Have you ever worked hard to build something? Created something from the materials on hand, adding your own effort, sweat, and inspiration? Have you ever felt as if this project were endless, leaving an uncertainty about just what the final product would be upon its completion? Have you ever wondered whether or not the changes and decisions you made throughout the duration of this construction were the right ones? Did you feel as if at some point that you had all the time in the world only to learn that time would not always be available for those fine touches you wanted to add at the very end? What do you see and feel as the dust settles?
One of the more rewarding aspects of being a high school teacher is the challenging task of developing some lasting intangible within my students. Having taught for 28 years, I know I have mastered the pacing of a class. I can navigate the crazy world of high school, taking my students through AP exam preparation and research papers with only mild anxiety. I am still a work in progress but have learned to begrudgingly accept the hectic nature of an activity-filled high school. By the end of the year, I believe my students have developed something which extends beyond classroom activities.
We are not always on the same path throughout this journey. Along the way I experience dramatic outbursts and everlasting silence from students, oddly suspect lost papers and note cards, flatulence followed by a hearty laugh of an apology, the occasional slip of profanity with a clasped hand across the mouth arriving a split second too late, stressful parent conferences and emails, and lunchtime detentions turned gab sessions. Throughout our construction of something better, I also have witnessed these same students helping one another, those random days when the students I feel I have lost rise up and become engaged in the class, and students working independently who at the beginning of the year needed constant reassurance. I have my bumps, bruises, and lack of energy at the end of the year when the year's work concludes. I do not possess the same drive as I did at the beginning of the year.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday, the dust began to settle for me and for the projects on which we had all labored. We finished senior year with Commencement Presentations, a capstone project which allows the students to focus on the highlights of their senior research project as well as the memorable moments of high school and growing up. I always see my students differently at this time. At the beginning of the school year, many exhibit a "smallness" in my eyes; they are young people on the precipice of a huge moment in their lives. During the fall the students are not quite ready for this final transition despite their protestations of being "grown." They are ready now though. I see the confidence, the maturity, the wisdom of a senior year, the aging of a personality over ten months.
Friday night was Senior Baccalaureate Mass followed by Graduation a mere fifteen hours later on Saturday morning. Graduation was in a different place this year. Inclement weather, as it sometimes does, caused us to change our plans. The Central gym was transformed into a place unexpected. A maroon tarp covered the floor with the chairs angled to allow for an intimacy not experienced at the amphitheater at Oglebay Park. It was a final school meeting, a final reflection with all of the participants front and center amid the banners and slogans of the school. There was a crispness and clarity to this scene that allowed these young people to be viewed as the adults they are becoming, no longer the high school students they were.
I am sure the parents, the grandparents, and the friends see these graduates differently now, too. What they have built together is even more significant than what we have built in the classroom. As a teacher, I am just a part of their larger effort. Years of growing up is slowly fading as this new person emerges from the remnants of the past. Without a doubt the past is filled with moments of frustration and joy, angst and elation, doubt and confidence, disappointment and pride. The future is full of the unknown, yet the graduate now awaits the challenges.
So here we all are, witnessing as someone whose life we had a hand in building through hard work, guidance, encouragement, and nurturing stands for all of the world to see. We cannot worry about not having enough time to add the final touches to make sure he or she is just right. We cannot continue to fret about decisions we have made during our time together, wondering if our choices were the best ones, the right ones.
We all can prepare for the future by continuing to build with the ones we love yet again. Laboring, supporting, and loving through the next stages of life as we wonder what we will have built when, in the future, the dust settles once again.