Last week was our final graduation for the 2005-2006 year. From a school that has less than 50 students at any given time, our celebration of 18 students is a whoppingly huge class. Being a small school gives the graduation ceremony a personal touch. There isn't a valedictorian speech given by the head cheerleader or class president (You know, the same people voted most popular). At our school each student has a staff member write a person speech about them, and friends and family have a chance to stand up and say something to the graduate.
This time I had to give five, yes count them five, speeches. Some of them were tributes to students that I chose, and others were students that were assigned to me. The latter are a little harder to do, let me tell ya. You quickly run through the pat info: when they came to the school, their favorite memory (one student told me it was the weekends), where they plan to go for their future (the Rap world, what out!). You want to say things like, "You have to be commended for reaching this milestone of life, especially considering that you came to class stoned most days." Or, "We are so happy that you have finally reached the point where you can move on from this institution of education to the next chapter of your life. Very happy. So very, very, very happy! You can't believe how happy we are." But you can't. You'll have moms crying and dad puffing their chests and little kids who admire their big brother or cousin for graduating. So instead we bust out the lines that are for the most part true. Then the big day comes and you see them up on the stage in their caps and gowns, striking an I'm-an-adult-now pose, and you almost forget all the annoying pranks - the colorful expletives scratched into your desks, breaking locks off the closets just to show they can do it, overhead transparencies that mysteriously end up in the trash. Instead you mostly think of the good times, when you asked a student for help moving something and they quickly agreed, when they offered you a bite of their candy bar, or when you overheard them actually studying. ("No, Odysseus' son was named Telemachus, you *@#@$ dumb ass.")
In our predominatly Latino school population, one graduate was fiercly of Irish descent. An outstanding memory of him was during the town's youth talent show where he wore a kilt while singing a punk song. I was actually expecting to see him in the kilt under his robe. As he walked across the stage, his youthful troup all shouted "Oy!"
Anther student was a pure delight to speak for. She went on and on about how her hero was her mother. She wanted to be sure the speech said something like this: "Mom, you were there for everything, even things I thought you wouldn't be there for. You had to raise four kids on your own. There were a lot of little things that you did and we didn't seem to notice, but we did. And knowing what I do now about money, how hard you have to work for it and how quickl it gets spent, I don't know how you did it. You are my hero." Talk about moms earing up! I almost couldn't go on.
After the ceremony, I saw a bunch of the boys leaning up against one of their muscle cars. I could almost hear the movie voice over, "And there we all were, looking at the bright uncertainty of the future. And though we all went our own way, there is a part of us that will always be bonded together; a bond that will serve as a touchstone for the turbualnt time ahead" And if they have listened to their English teacher, they will be able to write that screen play. but more likely it will be a from-the-streets rap song.
One of my coworkers mentioned that for teachers, this time of year is better than Christmas. Not so much because of the time off, but because it is a feeling of completion. The year is wrapping up, you can look back and see what has been accomplished, and anticipation is forming for next year. He is so right. But to be honest, I am looking forward to sleeping past 5:00 and seeing first hand that David Letterman and Connan O'Brian are still alive and well.