As I sat there watching some of my favorite kids graduating from high school on Saturday, I thought back to so many of the other graduations that I had been to over the years. It is funny that as I watched these kids graduating, I had a running slideshow of memories going through my mind. Here are some thoughts that I had and I thought I would put them down here as a way to remember.
Sitting in the bleachers, watching as the graduates are honored, I am reminded of the paths that these kids took to get to this point in their lives. For some of the graduates, I have known them for all of their lives and remember the great joy as their parents got married and started a family of their own when their much longed for and dreamed of children joined them to make them not a couple anymore, but a family. Some of the parents of these graduates were also students that I had taught in years past and if that does not make you feel old, nothing will. 😉
For a number of these students, their paths were rocky ones. Some would rise to the occasion and overcome great obstacles in their lives, and sadly, others would go down a self defeating path which, based on watching previous graduates who walked the same path, would end up with some in jail and others, sadly addicted to drugs and dying. Those students, some of the ones I tried so hard to reach over the years, will always haunt me. I know that I, even being a substitute teacher, tried my best with them and did everything I could to show them a different way and let them know that they were the only ones who could determine and choose their own paths. They held the power to do so and the choice was up to them. It was gratifying though to see a former student on Saturday, who had come to watch his baby brother graduate, that had overcome great odds in his life and turned it around shortly before he graduated from high school when he was finally held accountable for his actions and kicked off one of the sports teams. That was the wake up call he needed. He had been one of the biggest challenges in class and to be honest, was acting like a jerk before this happened. I kept on him then entire time and told him that I did care about him and his future. Guess who actually apologized to me and asked for my help on his Senior Presentation at the end of that year...yep, him. I was more than pleased to help him. He is now serving in the Marines and has a lovely wife and new baby. These kids need someone in their corner who will be honest and real with them and practice tough love and hold them accountable. There are some that will thrive knowing that you care about them as a person and then there are others who will fight you all the way. It used to be that there were way more that really came into their own with that kind of backing and were able to turn their lives around, but sadly, as is true with what I am seeing with our society as a whole, there are more and more who can't see past the here and now and the "it's all about me". The stress of dealing with so many students with that kind of attitude finally took it's toll on my health and I finally had to make the choice to stop doing something that I loved in order to take care of me.
All is not bad though, I have had so many wonderful experiences as well and have been blessed to see and be a part of kids lives as they master a new concept. I've tutored kids in the Summer who were having some difficulties in certain areas and they have done well. One of those young men graduated on Saturday with honors and I am so proud of him for all the hard work that he put in to get there. I still keep in touch with former students from my full time teaching days and my subbing days. They have become "my kids" and they know I love them and will be cheering them on. I got to share hugs with some of them on Saturday and get caught up on their lives. That is a huge blessing to me. Some have gone on to be social workers, teachers, EMTs, firefighters, veterinarians. and serve in the military. Others have chosen different but equally important and personally satisfying paths for their lives. I just want "my kids" to be successful and happy in their lives. I want them to be good people who help out their community and others, I want them to be responsible and to be able to raise wonderful families of their own. I just want the best for them and I am personally invested in each one of their lives having spent so much time with them over the years and having gotten to know them as people. That is what life is like for a small town substitute teacher, or at least it should be. I have attended some of their weddings, held their newborn children, taught their own children, mourned with them as they lost beloved family members and celebrated their life's victories. They will always be an important part of my life and I hope that I made a difference in their's as well.