Blessing of the Backpacks: Welcoming 9th Graders and their Parents into the High School

We have had a very good Opening Day to the 2012-2013 school year. Our Seniors made a fun, loud and dramatic entry to our first assembly, our rollout of a one-to one laptop program has gone remarkably well (knock on wood!), and in general the community seems to be good spirits as we find our way down the hall, through the door of the classroom, and into a new semester.

There are several traditions that announce the arrival of a new Senior class such as, greeting…loudly greeting…cars as they come onto campus on the first day and a Spaghetti Supper next week. Both of these events have been in place for a number of years. In truth, the traditional “lasts” go on through out the school year for a Senior class, culminating in a lovely outdoor May graduation in front of Pressly Hall. While we have had myriad traditions for Seniors, we have not had traditions that appropriately mark the beginning of the High School journey that is marked so well and so often toward its end. As a result I believe it has been too possible for 9th graders to feel untethered at the very moment when we should be helping them get their bearings. In one sense we have told them that they will need a compass to find their way, so they should probably figure how to make one.

This year we have taken a step toward ensuring that our newest class is brought as smoothly as possible into our community.  One of the most powerful ways to define ourselves is through ritual, and to begin this school year our two wonderfully talented and thoughtful 9th Grade Chairs, Anna Moore and James Perry, created “The Blessing of the Backpacks,” which we held this morning in front of Pressly Hall–the same location where they will receive their diplomas in the late spring of 2016. Westminster’s President, Bill Clarkson, an Episcopal Priest, led the brief service as students stood around the circular pile of book bags.

Though lasting only a few minutes, it was a powerful moment to reflect before barreling into the year. If you have a minute, expand the picture below to see the contents of the service.

I particularly like, “God, be the path we walk each day. Bless our backpacks and bless our journey, whether we walk together or apart. Guide us with your hand in gentle ways. Help us to learn and grow.”

This year in my school we are working hard to deepen our connections with our students.  Central to that effort is to strengthen our Advisory Program. Today was a reminder to me that ritual has an important role to play in deepening our connections as well, and, in leaning into ritual, we not only define who we are for those who are newest, but we also define who we want to be.

At the end, while some parents lingered before heading home or to work, the students did not.  In fact, if you blinked you would have missed the speed with which the students left to go to the dining hall where eggs, grits, and bacon awaited them. Each of them left, however, not only with newly blessed backpack, but with a compass as well.

Each student received a compass to attach to their backpack.

3 thoughts on “Blessing of the Backpacks: Welcoming 9th Graders and their Parents into the High School

  1. Dana Lindsay August 15, 2012 / 3:49 pm

    Loved the blessing this morning and thank you for including the parents, too! I think this is a great way to help relieve any high school anxiety for the incoming freshmen. Hope this new tradition continues. Thanks again, Ross!

    • J Ross Peters August 16, 2012 / 3:19 pm

      Thanks for this, Dana. I am so pleased that the blessing worked well–we will certainly do it again next year, and I hope for years to come.

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