Sunday, August 7, 2016

Seeing What We Do Not See: Not for Nothing

His parents and grandparents found out he had flunked out of high school at the moment they waited for him to walk across the stage--and he didn't.

He went on to a life of alcohol, low paying jobs, broken relationships.

Around age 48, he got sober and he realized that if he ever ever ever wanted to rise in the work world, he'd need a diploma, so he went back to school at night - he had a family that needed him to.
Grossmont Adult School
At age 50, Phillip Esquibel told this story during his address at his graduation from Grossmont Adult School--his parents were cheering for him, but I swear they weren't louder than I was. (They were glad, but I was crying like a baby. And for the record, some babies cry A  LOT--those are the babies to whom I am comparing my crying output.)

I was at his graduation because a student I'd never even had on my roster asked me to come.

I'd met M in an after-school program our 8th grade history department had dreamed up after we realized that most of the Fs in our classes were because kids didn't seem to have one of the two fundamentals a person needs to succeed--adequate personal drive or an adult able/willing to MAKE them take care of business. We decided I'd be that adult, forcing them to come after school, making them stay an hour doing history work. They could "graduate" from our prison of love and responsibility once their habits or grades seemed established (we had only one or two kids exit). I didn't get paid for this, and we didn't have any help beyond the counselor who called the parents and talked to them about this intervention as if it were not an option. We had such limited success and it took so much of my energy that we only did it this one year.

Imagine my surprise when, seven years later, M came to visit the DP teacher's lounge at lunchtime with an invitation for me to come watch her get her GED at Grossmont Adult School. My heart leaped up that she had gone on to TCB on her own, coming to the realization (at age 20) that this was better done sooner than later. (NB: she invited me, not her regular teachers, to the event, although many of them were sitting right there as she asked me. I felt she had given me a crown or a Major Award in singling me out. It was awkward, but while embarrassed, I felt honored and touched to my core.)
This Major Award is also awkward and embarrassing. 

I had never been to an adult school graduation and had no idea what to expect. It wasn't like other graduations I'd been to. It was small, for one thing; there were far more graduates than guests, even though guest seating was limited and some had to stand. The air somehow smelled a little bit like privation and the crowd was weathered and worn after the long day's work. Love was there, and all kinds of pride. The teachers in particular stood out to me, relentlessly positive, faces beaming, full of the stories that their students had told them of broken pasts healed, language and learning obstacles surmounted, wasted time redeemed, aimlessness turned to purpose, goals achieved, new goals set. The students themselves were full of hope and encouragement; one grad's mortarboard's glittered message: "I'm a g-ma--if I can, U can!"
Much nicer than the glitter of the grandma graduating--but the idea is the same.
BTW, the g-ma looked to be around 50 years old; that told part of her story.
It was the best graduation I've ever been to, better than the Harvard commencement address in Latin (which was hilarious because the student kept slipping into commonly used Latin words and phrases and into Pig Latin so the non-Latin speakers understood his gist) or the 1997 address by Madeleine Albright.
A great speech, sure, but Phillip's made me cry.
It was a validation of the human spirit, of the old saying that you're never too old to start, or it's not how you start but how you finish and dozens more old sayings about tenacity.

And watching beautiful M shake hands, taking pictures of her like mad, I wondered if it was also a validation of that long ago program that we'd jettisoned.
Beautiful M shakes hands, ready for the next step in Life
Or maybe it was a testimony to time given, to high expectations, to the influence of relentless attention, to the power of relationship. September is coming, and while I do love my summers and, like a proper Beach Boy look forward to my Endless Summer, I can pick up my new teacher year with a renewed sense of faith in the power of Love, knowing that while we teachers do not usually get to see the direct outcome of our efforts or caring, we do not love in vain.

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