Modern-day knighting ceremony marks a different kind of graduation

Jun. 16, 2013 @ 03:11 PM

In this season of high school graduations, the sixth-grade class at Emerson Waldorf School in Chapel Hill recently celebrated a different transition. Inside St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hillsborough, one could hear a medieval recorder duet (Gail Freeman and Sue Gidwitz), and at the front of the church stood a king and queen (Hannah and Pete Andrews of Chapel Hill) in royal finery. Sixth-grader Dalia Mouawad approached the king and queen, presented her wooden broadsword she’d made in woodworking class at school, and then knelt before the queen.
Holding the sword, the queen proclaimed: “You have been a squire of independence, as you rose up to your own challenges and stood strong in the risks of life. You served your community with mural paintings, participated in National Service Day, and donated your paintings to Paws-4-Ever. These acts of caring and service have brought you to this moment.” Tapping the sword upon Dalia’s head and shoulders, the queen continued, “I dub you knight of your own life. Arise, Lady Mouawad.”
Each student took their turn in being knighted in this way. What we parents witnessed was not the typical black-gown-and-mortar-board graduation focused on academic achievement, but rather a symbolic marking of our children’s transition from carefree childhood toward more responsible adulthood. 
How had this come about over the course of one year? As medieval history is part of the sixth-grade curriculum at Emerson Waldorf, the students’ teacher, Shannon Wiley, used the metaphor of knighthood to explore the ideas of duty, honor and service. He challenged his students to take on community service projects, and to perform acts of kindness and deeds of inspiration toward one another, their families, and community. And as anyone who has parented an 11- or 12-year-old knows, this is challenging territory.
The knighting ceremony was the culmination of the students’ hard work during the entire year, and it was with quiet emotion Wiley said, “I have never been more proud of a group of kids than now.”
In the course of the ceremony, we heard a wide variety of good deeds accomplished and obstacles overcome. But one of my favorite parts of the ceremony came in the queen’s speech to the crowd, just before the knighting began: “Here is the final lesson before you become a knight of your own life. In the months and years ahead, regardless of the dragons you must conquer, the homework you must do, or the garbage you must take to the curb, you are the only one who will be there for each success and failing. The judgments will come … but the only thing that truly matters is the choices that bring you to action. No judgment is necessary from someone like me, for you will be there for every choice.” 
What more could I wish for my own son as he begins his journey towards independent adulthood?