I’ve been inexplicably missing Old Silver, the towering silver maple that fell across the quad at Keene State College during Finals Week several years ago. When he was still standing, Old Silver was a sprawling, multi-trunked tree that needed wire braces to hold him together, but even those couldn’t save him from gravity in the end.
Old Silver always cheered me on days when I felt like I was failing as a teacher, as often happens during Finals Week, when your paper-piles are tall and your patience is short. It was always a comfort to have a towering Gray Guy peering over your shoulder on days when you were stuck inside looking out with nothing but your grading to keep you company. There are plenty of trees on the Keene State College campus, but none of them holds the same place in my heart as Old Silver did. Old trees teach us how to stand tall, how to sway in the breeze, and ultimately how to fall. There are worse things you can learn in college.
Today at Keene State, the grounds crew was setting up chairs for graduation: an annual ritual I’ve chronicled multiple times in past years. At the end of another long academic year, it’s a relief to see the clean, tidy lines of countless chairs arranged with meticulous accuracy. Teaching is a messy, inexact endeavor, but graduation ceremonies make a mysterious process seem polished and predictable with all their pomp and circumstance. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where Wisdom happens, graduation ceremonies provide a sense of closure by suggesting learning can and does eventually come to a full and finite fruition.
Every year, I’m relieved to see graduation prep progressing because that means we’re close to being done with another semester, and this year, I’m particularly glad to see the term end. This semester has been emotionally draining in the aftermath of being cut to part-time, and I’m not ashamed to admit there have been days when merely commuting to Keene to teach two rather than three classes has driven me to tears. It’s not every semester that you question your career path, watch your dog die, and then reach the end of the term wondering “What’s next?” If Old Silver were still standing, I think he’d lean into the spring breeze and whisper that it’s okay to branch, to stretch, and ultimately, when the time is right, to fail and fall.