Graduation weekend always puts me into a rather melancholy mood. It's exciting, of course, to see young people who have been so much a part of your life for two, three or even four years, prepare to leave high school behind and begin the next phase of their lives. It is also a little sad, however, and more than a bit frustrating.
The frustration comes from wanting to show each and every student I have taught how much I appreciate having had the opportunity to be a part of their lives - and every year I make plans to do something really special for each and every one of my graduating seniors. And each year graduation slips up on me. They always put the danged thing at the tail end of the school year, you see - and that's always a busy time for teachers. There are review sessions to be held and finals to be graded; grades to be entered and inventories to be tallied - all more paper work than a fellow can say grace over.
Before I settle in and get around to doing something for the graduates I teach they are lined up in the commons area of the school in their caps and gowns, ready to march out onto the football field - or into the gymnasium, weather depending - for rehearsal. That's on the good years. Sometimes they are about to march out for the real deal. You'd think I'd learn to plan ahead after 36 years in the classroom, but so far I haven't.
So I sadly shake my head and make a promise to myself to get a head start the next year, bemoaning the fact that I probably won't.
If there were just a handful of kids who were special it would be different. I could go out and buy those kids a small present - a Starbucks gift card or a T-shirt from the college of their choice. Or at least I could write them a note or, at the very least, get them a clever card to commemorate the occasion. But each year there are at least 200 kids whose lives I have shared and each and every one of them is unique in some way - and how can a guy buy 200 gift cards on a teacher's salary, and how can he find time to write 200 letters?
And so I smile and watch them walk by in line, feeling that I have let them down on their special day and hoping that I have contributed something to each of their lives that will last longer than a note card or a latte.
I see the young lady who came to school every day with a smile on her face and the one who would have put her head on the desk and slept through school if I had let her. I see the young man who thought enough of me to have me wear his football jersey on game day and the one who loathed the fact that I cared enough about his future to tell the football coach on him when his work started to slip in class.
I see the kid whose parents are involved in every aspect of his education and the kid whose parents don't even know when she skips school. I see the student who chose me to be her honor teacher two years in a row and the one who quit speaking to me halfway through senior year because of the grade they earned at midterm.
I see them all; the ones who felt that I was their best friend and the ones who were convinced that I didn't even know their names, and part of me wished that I could keep them in high school forever because I so deeply relish the privilege of teaching them and part of me can't wait to see what they will become and what they will do with their lives. Trust me. There is still a lot of hope for this country as long as we continue to send students out into the world like the ones I teach because they are the very best our community has to offer.
So if you have been one of my students and were expecting a card or a letter or a gift, this column will have to do. Please know that it is for you. If you are the person who put the gray in my beard because it was so hard to get you to fulfill your potential, this is for you. If you are the overachiever who wrote a three-page report when one would have sufficed, this is for you, too. This is for the girl on the front row who always tried to please and for the long-legged kid in the back corner who pretended he didn't care. (And I know you really did.)
This is for all of you - a heartfelt thank you for being who you are, a pat on the back for making it as far as you have and a thousand wishes that your future might be as bright as the sun.
Look out world. Here comes the Class of 2009 - and they really are something.