Goodbye, Old Bell: Graduating Students Speak From the Heart

Fifth grade graduation is a cherished tradition at Symonds Elementary School. The graduation ceremony begins with the students singing one of our school songs, “Hail Symonds School,” written 20 years ago by fifth-grade classes with the assistance of a local composer. After the song, each graduate gives a brief speech to the audience of parents and staff, reflecting on his or her school experience. Every speech concludes with the phrase, “Goodbye, old bell,” and then the student symbolically rings the school’s 135-year-old bell installed in its place of honor above the stage. During the speech, each student’s kindergarten picture is projected to remind the audience of that child’s journey.

The speeches are written by each student, sometimes assisted — but never edited — by teachers and parents. These speeches are intended to provide students with the opportunity to tell their own stories in their own words. They’re sometimes repetitive but often moving, particularly for parents and staff who have know these children for many years and have witnessed their struggles, growth, and achievements. The audience is very attentive, attuned to how important this event is to the children, and to the authenticity of their words.
Mierla’s speech was particularly poignant. She had come to us because we have a program for children with significant behavioral and emotional challenges. She struggled, but like most, she “found her ground.” This is what Mierla had to say on a graduation evening a few years ago:
This Is Where
This is where the friendships build. …