On Thursday, June 9, I found myself in the same position as countless Da Vinci alumni — and my brother three years prior. I sobbed into the shoulder of teaching Vice Principal Scott Stephen Bell after Da Vinci High School’s graduation ceremony, having just officially completed the most intellectually formative and impactful years of my life.On the night of my brother Jem’s graduation in 2013, I looked on with amazement. I had committed to follow in his footsteps and attend the school of barely 300 a few months earlier, and I still felt hesitant about my decision.As I watched him tearily tell Bell how grateful he was and how much Da Vinci had meant to him, I was unsure no longer.I thought to myself, I want to shamelessly bawl my eyes out because I love my school that much. This is what I hope to get out of my high school experience.Three years later, as the tears flowed down my cheeks, I began to reflect on my high school career, and on the journey that my graduating class had experienced together.My classmates all know how difficult it is to explain Da Vinci to those who know nothing about it.We stumble through the awkward explanations of Project-Based Learning whenever our friends ask, pause to tell visitors to our campus why we all have laptops out in the middle of a chemistry lab, and decide it’s not worth explaining ESLR’s (Expected Schoolwide Learning Results) to distant relatives who ask how school is going.Perhaps the quality of Da Vinci’s that is both most difficult to describe and the most profound is the sense of community that it provides.Yes, we all know each other because there are only 300 of us, and yes, we work together in teams so much that we know each classmates’ work habits, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.The projects we work on don’t just teach us information, they drive us to grow as learners and as people. Students care about the success of those around them. At first this concern is a symptom of worry that we’ll be adversely affected by our teammates, but as we grow together, we care out of genuine compassion.What has the most profound effect isn’t the projects, or the amazing teachers, or even remembering the time my team brought baby goats to campus as part of a mock political campaign.What moves me the most is the sense of belonging. I don’t just feel tolerated. I feel loved, and I am not alone in that feeling.It is a rare gift to go to school every day surrounded by people with whom you can laugh so hard that you cry, and the next day cry so hard that you can’t help but laugh.Tears and laughter are both methods of emotional cleansing, which is why they so often emerge in the stress-riddled final weeks of a project when students are in need of catharsis.Da Vinci’s projects are multidimensionally rigorous — they don’t just test the student’s knowledge, they test the student. In addition to delivering the standard curriculum found at any high school, they demand introspection and critical thinking.A friend of mine once asked if I truly felt that Da Vinci students would be prepared for a heavyweight college writing course, rife with lengthy research papers and thorough literary analyses.Now that I face courses matching that description when I begin the fall term this year at Carleton College, I can say that yes, I do.At Da Vinci I have written research papers and I have analyzed readings. I also have taken on daunting tasks and conquered projects of huge magnitude. What Da Vinci has taught me is that combining those two skills is a straightforward exercise in critical thinking. This understanding is why I can earnestly say that Da Vinci prepares its graduates for life after high school.As prepared as we may feel for the next stage in our lives, it is difficult now to move on from this school at which we are no longer students.Now, almost a week after graduation, I have cycled through every emotion imaginable, and I haven’t yet found one to settle on. It’s difficult to say goodbye to a school, but it’s even more difficult to say goodbye to a family.We graduates will all stay in touch with those we’re closest to — we’ll meet up when we come home over breaks, and we’ll text and call each other whenever possible.But what about that guy you joked around with in chemistry class, but have never really talked to? Your partner that one time for a mini-presentation? The cashier at Dollar Tree who you know always judged you when you bought $10 worth of candy at lunch?It’s the little things that I know I’ll miss the most.I can always call up an old friend, and I can always walk around our campus. But I’ll never be at home there again.That’s the crux of what makes the upcoming transition so emotional, and so difficult to explain.Sure, I’ll call you every day, Mom. And yes, of course I’ll come visit your class, Ms. Gist. But I won’t ever again need my parents to chaperone my field trips, and I’ll never again get to be a 10th-grader building a half-scale German fighter plane.It’s healthy to move on from this stage of our lives. But it’s also healthy to appreciate the experiences that we’ve had so far, and to remember how we felt and how we’ve grown during these years.I love the people with whom I went to school, I feel empowered by the environment in which I’ve resided, and I feel so comforted by the familiar surroundings of my life.Soon we’ll meet new people, we’ll find other obstacles around which we’ll have to maneuver, and we’ll form different connections, each with their own emotional significance. But I’ll always dearly love and miss the ones I’ve lived with for the past three years.— Eli Inkelas, who graduated last week from Da Vinci Charter Academy, has been an intern at The Davis Enterprise this spring.

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