Sunday, May 2, 2010

Seniors


This is the day I remember we grow older.

I still think of you as children, but you are not, and never will be again. Young men and women, you are off to find your lives, and ride the train wherever it may take you. I will stay behind and keep the light on for others to follow.

The letter lay open on my desk. “I’m not a big fan of having people in my life for years at end and then all of a sudden completely cutting them out of my life as if they never meant anything to me, so I found it appropriate to write…”

This was a difficult year. Loss and loneliness. Change. The first year where the future was less than certain, and the truths fell to pieces. Everything, everything piled on, and many days, I did not think I would make it through, only to drive home in the gathering darkness and feel my own diminishing heart beat. I felt “time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” The dead of winter, empty trees, and nothing left to say. You were the first class that I ever lost my composure in front of, and in that moment, I felt you hold me up.

“These last four years in your class have been a pleasure. I really appreciate all that you have done for our class and for me. You have taught me to think outside of the box, and to question everything.”

Sometimes, I wonder if I teach you or is it you who teach me? Human beings teach each other what it means to be alive. I grow older, but I am kept young by you. You remind me of the hope and promise of those teenage years. You remind me of all the things left in our hearts to discover.

“This chapter of my life is over, and it’s time for the next one to begin. I am anxious for college to start. Fear of the unknown, right? But I can say that I have gained a confidence that is irreplaceable and I owe part of that confidence to you and your English class.”

You all wanted me to say something about each of you. Here goes:

Andrew, do not forget the mystery of flight, do not look down, do not let anything get in your way. Fly. And when you feel angry or discouraged, know that I believe in you, and that you have greatness inside.

Natalie, I never had to tell you to speak the truth; you are blunt and outspoken. Don’t be lazy; don’t sell yourself short. You are smart and you are capable of more than you know. Your words to your grandfather still make me cry.

Roselyn, I will miss your quiet strength, your resilience. Mount St. Mary’s will change your life and help you realize your dreams. Stick with it, and know that I am pulling for you.

Elda, I will miss our discussions. You are a deep thinker and a philosopher. You see the truth and you are persistent. I will lend you my camera anytime you want to see the world.

Chris, stop hiding in the shadows. You are smart, really smart. Step up and fight. I kept waiting for the moment when you would break out. It did not happen in my class, but I know what you can do, and so do you. Now do it.

Armen, you will be the first CEO with compassion and empathy for mankind. You will make money, lots of money, and you will reach your dreams. Just remember that poetry and capitalism can exist in the same soul.

Nyssa, you are a great writer. How many times have I said that since ninth grade? I loved reading your essays because of the way you said things. There you were, reading Shirley Jackson in my class. Nyssa, you always surprised me.

Nairi, I loved your passion. You were always part of the discussion, always with some insightful, thoughtful thing to say. Somewhere in the future, I see you arguing a case, making a statement, fighting for a cause. Keep fighting.

Rafi, yes, you have matured since ninth grade. I always thought you were joking with me. This year, though, I saw you for what you truly are: a serious, thoughtful man. Believe it or not, I really appreciated when you ask me how I was doing each day before class started. I think of the boy who lost his father, your strength; you are my hero.

Ashley, you almost were kept from being in my class. Thankfully, fate stepped in and here you are. I loved the way you would be silent, listening to everyone, and then raise your hand and just slay me with some incredibly insightful comment. I loved your razor-sharp truthfulness.

Narineh, I will forever see you as a dreamer. You were quiet in my class, but I knew you had strong opinions. I loved it when you shared them. I also knew that you were thinking because I could see it in the look in your eyes. There were so many facets to your character, and I feel I only saw a few of them.

Tamar, you infuriated me, challenged me, made me a better teacher. Strength should be your middle name. Thanks for the music and the recommendation. And thank you for being the strong and confident woman you are.

Serli, you entered my class a mature lady. You were integral to the class discussions, and I loved reading your work. Have a splendiferous, obsessively joyous, quantitatively spectacular life. In your writing, do not waste ink and always write what you feel. You did in my class, and that made all the difference.

Ani, the letter, the letter! Do you know, I sat at my desk after all of you left, and I just lost my equilibrium. You are right; I have not been myself these last months. But your words came at the perfect time. You are smart, tenacious, and you feel for others. Do not lose your compassion, your soul. I will remember you, too.

Talia, I thought your lecture to me about being more aggressive was so teacher-like. Your strength and intelligence will take you far, and I know you are capable of greatness. Your father would be proud, and if you would not mind, I will stand in for him and tell you that I am proud of you. Go get the world, girl.

Vatche, I drew strength from your words, your determination, your poise, your grace. I know you will find your dreams, and I will see you at the Festival of Books. Will you sign my copy of your book? Will you remember me? Thank you for being so wise.

“You are such a strong person for enduring the things you have in your life. I admire you for everything you have done and everything you continue to do.”

It is I who admire you, Ani.

I hope I have not let any of you down. I hope I have given you the best lessons, the best advice. I hope I have challenged you to think, to have opinions, to seize life by the throat.

Because while I was teaching you those things, you were teaching me.

“I remember you telling me that an essay or a book is a great one if years later you still remember the plot. I know you’re a good teacher because years from now I will still remember you.”

