From Gib Fitzpatrick, a teacher at Durham Academy:
I am a 48-year-old man, and graduations make me cry. Eighth grade and 12th grade are the ones I see every year, but the age doesn’t matter. Happens every single time.
Most people would be embarrassed to admit that, but I’m not. For one thing, they always happen in early June, after I’ve been pummeled by the month of May. My mom died in late May, 1993, a few days before her 50th birthday. Throw in Mother’s Day, and those three milestone reminders make it a tough 31 days.
As an eighth grade teacher and coach, I also have to say goodbye to 100 kids with whom I’ve shared most of my time and energy over the previous ten months. They leave my campus and become different people, but when I see them cross the stage four years later, they’re still 14 years old to me. I can feel the emotion welling up, every year.
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During one of my mom’s last cogent moments, a few days before cancer finished taking her life, I read her a letter I had just written to her. One of the things I wrote was that I had always been embarrassed by how easily I would quickly choke up in emotional situations. Strong feelings would surface and take me over quickly and unexpectedly. I was sappy, and it had always bothered me.
But what I had realized in those last few days of her life was that those strong emotions were a gift she had given me. She was sappy, too, and I loved her for it. I told her that every future time I’d get goosebumps or shed tears, I would know it was her way of coming back to me, even if just for a moment.
I think that’s why I am still a teacher. I entered this profession thinking that it would be a fun job for a while, but that I’d go to grad school and get a “real” job eventually. That’s what others expected of me – I had graduated at the top of my high school class, won awards and scholarships, graduated from a prestigious university, etc. At reunions, former classmates would ask me why I was “only a teacher.” You certainly can’t get rich teaching, right?
Well, I’ve learned that it depends on your definition of wealth. I can’t imagine any profession filled with more emotional moments than spending workdays with 13- and 14-year-olds. And by the time graduations roll around, complete with hugs, thank-yous and good-byes from the kids and their parents, all of those moments resurface for me.
So when you go to a graduation and see the guy with tears on his cheeks, goosebumps on his arms, and a big old grin on his face, that’s me with my mom. Feeling like the richest man on earth.