Graduation and illumination happen

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“How do you do it?” Brian Crocker asked. “How do you invest so much energy in these students when seniors leave every spring?”

Crocker and I were both attending Pelham High School’s Band Banquet for our daughters. His daughter is a freshman and mine is a senior. His questions were interrupted by the awards voted on by the band’s members.

Annually, a student is named “Most Likely to be Mr. Ward.” There are many awards, but this one was my favorite of 2017.

“Usually, that award goes to a student interested in studying music education,” Band Director Justin Ward told me later. These very literal PHS students chose PHS Junior Ashton Ward as the student most likely to be Mr. Ward.

Eventually, I answered Crocker; however, I think my response was incomplete. There are reasons why I celebrate graduation as a victory for my students each year.

If we’ve done our jobs thoroughly as teachers and parents, seniors are ready for their next steps. They can write well, read closely, think critically and launder clothes that retain their original color.

Hopefully, we’ve taught them to disagree without judgment, to set personal boundaries without infringing on the rights of others and to dream in proportion to the amount of hard work that they’re willing to invest in their dreams.

After graduation, social media allows students and teachers to stay connected. I am able to keep up with my former students, see their accomplishments, delight over their successes and pray for their concerns.

I invest my energy into my students because that investment is the essence of teaching. Celebrated American poet and teacher Theodore Roethke said that teaching is “as ephemeral as dance” and “what is left after all the reading and thinking and reciting.” He said that teaching is “the residue, the illumination.”

Roethke and I agree. I teach because investing in my students creates illumination that those students carry into the future. Investing energy in students brings me great joy. I celebrate graduation for what the ceremony represents—students going into the world to share their light.