I’ve spent my entire life on an academic schedule, so you’d think I’d learn better.
As the sun begins to shine through the winter sky and spring buds its way into summer, the academic year meets its commemoration with all of the pomp and circumstance. Commencements carry the infinite promise of new life after graduation. As tassels are tossed and thresholds crossed, students transition to alumni, leaving the halls of academia for the walls of new careers. For students, the promise of tomorrow follows years of rigorous study and preparation guided towards limitless vocational paths. For educators, the excitement of watching students achieve their goals and accomplish their dreams are met with an annual lament of witnessing men and women you’ve come to know and love leave.
Now flirting with a decade in education, I’ve encountered countless students in various capacities from high school, college, and graduate levels. Through the years, I’ve been humbled to watch students in their first year of high school struggle with learning only to then complete doctoral degrees. I’ve seen men and women who hated attending class become teachers in their own classrooms. I’ve witnessed people who couldn’t distinguish between Hamlet and their Biology textbook become leaders in industries and owners of impressive businesses.
As a teacher, knowing the limitless potential possessed by my students is the inspiration to remain in the field. Nonetheless, each year as I witness bags being packed, final exams being returned, and degrees being conferred, my heart aches knowing that, for the most part, I will likely never see most of my students again.
Teachers are blessed with the opportunity to share life with their students. Over the years, teachers and students often spend more time together than with their respective families. In sharing life with students, educators often sacrifice time from their own lives to celebrate the countless achievements—awards, scholarships, championships, grants, and honors—of the students they mentor, teach, coach, counsel, love, and support.
For myself, as I gave to the men of Keenan Hall and previously to Saint Xavier, I often feel a tension between my vocation being fulfilled and my life being on hold. Waking up in the middle of the night to respond to a student in crisis or working late into a Sunday evening to plan for the week ahead, I felt God inspiring my work and calling me towards a greater purpose. While at the same time, I recognized that the passing hours meant more time away from friends I never met, sleep I’d never get, over time I’d never receive, and opportunities I’d never get back.
The tension between giving and receiving is real. In St. Francis’ famous pray, he accurately exalts, “In giving we receive.” For educators, this couldn’t be more true. Our professional career is built upon the principles of giving beyond our means and expecting nothing (especially in terms of fair wages) in return. We share our lives with our students. We laugh at their jokes, cry with their pains, and well up at their success. Our lives intertwine to the point that our dreams are often flooded by their cameos.
As students prepare to go out and live their dreams, a void in our dreams begins to open as we wonder what life awaits them once they cross the stage. The “Congratulations” and “Good Lucks” are often paired with weighted, “See you later,” which more truthfully means “Good-Bye.” Over the years, those goodbyes have become easier to say, but, in truth, there are always a handful of students that don’t make the goodbyes easy. It is those students who, for years, I will wonder who they will become, if they will remain healthy, what good they will bring into the world, and if they realize that they too taught me something.
To my students (past, present, and future): I offer you my sincere gratitude; I extend a pride-filled congratulations; and, I express my fond farewell!
May you always know that you will forever be remembered as my student, and I look forward to when our paths cross again.