Saturday, May 27, 2017

"In these trying times..."




Good morning colleagues! I am sitting on my parents' couch, back in Iowa, drinking a cup of coffee on a terribly foggy morning. I am in town for my nephew's graduation from high school... my nephew who was born when I was a little freshman in high school. I'm just getting all the feels!



My nephew attended a local public high school (of course, rival to my high school - Go J-Hawks!) that went through some notable public turmoil over the last two years. As a teacher, I was blown away by what happened. As a former resident, I didn't know the principal or the entire situation, but I knew enough to know that his forced resignation was devastating to the students. He was someone that built relationships with EVERY SINGLE STUDENT in the building of 1600 kids.. The class of 2017 made a decision about their graduation celebration - they did not want to hear a speech from the superintendent, but instead wanted to hear from the people they loved and admired. The students led the graduation, had the interim principal and counselors speak, and they voted on a keynote speaker. The class of 2017 chose Stacey Walker, Washington alum, and the current Linn County District 2 Supervisor.

This is Stacey Walker. Unfortunately, I had to steal this image from Twitter because there is NOT a creative commons sourced image of him! This is not at all surprising as he is from Iowa. *begin sarcasm font* Nobody famous is from Idawahio, right? *end sarcasm font* As I am sitting in the LONGEST graduation I have ever sat through to support my nephew (and I'm silently making fun of the teachers sitting next to the graduates), this man gets up to speak. My niece and I look at his speech and immediately roll our eyes. It is two pages long, single spaced, with what looks like 10 point font.

But when he opened his mouth, my niece said, "He sounds like Barack Obama!" And that he did. I was instantly engaged, impressed, and inspired! What blew me away, even more, was that he graduated from high school in 2006 FOUR YEARS after me.

Even though I have one day left of just teacher check-out, I wanted to inspire the rest of you through your remaining school year. I want this speech to remind you WHY you teach and HOW you influence and motivate your students every day.
This opportunity has caused me to revisit my formative years. Not just those glorious four years I spent in high school, but the time leading up to it as well. I was born to a single mother who raised me and my younger sister on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids... These were the places others referred to as the ghetto. We relied on food stamps and food drives, and other welfare programs just to get by... When (my mother) left that day, I would never see her again... After learning of her death, my sister and I went to live with our grandmother... I stand here today because she lived. 
It is important that I share my story with you this afternoon - the stories of the people whom I hold dear - because I hope you'll do it too one day. I hope that you will pay homage to those in your life - parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, and friends - who helped to get you to this point. No one can do it alone. We all had a little help getting here, and we all will need a whole lot more going forward. 
When you go from place to place, you will be encouraged by friends and caring adults to pursue noble careers... However, I implore you: seek the path that sets your soul on fire. Pursue your truth and your passions, and do good by others in the process, and surely, your life will be one of purpose and satisfaction... (w)e should recommend career paths that align with our values and our passions...
How do we make this happen... The answer is you. All 278 graduating seniors are here today and your peers across the country will soon have the opportunity to put your smarts and your energy to good use and make an impact on your community... Your partisan affiliation will never matter as much as the content of your character. What matters most is what's in your heart.
In these trying times, you are the greatest hope for a better future... We will rely on your curiosity and idealism which will lead to great discovery... This work is difficult. But no one here is asking for a break. That's not what Warriors do. We don't pray for easier lives. We pray to be made stronger women and men. We don't seek easy answers or cliched wisdom. Instead, we seek the challenge of the impossible...  
There is more work to be done in this imperfect world, and we're all relying on you. Let your thoughts - the chief glory of man - and your heart - the vital organ of morality - light your path, forever. 
Go forth, dream big, work hard, and change this world for the better.

"Be the change." I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website