hopefully know that their foundations of strength run deep. If anything, this pandemic year has demonstrated to all students around the world who embark on this next voyage that there will be tough times ahead. However, imperfection builds resilience and there will also be good times, when they will have the courage to make choices that give them ownership of their journey.

Totty Aris, Head, Verdala International School

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