The phrases “soft opening” and “soft launch” have become de rigueur in the 21st century marketing world of websites, products, and restaurants. They afford those who are opening and launching to metaphorically play in Peoria before moving on to the bright lights of the big city.
Well, last week my seniors and I had a “soft closing” or “soft landing” for the online version of our Paschal Mystery class.
The school year does not officially finish until the end of the month, but these last two weeks of May have been set aside to allow for students who needed extra time to catch up with their work. It’s a great plan and allows teachers to focus on students who, for one reason or another, have not been able to work at the pace set by the class.
So last Tuesday and Thursday those who were up to it donned coat and tie and Zoomed together one last time. On Tuesday we had a discussion of the film To End All Wars, the yearly cinematic closer for the class; and on Thursday we looked at the accompanying reading assignment of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel (chapters 5-7).
Because our Zoom sessions are encouraged rather than required the attendance is not ever 100%. Some guys are otherwise engaged during class time: taking care of siblings or other relatives or working outside the home. Others are trying to play catch-up because they are juggling various responsibilities with their school work, which could include preparing for and taking online AP exams. So attendance has been manageable for video conference discussions and that has led to a seminar-style atmosphere conducive to worthwhile discussions.
Tuesday went well, but Thursday was, at least for me, the highlight of our time outside of the classroom. Normally, as on Tuesday, classes are 30 to 40 minutes in length and I have several gaps throughout the day to have lunch and take a break. I begin with my first class right before 9 and finish my last class just before 3 and so it mirrors a typical school day. But Thursday was, to say the least, quite different – and special.
Class opened for business at 8:50 and was running along as expected, but about half way through the session I noticed that Robby Klanac ’20, who just happens to be this year’s Valedictorian, was in the virtual waiting room. Robby had attended this particular class time on Tuesday so I just thought he was running a bit late, which in the world of virtual education is virtually no big deal. So I let him in and he said that he was actually waiting for the next class to begin but would be happy to join up with second period while waiting for third to begin.
Well, in that moment, Robby began, with me, an eight period journey that ended a few minutes after 3 PM. There were no free periods that day as not only Robby, but a small group of other students as well (in particular, Ryan Walsh ’20, Jack Auletta ’20, Jack O’Rourke ’20, Matthew McLaughlin ’20, August Slawienski ’20, Dominic Fabe ’20, and the Vrablic twins, Daniel ’20 and Nathan ’20) spent the day in a rambling discussion that used the film and the Gospel reading as springboards to discuss a myriad of topics from theology to philosophy to music to medicine to economics to politics.
Full disclosure: Klanac did leave throughout the day when other duites beckoned, but he always came back, and was so committed to the conversation that his mom brought him lunch (Costco pizza) so he could remain as an integral member of our ad-hoc discussion group.
For me, and I hope for all of the guys who were involved, it was an experience that seemed to transcend time, and at 3:05 when I had to shut things down I was energized rather than exhausted.
In the past two months our students, especially our seniors, have missed out on a lot of things that earlier students simply took for granted. That sense of loss can be difficult to get past, even by young men who are thoughtful and appreciative of all that they still have. But my hope is that our soft closing/landing provided those guys with a moment that binds them together in a way that could not be achieved in a normal classroom under normal conditions.
So in honor of that intrepid group I dare to misquote the Bard, whose words were so integral to our last film, To End All Wars: I salute these few, these happy few, this band of brothers; for he today who spoke with me shall be my brother!
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