When students first arrive at RedCliff Ascent, they are in a very vulnerable place. They learn and grow a great deal while they are here. When it is time for students to leave, the experience of having to separate from people who they have come to think of as friends and mentors can be extremely challenging. The Goodbye Ceremony allows students to process their experiences at RedCliff Ascent, and become ready to return home.
The actual Goodbye Ceremony is less defined than many of the other ceremonies at RedCliff Ascent, such as the Welcome Ceremony, the Naming Ceremony, and the Knife Ceremony. This allows staff members to customize the Goodbye Ceremony to whatever the individual student happens to need.
Field Director Justin Swensen recently witnessed one of these Goodbye Ceremonies. “One of the girls just had a graduation last week. She had been here for a while, and she had been doing great. She did not want to leave. So, part of the Goodbye Ceremony was to help prepare her to leave. The ceremony helped her find closure by going on her vision quest. It helped her be able to go to graduation and be successful at graduation. And, really, that is what the Goodbye Ceremony is all about.”
During the Goodbye Ceremony, each person in the group has an opportunity to express their gratitude and say goodbye. Then the student who is leaving goes on a vision quest. That student spends the night close to, but outside of, the group. The experience of being physically and symbolically set apart helps the program? to prepare students to leave RedCliff Ascent.
When students graduate, they not only have to adjust to leaving RedCliff Ascent, they must adjust to returning home. While this is something that most students look forward to with great excitement, the prospect of returning home can also be intimidating. That is one of the reasons for the Heart Stick ceremony. The Heart Stick Ceremony allows students to reconnect with their family members before returning home.
Developmental Director Scott Schill described the Heart Stick ceremony. “The Heart Stick ceremony is a traditional ceremony of closure at graduation. The traditional setting for the Heart Stick ceremony is the kiva. [Note: Nate, please link to the article about the kiva.] We take the parents and graduating students into the kiva and, once everyone is settled and focused, the person leading the ceremony holds a literal stick and speaks what is in their heart. If it is a student, perhaps they express gratitude to staff and parents for the opportunity to be in the wilderness and learn about themselves and grow. Many times parents express their appreciation for the sometimes monumental efforts poured into their child’s progress, not only by the guides and therapists but also the child. When one person is done speaking what is in their heart, the stick is passed to the next person.”
Ceremony is a part of life at RedCliff Ascent. From the time that students arrive and are greeted with the Welcome Ceremony to the Goodbye Ceremony, ceremonies help students to process their experiences. These ceremonies, and the tokens that students receive during them, also help students to remember and mark these moments of change in their lives.