The Busy Giffs: To the Graduating Seniors

June 6, 2016

To the Graduating Seniors

I've been blogger for longer than I've been teaching and I've always kept them as two separate worlds. Other than the occasional time that I write "I teach" or "As a teacher", these are two very different worlds in my life. This year however, as I taught my seniors about digital literacy, I tied in blogging, and even talked a bit about how I monetize my blog, as well as some of the really fun opportunities it has afforded me.  As a vocational school, I am constantly pushing my students to think about both college and entrepreneurship. Why can't they run a car repair company while running a company blog and website? It opens up so many more avenues for them. It's also why I'm finding myself want to write about them, because there is this co-existence between my two worlds.

This weekend my seniors graduated.  Yes, my seniors. I'm claiming them. See, this class of students was special. In 2013, they made me a teacher. I started the year as a paraprofessional at the beginning of the 2012-2013 year, and in February 2013, I was offered a part time teaching position, teaching 2 classes of freshmen. It was only until the end of the school year, but they were my first real classes. We worked on expert projects and I learned that each student had more to offer to me than they would originally let on, but if I was respectful and honest with them, they would be respectful and honest to me. They made me a teacher.

The following year, I had a group of them as Honors sophomores. It was one of the best years ever.  I was pregnant with Tyler and at times could be emotional or easily annoyed and that group of kids just kept coming up with ways to make me happy.  Whenever I was out that year, trying to handle the super scary bleeding I was experiencing, I'd come back to 25 kids asking how I was, saying we could take it easy that day, asking if they could do anything to make my life easier. We read memoirs and then they wrote memoirs and in that classroom we shared stories of joy and loss, and we shared laughs and tears together.  Watching that group grow into one homogeneous unit further solidified that teaching was what I wanted to do. They taught me that being vulnerable can be the greatest connector in our world.

As Juniors,  I had 2 classes of them, almost 60 students, some I was seeing the the second time in their high school careers. I had a group of students who were vocal that school was not for them. A group that at times were cruel to each other. A group that made me cry some nights wondering why I couldn't help them more. But it was also the same group that cheered when they found out I was their teacher, the same group who drew me pictures a la 5 year olds to hang in my classroom next to my daughter's drawings, the same group who hugged me and said "I know I passed MCAS because of you". They taught me that sometimes those who are hardest to love, are the ones who need to be loved most.

As Seniors, I again had 2 groups but a new 2 groups from the year before.  I had students that I had had as freshmen or sophomores and again, that bond we had developed in the earlier years was still there.  We talked about the plight of man, anxiety, depression, and the point to our existence.  We read, and sometimes Sparknoted, books and answered the type of deep reading questions they would need to be able to answer to do well in college.  They shared their goals, and their fears, and by the end of the year, their life stories. Again, the vulnerability blew me away.  The respectful conversations about what our purpose of life might be, and sharing personal struggles with depression and anxiety, they gave me hope.  So many people write off their generation and yet, every day they showed me that while they often like to be lazy and on their cell phones, they can and will offer so much to our world.

I missed graduation.  My seniors' graduation. It killed me.  They are my kids, my forever kids. The thing about teaching is that once you've been in my classroom, you will forever be my kid. And graduation day has been that validation for me.  In the years past, it's been cards, hugs, even flowers, thanking me for getting them to graduation, thanking me for being an adult role model, thanking me just for understanding them.  And I missed it. I missed it for a great cause, but I still missed it so I need to share the words I want to share with them, because as I know, they're all "creeps" who search for me on Twitter and Instagram and will hopefully, now that they've graduated, find this.

To my Seniors,

I am sorry I missed your graduation, but as I've said before, graduation is only one day.  You have so much more ahead of you.  As you go on this journey to work or college, or wherever your feet may carry you, please remember the sage advice I've shared before:

There is more than one road to Boston. Sometimes you need to get there a different way than others have.  My road to teaching was very different than the road of your other English teachers, but in the end, I made it.  Whether it takes you 4 years or 7 years to accomplish your goal, make it. Whether you end up where you want to go by following one straight path, or if like me, you get blown off course a few times, keep going.  Get there.  Set that goal, get there, and don't let anyone make you feel bad for how you get there, unless of course you're cheating.

Plagiarism is bad. Don't use anyone else's stuff as your own.  Don't use their work as a replacement for your own, you are smarter and better than that. More than your work, don't become someone else. Don't use someone else's personality as your own. Be your own amazing, awe-inspiring person.

Keep going, it gets better. I've shared my own story with you before and if I had given up, I wouldn't have had the honor, and some days - frustration, of teaching you. As dark as it may be, it will get better.  The sun will shine again, even if it feels like you're stuck in a monsoon.  I am floored by your ability to keep going, whether battling your parents in court, surviving after the loss of your mother, living in a hotel or on a friend's couch, or walking into the same classroom as your personal bully. You amazed me very day at your ability to keep going. I promise, it will get better.  It may not be right away, and it may get worse first, but eventually, it gets better.

My days will be sad over the next few weeks without you.  Without the letters thanking me for our years together, without the laughter of the extraordinarily sarcastic group of men, without the Twitter beef updates, without the yelling of "Mrs. Giffffff" down the hallway, but my days will be better when I hear about your accomplishments and legacies.  I will always remember you, even when other classes try and replace you as my new Seniors. Like my own children, I am always here for you still, to celebrate your victories, to mourn your losses, and to edit one last paper.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Mrs. Gifford

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