Two Friday’s ago, I pressed my best and only suit and drove to GW’s Lisner auditorium on 21st Street. Two years ago, I promised one male student at his mother’s funeral that I would be there to shake his hand at his high school graduation. I had made similar promises to all my tenth grade students. Each June, I arrive at my school early and position myself in the front row near the steps leading to the stage. As the graduates line up to receive their diplomas, I stand and congratulate each one as they pass. It is a ritual for me.
The male student who drew me to Lisner I taught once in summer school. He had a used black Nisson and loved polishing it in his spare time. So brightly did his car shine, in contrast to mine, that I refused to park anywhere near it. Over the next two years, I sought him out during lunches or in the hall. Always, I asked how he was doing, how his car was driving, and how his grades were holding up.
I appreciated his honesty with me, and his failure to pass a critical course in time for June’s graduation did not come as a surprise. While I missed his face, as well of those of his classmates who did not “walk,” I knew I would see him again in August. I even visited him once in summer school to remind him of the promise.
When he, and about seven others from his class, lined up in Lisner, I applauded along with all the others assembled in the seats. Later, I moved my perch close enough to be seen by them. One young lady noticed me and then alerted the others. I watched her lips mouth, “He came,” and I waved at them all. There must have been over one hundred students all dressed in the colors of their respective schools. None beamed brighter than that young man as he nodded my way.
After an inspirational address from the Busboy and Poets owner, Anas Shallal, about dreams and heritage, the time arrived to award diplomas to these deserving students. As each stood , waiting for their name to be called, I thought about all the students I have taught in my six years of teaching. By my count, they number is a little over 650. Some veterans in the building have actually taught the children of former students. I do not expect to be in the profession long enough for that.
Still, teaching high school sometimes makes me feel like a turnstile where I am the only one standing still. The students come and then they leave to much fanfare and appreciation. While the students at Listner traversed a slightly different path, the destination was the same. So, as the students from my school exited the stage, I was there to shake their hands and wish them well. It would have been easy for them to just give up after that difficult day in June when they could not join their friends. But they persevered, proving again how life really is not about adversity, but rather the reaction to it.
In the last week, I have encountered a number of my former students on the streets of DC. Most are preparing to return to college. Some found that road not to their liking and are seeking different opportunities closer to home. All are moving forward into adulthood with a sense of self I would like to think we helped them achieve during their brief stay with us.
Tomorrow, a new year begins. Students will not be arriving for another week, and a quick glance of the school’s plans for teachers reveals more new directives. New unit and lesson plans based on common core standards appear to head the list. If prior years are any indication, there will also be new school-wide initiatives. As teachers, you learn to take these things in stride, keep your questions to yourself, and finally, towards the end of the week, close the door to your classroom and consider how you will handle the new stream of magic about to enter your door.