Tonight 2 of my sunshines graduated. One a semester late, which took a lot of courage to come back for a 5th year, and one at least a semester early, depending on when you start counting. Both of them worked hard to get here, and deserve the smiles you see before you. I am proud of them. So very proud.
As you all know, these are the kids who struggle through school. They hate it. It's torture. Usually their parents hated it too, and remember their own trips to the very same naughty kid bench. But these are the ones that it means something when they suck it up and finish. I cheer for them more than I imagine cheering for my own kids. These small, private ceremonies are so special-- I get to speak directly to them and for them, and to their extended friends and family. Anyone can come and there is no need for tickets. And the 'ceremony' is over in 30 minutes :)
One of these guys gave me the most sincere hug-- multiple times-- and thanked me for being his teacher. When I read his card (with an engraved gift from his family and chocolate for my tree hole from him) it said "Thank you for all your help. I wouldn't have graduated without you." How do you respond to that? I met him as an angry, impulsive 14 year old and he graduates as a respectful, caring, giving father. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being a part of that transformation, but I'm under no delusions that he couldn't have done it without me. I just happened to be the right person at the right time. You all even know my secret, and it's really not even a secret. Treat them like you would like to be treated. Practice tough love when necessary. Listen. Be honest, and demand it in return. He grew up because he found a place (a place found him?) where he could be himself, but also be held accountable for his actions. We laughed, we cried, we planned, and we connected. And now he's ready to go get a job and be a grown up. That's a good day.
I'm sure most of you saw Mr. Holland's Opus, and WB jokingly made that reference to me tonight. It's not quite a match, because I in no way feel I'm wasting my life teaching. I know what I do everyday will pay off in dividends in weeks, months, and years. It paid off tonight, as all 50 people in that room thanked me for doing what I can't imagine not doing. As I looked into the crowd and saw my graduates from last year and the year before come back and support their friends. As kids I haven't taught let me give them grief for doing stupid things and then told me about their successes. There is no false modesty when I say I don't see a whole school assembly happening when I retire and my former students showing up with their own security detail. But I do think I'll have steady visits throughout the years with stories of successes and failures, and truly that is all I want. And as much as this feels like an 'it's all about me' post, it's not. I've stumbled upon my dream job, and it wouldn't exist if every kid was ready to access the regular high school curriculum. I'm as thankful to have these sunshines in my life as they are to have me in theirs. And on the days when they can express those feelings, I feel like they're all out there, playing my Opus.