The last couple weeks of school are the ones in which I find myself channeling my late father most. Aside from being a pretty funny guy, my dad was prone to great waves of emotion, getting misty at what seemed like the drop of a hat. "Stars and Stripes Forever" would make him bawl like a baby. Perhaps it is no wonder that I found my eyes getting wet as I watched Robert, a fifth grader, belt out Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man" to an adoring elementary school audience. They clapped and sang along. They waved their hands in the air. As he completed each verse, his confidence and volume increased until he reared back and hollered into the microphone to bring the house down. And I was holding back the tears.
It's been a long year. It's always a long year, but this one seemed tougher than some others. Kids and teachers have used up their collective patience by the middle of May, but somehow when it was time for our annual Multicultural Talent Showcase, we all found some love for the kids who got up on stage and gave it their all. As I watched these kids appear on stage, I had years of recollections with which to filter each song and dance. I thought of kids who had come and gone. I thought about my own moments on the stage. I looked out into the sea of little faces and wondered who might be up there next year. I choked back another sob.
And then came promotion: fifth graders break forth from the protective cocoon of elementary school, and kindergarteners prepare to make room for the next group. This year I was busy teaching one last group of first graders, so I missed the ceremony, but I heard that I was remembered in at least a couple of the parting reflections from these boys and girls, most of whom I had seen come from that first promotion into first grade and were moving on to middle school with some sense of from whence they came. Junior's mom brought me a shell necklace. "Junior wanted you to have this," she told me, "Thank you." I knew how deep the respect his family has for me. I've taught brothers and sisters and cousins for all these years, and now Junior was moving on.
I told her, "Thank you." I was going to say more about how I appreciated her supporting her children and how it takes a village and it all starts at home and how I was sure that Junior was destined for great things. But I didn't. I nodded and smiled. Then I wiped a tear from my eye. I thought of my father.