As the last few weeks of the school year approach, we chatted with Charles Staley of Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois about end-of-year traditions at his school.
At Neuqua Valley High School we take a night to recognize all students, freshmen through seniors, and we review the year of music making. The traditional review of the year entails reciting every single event that we did during the year, and I try to do my John Moschitta imitation from the Federal Express commercials from the 1970s, talking as fast as possible. The list includes every concert, every visit to an elementary school, every jazz concert, and every marching band festival. It takes about five minutes to get through and is always impressive for everybody. It is surprising how much is packed into a year. We honor every ensemble and all of our senior leaders; many of the leaders in marching band are seniors. We acknowledge the work they did, and one of our traditions for this night is that the drum majors pass the baton to next year’s drum majors. I think the ceremony of acknowledging everyone’s good work and talking about the future is very good for students.
During this night we honor our seniors by giving a slide show showing each student’s baby picture and then their graduation picture. Everybody looks forward to that. One year we got a picture of a young man about five years old, who appeared very old fashioned with cute black boots and a nice suit, a bow-tie, slicked back hair. That was followed by a picture of the same young man in college with a tuxedo and quite a bit of curly hair all over the place. My wife put in two pictures of me that year, and I had no idea it was coming. The students laughed hysterically at the pictures of their bald band director as a cute little boy and a wild haired college student from the 1970s.
Most of the students’ baby pictures are funny, but seeing these adorable baby pictures and the transformation to beautiful women and handsome young men is striking. We always have parents who are crying while watching the history go by, and for many parents of graduating seniors it seems like just yesterday their children were babies.
The capstone of the evening is giving the Sousa Award, our highest award for the most outstanding student. It is an emotional night, so we end it on a lighthearted note with an ice cream social.
When the first class graduated in 2000 we painted paw prints on the wall – one for each senior. We chose paw prints because of the school mascot, the Wildcats. The seniors all signed their names and left a short message for future generations. We have been doing that since 2000, and the wall is almost full with paw prints. I want every senior’s name up there because of the history this represents.
The Memorial Day Parade is the last event for the marching band, and the last thing the seniors participate in. It happens after graduation, and it is always a special time. The students love to honor those who have served our country, and it is the last time that the seniors are with their friends in a formal event.