I remember when you entered my classroom in ninth grade. I remember our discussions, our arguments, and how sick of me all of you were at the end of eleventh grade.

This is the day for leaving, for moving on, for growing older, for realizing your dreams.

This is the first day of the rest of your lives.

This is the day I remember we must say goodbye.

11 comments:

Serli said...

Way to make me cry, Mr. Marin! Just when I thought my eyes had finally run dry. You have no idea how much you impacted all our lives - you certainly had an effect on me. Thank you for everything, truly, and hang in there! I can feel something fantastically stupendous, amazingly wonderful, and astoundingly marvelous coming your way. -Serli P.

Paul L. Martin said...

Thank you, Serli. Let's hope your intuition is right on the money.

By the way, the correct spelling is Mr. Mar'in. So ghetto!

Good luck with exams.

Anonymous said...

So I spend some time I should be spending studying for AP Government tomorrow reading your post and now I’ll spend some more time writing this. I’m not going to lie. A few of us were disappointed on Friday. Our final class was disrupted, we were taken to the auditorium, and asked to leave. I cried. A lot. Just because it felt like our time at school had amounted to nothing. I realized how much the school had changed and how much we in turn had changed. I also realized that the one thing that hadn't changed was your classroom remaining a free forum for us. It was the only place where we could all speak our minds and say what we wanted freely.

I doubt you’ll be staying behind. You have better things to do. We don’t belong at that school anymore and you don't belong in a classroom anymore.

Believe me. I know. I'm psychic.

Best of luck to you,

Elda

P.S Mr. Martin was the picture necessary? I mean REALLY!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6S9oqJRclo I've been listening to this since friday. i think you'll appreciate it if you haven't already heard it.

Vatche said...

I seriously don't know what to say, Mr. Martin. I'm at a loss of words, really. I can never really see a point in my life where I acted with "determination", "poise", or "grace." I've almost always been lost, asking others for directions, or on the lookout for signs. The only clear path that I've ever seen in my life was one that you sort of paved out for me.

The path created by you that was full of wisdom by not only authors, philosophers, and historians but your own stories. You showed me the path that was paved with words. The path that led me out of confusion. The path that led me to find my calling as a writer. And, I thank you for that.

If I ever publish a novel, a short story, or something, I'll be sure to have you get the first copy and sign it personally.

I will always remember you.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/opinion/02edmundson.html?pagewanted=1

Anonymous said...

Vatche! You can't write two paragraphs of meaningful and heartfelt words and say you're "at a loss for words".
-Rafi

Vatche said...

Well, Raf, when I read it, I was at a loss of words and then my fingers just kept on typing. What can I say?

Paul L. Martin said...

Thanks for the comments, one and all.

Elda, do not be too down about Friday. It was an emotional and difficult day, and yes, the call to the auditorium was not pleasant, but do not let that take away from your last days at school. As for belonging in the classroom, I know what you mean--you think I should be "graduating" too. Thing is, I have felt for 24 years that I do belong in the classroom, and if I left, I really do not know what I would do. I would miss the interaction with students, the books, the life of learning and teaching. So I don't think I will be leaving. It is difficult when you find what you are supposed to do with your life. Sure, no job is perfect, but I love teaching. Then again, who knows what the future holds, and your psychic insight is intriguing. The picture was necessary; it captures your bubbling personality.

Vatche, if that is the way you write when at a loss for words, I will look forward to the exegesis you will create when you are in the mood to compose. Thank you for your kind words. I really admire your calm, clear manner. So Zen, so centered. By the way, I love your blog and do not give it up.

Rafi, I love your dialogues with Vatche. You guys should start a blog of your conversations back and forth.

Take care all of you and good luck on your finals.

Whoever posted the Times article, I love Mark Edmundson. I reviewed his book on teaching a few years ago. Wise man and a good writer, and he did not start out as a stellar student, but a teacher changed his life. He is one to look up and read.

Thanks again, all.

La Brown Girl said...

What a beautiful post. This is what so many of us hope to have with our kids. You and your students are such an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Honestly Mr. Martin, I was very surprised to see this. I felt as if especially this year you were trying to disconnect from us, and we all noticed. The discussions in class were not as open and everything was drier, but every now and then we saw our old teacher pop out from behind the new mask. We would escape once again to the place that was a sanctuary. A place where we would not be afraid to speak because you showed us that it was okay to be vulnerable.

I really appreciate everything you have done for us, and the patience you showed throughout the years definitely made our class who we are today.

Thanks for everything Mr. Martin.

-Nairi

Paul L. Martin said...

Well, Nairi, it was not that I was trying to disconnect. In fact, literature, writing, and my students are the components and people I most want to connect with when I enter the classroom

The looming threat of the AP exam, and the pressure teachers are under to get everyone to pass, dictate the way the class must go. A lot is riding on how well you all do on the exam, for your future and your education. That puts a set of priorities on our classwork that must be served ahead of some of the tangent lessons and more personal discussions with which I engaged you in other years.

So no, there was no disconnect on my end. I was on a mission to cover the material you needed to score well on the AP exam and realize your goals and dreams in life. My job as a teacher is to help you open the doors of possibility for your future, and I would never want to fail in that mission.

Thanks for commenting and I appreciate your honesty.