Tis’ the season of high school graduations. It is one of which I am acutely aware since my own daughter is graduating high school as well. It’s a bittersweet time of year. Not for the reasons you may think, although that is bittersweet in its own right.
It is bittersweet because I see the results of 12-13 years of schooling in every senior’s eyes. But whether that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on the student’s efforts. I see three types of students during this time.
The first type is like my own daughter. She is graduating eighth in her class, the recipient of many academic awards and scholarships. She worked hard every year since kindergarten to be the best in her class. When she was in 4th grade she asked the teacher for a challenge and ended up doing about two hours of homework a night on her own, without external motivation from her parents. During that time, she said she was tired of elementary school and wanted to get to middle school. By 7th grade, she wanted to go to high school. By her sophomore year, she wanted to graduate and get to college. Not because she wanted to grow up I think, but because she wanted a challenge. As I saw her during her academic awards ceremony, I got the feeling that she saw this as a pit stop on her way to graduating from medical school. She is happy with the accolades, but her goal is not satisfied yet. She is like many students who work hard and end up with the fruits of their labors. These students don’t always end up in the top 10% or 25% of their class by the way.
The second type of student is the student who encountered challenges outside of school, perhaps at home or elsewhere. They encountered physical, emotional, or mental challenges that other students may not have encountered. Yet, these students overcame those challenges and graduated. For some, graduation is an achievement they did not think they would attain. I cherish these students almost more than the first group. I put myself in the second group of students and this type of student I see regularly at my alternative program. It is such an overwhelming joy to see students who have overcome problems they’ve created or problems outside their control and see them achieve success. The smiles and the tears are so completely heartfelt (not to minimize the first groups own challenges)
The third type of student is one that I see often at alternative school. Sadly. They have encountered challenges as well but have chosen to take a different path. They have allowed themselves to be defeated by their own problems or problems outside their control. They realize too late that they should have expended more effort in their work. They realize they cannot graduation and so they drop out. I am not without sympathy for this group. But that does not take away from the fact that they have severely damaged their chances of success.
I have thought about these three types of students over the last week as I saw some of my own students quit coming to school because they’ve given up. I have seen previous students as they’ve risen to their challenges, overcame them, and graduated. Naturally, I have seen my own daughter over the last 13 years so hard and I have seen that work recognized. When i was at her awards ceremony, I saw student after student cross the stage (juniors & seniors) being recognized for their accomplishments. I thought of my own students at the alternative program and how many of them have wasted their abilities in pursuit of immediate pleasure. It saddened me because so many of them have the ability, but lack the intrinsic motivation or the coping mechanisms and skills to overcome their own challenges to achieve success.
The other thing that saddened me was knowing of the students I have who are freshmen, sophomores, or juniors who are not thinking of their future past today or this week. They think they will graduate and something will just fall in their lap. This attitude frustrates me.
There is a dichotomy of graduating students and I saw it on the faces of regular high school students. Something you do not see in an alternative program. It was interesting in a way that I am finding hard to explain. My apologies for my insufficient vocabulary and writing ability.
*For the record, she will be attending the University of Tennessee, majoring in biology (microbiology focus) with a pre-med concentration.
I was watching a documentary on the Israeli raid on Entebbe and they were interviewing the operators on the raid. One of them said that when he returned he saw his father. His father had lost his entire family in the Holocaust and had been in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp himself. He told his father that, “…we are now able to rescue Jews around the world and this is something that Jews had been unable to do when my father and his family needed rescuing.” He concluded by saying, “My father said, ‘you’ve done well.’ He was proud.”
Here’s a guy who had taken part in one of the most successful rescue operations in the history of the world and what he was most happy about was that his father was proud of him. I connected with the man because of that. As men, we look for the recognition of our fathers and want to make them proud. It made me recall my last conversation with my father.
The last conversation I had with my father went something like this on the phone about a week before he passed away. I don’t remember the entire specific conversation, but I recall two snippets of the talk and it went something like this:
“Dad, you do what you need to do.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, if the pain is too much and you need to go, I understand.”
“Eric, I don’t even know what that means.”
“Then don’t worry about it.”
“Dad, I love you. I always have and I always will.”
(I hear him kind of laugh)
“Eric, I’ve know that my entire life. I love you too.”
I spoke with him often once I got to his house before he passed away. But he was unable to respond except in half-smiles and eyes of recognition. In retrospect, I think dad knew what I meant, but I don’t think he knew how to quit or give up.
One of the reasons I include this on my blog is because I don’t want to forget this conversation. I have a horrible memory. I want to be able to tell my kids this information when I’m old, just as my father told me his last talks with his father.