Sunday, May 28, 2006

G is for Graduation

Today was my school's graduation. Yes, Sunday afternoon of a holiday weekend. It was at Reliant Arena where most of the district's high schools have their graduation ceremonies. I guess our auditorium isn't big enough or nice enough. And we all share two stadiums, which would also be impossible since it's springtime in Houston. It's the time of year when it feels like the rain forest habitat at the zoo every time you go outside. And you consider wearing a bathing suit all the time because it's that wet. Yuck.

Anyway, I put on a dress, a black robe and a random hood that they pulled out of the box they had. Don't ask me, it's way too long of a story and so fitting for this school. I drove into the parking lot and saw a few kids in their robes and started to cry. I managed to pull myself together and got inside where the kids were lining up. Well, at that point they were mostly milling around. I didn't have a specific job, but one of the teachers who was supposed to be taking care of one of the groups wasn't there yet so I was drafted. I had a group of about 20 kids and I had to get them in order and make sure that the cards they had with their names on them had their names written out phonetically, or something close. A few of them had a little trouble with the concept, but we eventually got them all squared away.

While we were waiting, I doled out hugs and congratulations. I asked the kids where they expected to be next year. A few of them had already been accepted to college outright and a few of them were starting conditional summer programs with the hopes of performing well enough to be full-fledged college freshmen in the fall. And then there are the ones joining the service. One of my favorites is joining the Marines and I just hope she's safe. It could actually be safer than her current situation.

After about an hour, the teacher who was supposed to have "my" group showed up and got all pissy with me for stealing her group. I offered it back to her, but she said, oh no, you can do it. As if her being MIA was somehow my plan to horn in and take her job. Freak. Anyway, we walked down and into the arena. A small part of the band was playing Pomp and Circumstance badly. I'm not sure who was leading them since our band director was recently hurried off campus after allegedly throwing a music stand at a kid and choking him.

We filed into our seats and the standard speeches commenced. I was getting all choked up. They gave out several awards, including laptops to the top three graduates from a local business. They were very pleased. I also have to say that I enjoyed seeing two of my students up on the stage as part of the top ten. :) After all the boring speeches, they started calling names. First went the top 10% and then the rest of the kids. I clapped a lot and cried a lot, too. Some of these kids who were on the very edge of failing only a few days ago and just barely squeaked by. There were at least three up there who were eligible for graduation because I let them make up work from weeks and weeks ago. Some of them needed to just freaking get out of high school.

As we were marching out, I saw a few more kids and hugged them and congratuated them. It was kind of fun to not be their teacher anymore so I could just be nice. On the way out I saw more of them along with friends, family, and parents. And babies. Their babies.

I drove home with my coontacts completely crusty from tears. This is why I do what I do. This is why I put up with being called all the names and all the other crap I put up with. A high school diploma doesn't mean as much as it used to and college is much more important than it used to be, but it is a necessary step. And for lots of these kids, it means getting out of their environment and into something a little better. Or, at least I hope so. Keep your fingers crossed.

Oh, and just in case I wasn't feeling old enough, one of my students asked me if I knew his cousin who played basketball at Michigan State. About four years ago. He said, you graduated six years ago? No, honey. TEN. What a great day that was. And fourteen years ago when a friend played Pomp and Circumstance on an accordion as my friends and family celebrated my completion of high school coursework. Happy memories. I hope that life treats these kids as well as it's treated me.

Congratulations, Class of 2006!

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