As is a tradition for my juniors, my 23 IB English students were assigned to write a commencement speech for their final "exam". I aided them as they worked on their drafts and then they asked if I would participate too. So here is my commencement speech that I'll present to them on their last day of class with me. I hope they like it.
Well, here we are! Right where we began--I’m at the front of the room and you’re almost out the door for another summer. Just like last year. I remember a pile of you pouring into my room last June to pick up the summer work. I remember the looks on your faces and my feeling that the only way for me to keep you in this course was to reassure you that you could do it. That day I tried the strategy of pointing to the few of you I’d had as freshmen, reminding you of the work and of my support of you that year. I hoped you’d remember the fun we’d had that year as well. But I wasn’t sure. There were so many of you that had never met me. I gave you my sincere smile and what I hoped would be a convincing speech about pushing yourselves to excel and knowing that you’d have a net beneath you. You did excel... and you also did falter--several times in fact. But that’s often how we learn the most important lessons. Through the ups and the downs of the year I continued to smile...sincerely. I continued to reassure you. I continued to help you up each time you stumbled and to teach you how to improve. And you did. Man oh man oh man oh man oh man....and 18 women...you kicked ASS this year. You’ve heard me speak of great affection towards “my 10”--the first group of IBers I worked with and saw graduate in 2014. Well now I’m so very proud of my 23. Graduation next year will KILL me.
Next year is a year leading me to my Silver anniversary. It’s going to be my 25th year of teaching. It’s a rarity these days to have teachers reach this milestone. So many leave the profession after only a few years. I’ll be honest with you. There have been some times when I’ve questioned whether I could continue. It’s never been about the work I do in my classroom--that I have always loved. It’s about the many other challenges that come with this career choice. I suppose every career professional must stop and question their path from time to time. I personally think my recommitment to this profession--the conscious decision I make each spring whether or not to sign my teacher agreement that I’ll be back for the next year, reminds me of why I choose to work through the challenges of this profession. And in my reflection on that, I realize how important it is to me to have the courage to follow my HEART and to maintain my integrity as a human being.
Atticus Finch had these characteristics in To Kill a Mockingbird. I hope you’ve read that book. He’s one of my all time favorite literary characters. The lawyer whose daughter Scout watched his every move never flinched. He knew what was right and even though his path was difficult, he never questioned what his role was or what was right. He couldn’t live with himself any other way and he couldn’t be the parent he wanted to be otherwise.
We saw these characteristics of heart and integrity in other characters from this year’s readings. We saw August Boatwright do right by her sisters and Lily. We saw Katniss protect her sister and later Rue. Even Anna--in the midst of the black plague-- only had one night with the poppies that would give her a night’s rest for her weariness. Banquo and MacDuff suffered for choosing paths of integrity. Orwell used his deathbed to finish typing out a warning to the world, and Whitman stayed true to his heart and soul and spread his messages of acceptance, peace, and communion, even when his ideas were controversial to others. Dolores died to honor a man she was at odds with for most of the time she knew him because she was standing by her faith and she gave her life to be God’s witness and to save the life of her daughter, Mathilda. As a Mom, I completely understand that one.
Challenges will follow us throughout our lives. And unfortunately some of them will make you realize that the challenges of high school pale in comparison. But it’s not what is thrown at us that matters, it’s how we choose to catch the challenges, to work through them, to allow them to be the building blocks for our own character.
I’ve had my share of challenges in my life but perhaps none as difficult in retrospect as those I have faced in these past few years. First my Mom faded away into her world with Alzheimer’s. She was best friend. My most loyal, my fiercest advocate and cheerleader. She got me. And what a beautiful thing it is to be loved unconditionally and to be accepted most wholly for the person you are. I could have used her when I then faced my own mortality and was told I needed a breast biopsy. Everything worked out okay but there were a few weeks where I did not know how my path was going to turn. My husband’s mother then died at age 67 from the spread of the breast cancer she’d fought off and on for 30 years. And then, just seven months later? My Dad died. He died two years ago on June 15th--I was five days away from the end of the school year, helping my juniors with their commencement speeches, finishing senior grades, and attending rehearsals as I was just days away from performing the lead in the musical Gypsy which held its opening night the day after my Dad’s funeral. And yes, I fulfilled my Dad’s wish of singing at his funeral and I went on stage the next night. It was the first play that my parents hadn’t been in the audience for.
