A graduation tribute

Posted on May 9, 2014. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , |

This month, literally millions of parents will feel their mixed emotions swell up as their child graduates from high school. On May 13, I will be one of them.

The cap-and-gown ceremony will culminate a springfest of senior student ceremonies.

Already there have been academic and athletic award recognitions, “senior nights” for various sports, special parties, the swapping of senior pictures and the mailing of commencement invitations.

The graduating seniors are the focus, of course. They are the stars of all the preliminary events, and of the pomp and circumstance finale.

A baker’s dozen years of formal schooling boils down to a handshake of congratulations, a diploma worthy of framing and the symbolic repositioning of the mortarboard tassel.

It’s their moment. It will be photographed, celebrated and posted on Facebook and Twitter.

I’ll be swept away in the midst of it like all other parents. Proud. Sad. Happy. Worried. Reflective. Optimistic. Overwhelmed. Excited. And everything in between, simultaneously.

That’s why I want to take a few minutes today, while my thoughts are clearer, and express a deep gratitude that will probably get lost in that flood of emotions on graduation night.

As I’ve watched the school year wind down and attended events honoring seniors, I’ve seen my own misty eyes reflected back at me—and not just from the parents of other students.

Just about everywhere I looked, I saw teachers struggling with the same onslaught of emotions.

So this is my open letter of appreciation to all my child’s teachers (including coaches and principals), and I think I can speak for parents everywhere when I start it by simply saying: Thank you.

Thank you for being important in the life of my child, which as that famous creed reminds us, is what will matter most a hundred years from now. I can see the special bond you established with her, and it is indeed priceless. You shaped her with your integrity, your compassion, your experience and your faithfulness to your profession.

Thank you for teaching her so much more than her textbook subjects. Education ought to be an experience, and through your determination it has been a positive one. Not that there haven’t been bumps or setbacks; how else can we learn except that we occasionally fail? Your craft and its practice may not be infallible, but your heart for my child’s safety and destiny seems to be. I can never repay you for that.

Thank you for your daily dedication, which is as fine an example of the path to achievement as any parent can want for his child. Education can be viewed and argued over as a system, it can be tossed about as a political football, it can be micromanaged by out-of-touch policy wonks. I’m grateful that you don’t let such shenanigans distract you. Your focus every day is your students, our children, and I know that’s the real and only reason they learn.

Thank you for your extra effort. For grading papers at night. For being available to meet after school. For attending my daughter’s games. For sponsoring student activities that take you away from your own family after hours. For filling out all the paperwork bureaucrats pile on you. For everything you do that doesn’t fall between the opening and closing bells of the school day.

Thank you for disciplining my child, and showing her that rules exist for a reason, and actions and behaviors have consequences. Beneath the natural rebellion in most teenagers is an equally natural desire for boundaries. The process for managing the former in a productive way to deliver the latter is what great teachers do so well.

Thank you for doing an often thankless job. Complaints are always more common than compliments, and that’s probably triply true in teaching. Everybody knows that the best education is a partnership between home and school, but blameful parents can be quick to forget their own responsibilities.

Thank you for being a beacon of opportunity for my child. For continually showing her the promise the world holds. For helping her understand that obstacles are the things we see when we take our eyes off the goal. For imbuing in her the essence of all those old wise sayings and adages without having to actually resort to them (like I tend to do, with little visible efficacy).

Thank you for carrying the weight of our republic’s future on your shoulders, yet modestly toiling like you’re “just a teacher.” Our most brilliant founders all viewed education as the crucial key to successful self-government. It’s enshrined in state constitutions and emblazoned across philosophical treatises. As with churches, education isn’t the buildings or the campus. It’s the teachers.

Most of all, thank you for your role in making my daughter into the young woman now poised to graduate. For caring enough to write her a little note, give her a heartfelt hug, beam proudly at her accomplishments and wipe your eyes like she’s your very own.

And for having the capacity to hold that much love for a whole classful of kids. That’s why you’re a teacher.

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