This dual blog post comes to us as a result of Eli Manning's recent Google Meet "drop in" with our 8th grade class. Student Council President Ben K. has recounted the experience from the students' point of view in the first piece below, and Dr. Kreutziger then offers his lessons learned-- both from Eli AND from Ben.
Ben K., 8th Grade
When our teachers told us we were having a special guest join us during our daily advisory check-in over Google Meet, there were generally two reactions among my classmates. The first was that this was an April Fool’s joke because who has genuine surprises on April 1st? The other reaction, which I had myself, was to just have wildly low expectations. My initial thought was maybe it’d be one of the P.E. coaches; we like them.
Dr. K shut down both of those assumptions the day of the Meet. He assured us his promise was absolutely not an April Fool’s joke, though some of us were still unsure. He also taught us proper etiquette for when you meet a celebrity, reminding us they are just regular people. You could tell through your screen that everyone’s mind started racing at the word “celebrity.” I personally looked right above my computer and saw my Zion Williamson poster, but I knew that would have to be impossible.
Dr. K then asked us if we wanted to know who it was, and a defiant “No!” rang through the Google Meet, possibly a testament to our 2020 graduating class and our love of excitement and surprise. When the time came, everyone seemed excited. Students watched their screens intently with their microphones muted. Then, Dr. K introduced future NFL Hall of Famer and former St. George’s student Eli Manning. Some eighth graders said something in amazement, and others called for their parents to come and see. I simply sat in shock.
Eli started to talk about his situation during this quarantine. He talked about helping his children through online school, staying active, and other problems everyone around the country is having during these trying times. As he talked about these things, I fully understood what Dr. K was saying about how celebrities are people just like us. They are experiencing the never ending boredom that is quarantine right along with everyone else.
Next we were allowed to ask Eli some questions. I got to ask him whether he and his brother were going to do more commercials; he unfortunately made it seem like it was unlikely. Nearly everyone in the meet asked Eli one or two questions ranging from how he is enjoying retirement, what Odell Beckham, Jr., is like, and what his favorite book is (he mentioned A Confederacy of Dunces).
We showered him with questions to the point that we had to be cut off. At about 9:45, as I left the Meet, my main emotion was still shock. I also felt comforted seeing someone of such high status also stuck in his house washing his hands constantly. It gave me a real sense of connection with the entire world struggling through this pandemic.
Though, to be honest, the main thing I was thinking was, my friends from other schools are going to be so jealous.
Dr. Joe Kreutziger
As I was reading 8th Grader Ben K.'s excellent blog post this week on the Eli Manning surprise through his and his classmates’ eyes, I couldn’t help but smile even while charting the distance between now and a few weeks ago. So much has transpired in a month’s time, and I’m struck by how that virtual visit seems at once like yesterday and a year ago.
What Ben reminded me is how time and our sense of temporality have also been stretched and transformed through this process and how our students are experiencing this time differently than we are. We think first about space and location right now, the very language of directive telling us to “stay at home” or “shelter in place” or “social distance,” but distance, too, has had temporal implications. The space between us has felt more and more like the time between us—how we now measure time as educators since we last saw our students or colleagues in person; how we’re no longer able to measure our school days or school weeks by class periods and prep periods and the quotidian routines.
How many of us have laughed or been amused by our own ignorance of what day it is?
This is why my favorite part of Ben’s blog piece is when he comes to the realization that even Eli Manning not only “must wash his hands” and stay at home to help his kids with their virtual learning, but experience “...the never ending boredom that is quarantine right along with everyone else.” Ben’s thought draws me back to one of my favorite lines from Downton Abbey, said exquisitely by the Dame Maggie Smith as Countess Dowager of Grantham, who as a 19th century British aristocrat has no sense of the workaday world and its divisions of time and labor. When another character mentions his plans for the weekend, she replies,“Weekend? What is this...this ‘week-end’?” Her life is infinitely occupied by her confined (if leisured and mannered) existence in the abbey.
Most importantly, though, Ben’s perspective is a student’s perspective of this pandemic existence, and an 8th grader’s at that. When our graduating class met later that afternoon with a news reporter to discuss the “StG Grid View” on Google Meet, what didn’t make the evening news coverage was equally important: many of our 8th graders discussed how they miss each other and being at school with each other in person. One of them said, “You can’t laugh at each other’s jokes the same way,” and when I questioned what he meant, he said, “You know, see each other and laugh at each other in person.” I think I know what he means. I think we all know what he means. So much of being together is physical, is “bodily humor” of a different kind than what we normally attribute to that phrase. It’s the nature of middle school humor, the best part that we never lose or shouldn’t lose—the inside jokes carried through time and familiarity, transmitted and repeated through gestures, good-natured pranks, body language and body humor. As any comedian will tell you, timing is everything. Of all the things we’re missing out on as an at home community, let’s not forget the simplest: time together with friends.
For our 8th graders, in this their graduating year, it pangs me and all of their teachers and parents to think about how this absence of time together comes at such a crucial time of completion, commemoration, and transition. It compels us to work especially hard, but joyously and creatively so, to celebrate the Class of 2020 this year. We cannot give them the DC trip they were anticipating or even the same graduation day celebration they were expecting; the conclusion of the academic year is not what the calendar or this time in their lives had promised them. Corona keeps its own calendar and has quarantined ours.
And yet, what remains can and must be meaningful. My favorite part of what Eli said to the 8th graders was in fact about how he was handling the transition himself, not just as a parent at home with his children learning remotely but as a former quarterback transitioning to a new life without football. Here he was, “stuck at home,” as Ben remembered, knowing that the Giants were supposed to be starting spring training mid-April without him (it turns out that wasn’t happening either!).
Eli spoke eloquently and personally about his transitions from middle school to high school to college to the NFL to retirement to this very pandemic moment. He also gave a final piece of advice before saying goodbye: “Take advantage of this opportunity to strive and to get better...to do things on your own,” he told them. “You don’t have someone standing over you and telling you exactly what to do. It’s a great opportunity for all of you to figure out how to take control of your learning and your school work, how to learn to strive in a different environment and different circumstances.”
As an educator, I couldn’t have offered better counsel, and it’s also the counsel I’m giving our administration and faculty as we figure out how to strive for our students in a different environment with different circumstances. Our goal is not to replicate but to reimagine the conclusion to the academic year, especially for our 8th graders. What they don’t know (yet) is that our administrative team and their teachers have been working towards some wondrous ways to celebrate, commemorate and render meaningful this excellent Class of 2020. The month of May is all about the 8th grade! We’re going to redefine our time together. I hope, when all is said and done with this academic/pandemic year, Ben will say again, throughout his final time at St. George’s, “To be honest, the main thing I was thinking was, my friends from other schools are going to be so jealous.”
- 8th Grade
- Dr. Kreutziger
- StG Community at Home
- Student Author
- Student Council