Do you remember your last week? I remember feeling privileged because we got to depart a week early. I walked into one teacher’s class to say goodbye and already felt superior to the suckers who had to endure a few more lectures. On graduation night, I marched from my seat to the pit to play my trumpet with concert band one last time. After, we drove to a beach on Lake Michigan, where, out of character, I downed a few beers. Later that night, my friends insisted I was making out with a girl I’d always liked, but I didn’t remember and was never sure if they were pulling my leg, which could be why I’ve never been much of a drinker because I don’t want to miss out.
On Thursday, seniors had their traditional brunch at a posh banquet hall, where they heard teacher Mike Bruce deliver an inspiring farewell and watched Fremd’s version of the recent lip-dub phenomenon, coordinated by teacher Gina Enk, who should be given some kind of teacher of the universe award. As students filed out, seniors asked Bruce and Enk and me to sign their yearbooks and pose for pictures with them. It was one of those moments when you scratch your head and think, Who has a better job than we do?
On Wednesday, in class, I had shipping labels ready for each student with my yearbook wishes printed on them. This was the most efficient method of signing yearbooks I’ve ever used and wished I’d have thought of this earlier. Then I passed out blank half sheets so they could write “yearbook” comments to me. I plan to bind these at Kinko’s and then read them on a lawn chair on the first sunny day once school lets out in a week.
Since Wednesday was seniors’ last school day, I wanted to leave them with parting words, for which I’m always at a loss. I wrote them a note instead, which I’ve pasted below.
On the last day of school, I’m compelled to impart jewels of wisdom that you can carry with you for the rest of your rich, long lives, but words always fail me. I’m not a big-moment kind of guy. Every moment is important, isn’t it? Sure, some may be more memorable than others, but even the everyday exchanges have a texture all their own. I’m probably merely justifying my paucity of profundity. See what I did just there. Used big words to make it seem like I was saying something profound. But wisdom comes in simplicity.
So what simple wisdom can I impart? What secrets can I unveil? Not much, I’m afraid. If I haven’t said anything during the entire school year worth filing away, I don’t think I’m going to be any more successful on the last day. You will discover your own truths, your own wisdom, much of which you have already found and shared, and I for one am grateful for your generosity.
As for highlights of the year, all of mine involve moments when you were front and center and shared your creativity and insights. Thanks for your hard work, for your enthusiasm, for your award-winning role-plays, for your willingness to abandon your usual decorum during demonstrations, for laughing at my lame jokes, and for much much more.
As I ride off into the sunset—a stupid metaphor for a boy who grew up in the city and who lived most of his adult life in suburban neighborhoods covered in asphalt and concrete—I think about what I will miss most. And that’s you, of course. Being in the classroom, exchanging ideas. There’s nothing else quite like that. Believe it or not, you will miss this too once you’re finished with college. But I will also miss the chance to begin anew each year. Because each August brings with it opportunity, one more chance to get it right, to do it better. And the only way to arrive at better—in school, in marriage, in parenthood, in whatever—is to embrace risk. Following the safest route leads to ruts and fear and gastrointestinal concerns. I said I’d send you off to discover your own truths and sneaked in one of my own, didn’t I? Sorry. Sometimes I can’t help myself.
Throughout the year I’ve been reflecting on our time together in a blog I keep for posterity. If interested, you can access this at tonyromanoauthor.com. A few of you have already stumbled across my site and graciously commented from time to time, but I didn’t want to broadcast the blog for fear that it might make you too self-conscious.
Feel free to keep in touch. On my site. On Facebook, after you graduate. On Twitter, though I rarely check that. On whatever new app emerges that will unite people from places distant. Then shut down, put away the stupid cell phone, and hug the person next to you—provided that person in not an IRS agent who is auditing you; or a cop pulling you over for speeding; or the old lady in the grocery store with the babushka on her head who sneers at you for taking too long to unload your cart, though she might actually need human contact. Enough. You’ll know who to hug.
And do good.