I’ve learned that whatever rug we’re standing on can be pulled right out from underneath us with absolutely no warning, that there are no guarantees in life and that living a life with integrity and following my heart as I navigate through life is the only way I wish to live. I am so very proud of the way I have embraced the lessons that can only come from the experience of momentous challenges. I have become stronger, wiser, more loving, more patient, more grateful and appreciative. Colors are now sharper, people are more beautiful, and the little worries of life are more quickly put into perspective. But even the fiercest of warriors need to hide from the world for a few hours from time to time. Monday I went to bed at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I cried for myself and I cried for my Dad and I cried because learning life lessons and being faced with endless challenges can be exhausting. Hey. I’m only human. Sometimes I excel and sometimes I falter. But luckily for me, I have a safety net too. It’s made up of my husband, my three beautiful children, an abundance of dear friends, and an amazing group of teenagers.
This week I have witnessed each individual in this room walk to talk to his/her peers with great courage. Everyone spoke from the heart. Everyone spoke with integrity. I could not have received a better source of inspiration to do the same with the challenges of my days ahead. I will continue to do my best for you because not only is it the right thing to do, but you’re so dear to me now. Your reflection papers and your speeches have given me that motivation and that determination to make your senior year spectacular. Thanks for being like my Mom who “gets me”. Thanks for working to develop a work ethic like my Dad always had. Thanks for reminding me that no matter what path I go down, if I’m true to my heart and do what is right, I’ll always have an audience of well-wishers.
Finally, when the week is over, the pace of the school schedule will subside and we’ll all have some weeks to get much needed rest. Make the most of this summer. Work hard when you need to. Get your summer reading work done too. Soak in the literature. Let it make you think. Do that work with integrity, but also take time to rest and recharge--away from anything academic. Don’t forget your summer bucket lists. Have some fun. Do what’s most meaningful for you. And please remember, we have each other. We’ve all grown stronger this year. We’ve all grown wiser. We’ve developed more courage and more heart. We can do and overcome anything that comes our way if we stick together and fight a good fight for whatever is right, for whatever is needed. If we live our days with integrity and go after whatever we believe is worth fighting for, how can next year--how can LIFE-- be anything less than spectacular?!
And now, with your permission, let me share with you a poem.
FOR MY 1B CLASS...
Ceara Shakira makes posters beyond compare
Emilie Sanborn’s got the big laugh and yes, the most stylish hair
Miss Melody has her pure and lovely voice
Why is it that you three always make the right choice?
Your work compels us, puts us to the test...
to always be creative and to inspire the rest.
With Emily Dawkins’ consistently positive light
And with Rachael and her stain stick setting everything right
With Seth’s “Morgan Freeman-like” velvety speech
How is it not possible to have the best within reach?
The three of you never ever fail to disappoint me....
You work with that word I mentioned, INTEGRITY.
BGar may be quiet but he’s a good guy through and through
And when I mess up, who’ll scold me? Megan--that’s always you.
I can count on Clara for speaking the truth of what she sees
And on Amanda, Miss Amanda for now presenting with ease.
Austin has promised he’s got heart and has made a vow
And if we ever forget to laugh, Stephanie will show us how
And Jennifer will sneak into my room throughout the day
To build a better lock on my door. There has to be a way!
Next year brings me promise and some unknowns too
But thankfully next year brings back all of you.
FOR MY 4B Class....
I’ll never forget the fun that we’ve had
or Keeley’s strong presentations whenever she thought she’d do bad.
And I’ll never forget despite the nerves I always see
of how amazing a job Haley & Chloe did on the IOC!
Olivia’s strength? She’s got determination and style!
And Tram’s quirkiness? It never fails to make me smile
Kaelyn with her amazing ability to keep it real--
And honest adoration for Faithe is all that I feel--
There’s Max with a vocabulary he puts to good use,
And Garrett who handles all of English class’ abuse
And finally Samantha who isn’t as innocent as you might think!
You all make me proud. And I’m truly tickled pink
to have you all back for IB Literature--Year Two.
My 25th year of teaching wouldn’t be the same without you.