I recently spoke to crowd of about six hundred people, in a really bad Russian accent. Or maybe it was German. Nepalese, maybe?
“Ven I am gettink nervooz… und belief me, mine darlinks, I am verry verry nervooz zis evenink… ven I am nervooz zee accents, zey get all jumblink up, und zat izt never und good idea!”
My only hope is that there were no Russo-Canadians in the audience, to be offended by my mangling of the Mongolian tongue… or whatever it was. It was Grad night at Liverpool Regional High School. A foreign accent seemed to suit the occasion.
Don’t ask why.
I was the Guest Speaker, and no one was the Boss-ah-me. That’s not entirely true… it was suggested that I should avoid profanity, which I successfully did, but despite a valiant effort on my part one wiener joke did slip out. It seemed to be expected of me.
The Class of 2015 holds a special place in my heart, because I love them. I don’t know why… they are every bit as hormonal, smelly, sassy and frustrating as any group of teenagers I’ve ever taught before, but these ones? Well, they just seemed to crawl under my skin, close to my heart, like one of those pig valves they use to keep people alive. This group of kids has kept my teaching soul alive.
Some of them started out their grade 10 year hating me. Fer realz.
There were the Cell Phone Confrontations of 2012. There was the Hat Hostility of 2014. The Homework Hassle and the Absenteeism Altercation and the Deadline Disaffection. There was that really bad day when I googled “Jobs That Aren’t Teaching”, but decided I’m not really suited to any other career unless it involves cantaloupes and monkeys.
I actually said that to these kids.
“I could have had a job working with cantaloupes, but I chose you people instead.”
I may, or may not, have also said: “Stay away from his crotchal region.”
High school is a complicated place. Sometimes we don’t just impart wisdom about the thesis statement, as grand as it is. Sometimes we dig deep and converse about the human condition, natural selection and wieners.
This particular group of kids struggled and thrived and wallowed and achieved and I took each one of them home with me every night. Fretting. Laughing. Shaking my head.
As Guest Speaker, I told the kids they were responsible for “building the landscape of the future”. I rather liked that. Metaphors, and all. I talked about finding the right people to “hold your ladder”. I performed a brief adaptation of the Fresh Prince theme song. I performed a technically perfect* Back Street Boys dance move. I cried a little.
“Now, more than ever before, you are equals. Regardless of how popular you were in high school, regardless of how good or how bad your marks were, or how many sports you played, or how many lates you accumulated, with a high school diploma in your hand, you are all ready to take on the world and define success in your own terms. Never before has the horizon been so broad. You are the people who will build the landscape of the future, and populate it with your dreams. The digital world is empowering you as never before, and your futures are not restricted by which school you go to, or which trade you choose, or how many scholarships you win on grad night.”
I was incredibly nervous as I began to speak, half-blind because I forgot to put on my glasses until well into page three of the ten page speech, but then I got warmed up and kinda wanted to hang out on stage all night. It’s nice, being surrounded by happy people stepping bravely toward their futures. But I got a little sentimental, and I think my makeup smudged and I had some snot issues. And the clock was ticking toward nine, which everyone knows is bedtime, so I ended with a metaphor. Metaphors make everything better.
“There’s a good chance that somewhere in your 18 years of life, you have learned that people are fallible. Someone has probably let you down in some small way, or in some huge way.
Get used to it, it’s probably gonna happen again.
But someone has also held you up. Someone has loved you, even at your most unlovable, even in your darkest moment, even when the world may have felt heavy on your shoulders. It’s on a night like tonight that I hope you can realize how insignificant those disappointments are, compared to the people who are holding your ladder.
Who is it, in this room, who has held your ladder? As you move forward into your large and rowdy lives, remember this moment. Let go of the disappointments, they are insignificant. Learn from them, but don’t let them lie in your bed with you at night. Embrace love, celebrate love. Cherish your people.”
It’s always sad to see a class go. We spend so much time with them, and watch them grow and change so much over their three years in our care, it’s always bittersweet to see them leave, knowing that phase of their lives is over. Teachers miss the class as a whole, and the individuals who make us crazy… the Jordans and Tylers, the Kelseys and Michaelas, the Lizzys and Deenas.
His name isn’t actually Jeffrey, I just have trouble with J names. How many J names do we teach in the run of a year? A lot. I would make a personal request to all new parents to avoid J names. Please. And thank you. I also have a problem remembering M names, and R names. Take that into consideration also.
Jeffrey was probably the only person in the room who understood this wee phrase:
“Some will write code, make laws, heal, teach, weld, build, breed, design, become an internet youtube star who throws knives at origami cranes whilst speaking German in tight lederhosen…”
But I guess that’s what it’s all about. The individual, and the whole, and the building of landscapes.
And really bad foreign accents.
“Mine darlinks, I luff you. Go forte und build zee landzcapez off zee future. Metaphors be with you.”
Congratulations, Liverpool Regional High School Class of 2015.
Be the one!
*(when I say a “technically perfect Backstreet Boys Dance move”, I actually mean “an embarrassing flailing of arms reminiscent of Kermit the Frog”. But, whatev’.)
You HAVE to watch this video the kids made! It’s my fave!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1JGM1sAMgY&feature=youtu.be