Saying Goodbye

Today is the last day of school in my system, and as always, we have had a busy week of celebrating the seniors who are graduating and heading off to college or military service or to careers. It’s hard to believe that these young people who (it seems) just needed so much help and guidance at the beginning of the year are about to walk through our doors and out into the world as adults.

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This particular group of seniors are near and dear to my heart. I taught them for two years–Sophomore year and Junior year–and half of them call me Mom once a week. I’m the one they come to when they’re sad or when they have good news to share or when they need a safety pin or a band-aid or when they just need a place to hang out. (I’m not the only one–our school is blessed with many amazing teachers. These kids just seem to be especially MINE. 🙂 ) I’m not sure how we bonded so much–maybe it’s because as Sophomores many of them didn’t drive and needed a place to hang out while they were waiting for practice or their parents or whatever. Maybe it’s that I was their only female teacher Junior year and 1 of 2 female teachers Sophomore year. Maybe it’s because about half of them have been on our school/youth group trip to Washington, DC, for the past 3 years. Any of those reasons could be the reason or part of the reason. The bigger reason, though, I think, is that as an English teacher, I’m talking about life. Whatever we’re reading, I’m working to help them connect it to their lives. Because we share our thoughts and our feelings and our loves and our concerns, I think that we also share our hearts, and these kids got two years of that with me. So we’re bonded. (If you’d like to read more about the bonding we do with our kids, check out these posts from Gena and Pam.)

Every year, our seniors choose a speaker for their Senior Day celebration, and this year they chose me. I joked with them that they just wanted to see me cry in a big public way because, you see, I cry at them a lot. I cry about happy stories and about sad stories. I lost it when we read “Richard Cory” and again when we read Brian Doyle’s “Joyas Voladoras .”   It’s what I do–it’s the Irish in me. 🙂 They know me so well now that, whenever there’s something emotional going on, they all turn to look at me to see if I’m crying yet. On Monday, there was apparently a pool going to see when I’d start crying during the Senior Day festivities. Ha! If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share a little bit about what I shared with them on Monday. I managed to make it through without ugly-crying, but there were certainly moments when I had to stop to compose myself and quell the rising emotion. 🙂

Some of you are nervous to be leaving the familiar and stepping out on your own—how will you fare in a new environment with brand new people—not the same kids you’ve been in school with since K4 or 7th grade or even freshman year? What will it be like on a campus of 1500 people or 5000 or -gulp- 30,000? It’ll be awesome. It will—it’ll be awesome. And sometimes, it’ll be awful. Sometimes you’ll long for those moments when you’re with the people who have known you since First Communion or who watched you through those awkward Middle School years. Sometimes it’ll be sad and lonely and scary. 

Here’s what I know, though. You—and only you—are in control of all of that. No, you can’t control the environment around you. You can’t control when bad things or even good things will happen to you. Sometimes bad things will happen and you’ll feel lost or confused or sad or worried. What I know is that you will always have a choice. Your choice lies not in some magical ability to keep the bad things away but in the manner in which you choose to handle things. You can choose to let the hard things crush and crumble you or you can use them to learn something  and grow. When rocks start to pile up around you, they can either bury you or you can use them as a foundation for the next step forward. That choice is up to you. That doesn’t mean that it’ll always be easy, but you can find something positive in every experience, even if you can’t see it at the time. 

As you say goodbye to your students this school year, celebrate those successes that you had–the little moments of growth and the big steps forward. Celebrate the student who found a new favorite author and the non-reader who has begun to turn the corner. Celebrate the student who moved from barely writing a full paragraph to writing a full essay and the one who comes to you excited about the new poem she’s working on. Celebrate the perpetual student who is always looking for ways he can improve his work and that student who comes to school just because it’s better than sitting outside cold and alone. But what if you have had a year of struggles–maybe you had a tough course load with lots of preps or maybe you had a particularly difficult group of students or maybe you had some tough circumstances in your own private life that sometimes made teaching hard. We don’t live in a bubble–all of these things affect us and inform our teaching and our interactions and who we are. What if that was your year and you don’t feel much life celebrating?

Well, just like I told my seniors…when the boulders start crashing down all around you and when it feels like you’ll be crushed by the weight of life, that’s when you have a choice. You can either let these experiences bury you…or you can find a way to dig through that rubble and start again and use the experiences of this year as a starting point and a foundation to grow upon. That’s the beauty of education. Even though this school year is over and everything is coming to a close, that doesn’t mean that we have to stop and close up, too. Once we have rested and recovered a little bit (thank God for Summer Break!!), we’ll dust ourselves off, shake off the debris, and figure out what we’ll use for building blocks for next year. And then we get to do it all over again.

Happy Summer, friends. You deserve it!

(And for those of you who are still in session for several weeks, please know that I’ll be thinking about you! We go back in mid-August, so our time will come, too. Hang in there–you can do it!)

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