It’s an interesting experience, coming back to a school after fourteen years away. Things are oddly familiar — and completely different. Most of the students were not born the last time you walked these halls. There were no iPhones, Smart Boards, or texting. Pet Scans looked different, auditory skills were sharper, attention lasted longer, and there were no lock-down drills, no ALICE training.

And you — you have returned a different human. You have had life-changing experiences, met people who have given you new perspectives, loved and lost, loved and won. You have come back looking older, feeling wiser. You have returned secure in who you are but willing to listen to others’ perspectives. Now, you know better that others may have the answers.

Now, when you meet students, you have to work a little harder to remember their names. You try to remember defining characteristics that will help you to distinguish them, but they have similar features: bright eyes, a love for learning, a zest for life, the desire to make a difference. You do the best you can, stumbling along the way.

Early mornings at school bring oatmeal, cereal, bagels, and fruit piled on the plates of the still not-quite-awake girls. Shuffling and barely speaking to the adults, they take their places. Little ones come running into the dining room filled with wonder and excitement about the new day. They greet the sullen teens with a hug and the teens transform, become engaged.

When you first return to school after years away, you take notes as you walk the halls in awe of the art that the girls carefully crafted out of metals, fabric, spoken words. You sit in on classes where little people are taught to problem-solve and use their voices. You watch as girls create structures and cultures by collecting twigs and rocks and hauling water from the creek. You hold bugs given to you by a child dressed in a yellow rain suit. You read over all your observations. You go through a mental list of what makes your school unique. You take your time to absorb and think about your growing relationships with both colleagues and students.

And then one day, you find yourself no longer writing. You realize that you are no longer able to see through the newcomer’s lens. Gradually and unknowingly, you have begun to take the exceptionalities of the school for granted.

With age, they say, comes wisdom, and you are wise enough to know that what you have here is a gift. You are again a part of this community, this routine, this specialness. Because you’re older and wiser, girls now seek you out, want to know what you think, want to share with you. Adults seek you out more now too – they know you better now, know what you stand for, know that you are there to help guide them through unfamiliar territory that sometimes involves having uncomfortable conversations. Now, when you enter the dining room, you realize this place is sacred, and you are a part of it.