June 1st, 2007 goes down as one of my most wonderful days of being a teacher. As I sat quietly and listened as the names for graduation were read, I actually had to look twice… twice to the program and twice to the stage. Walking across was a young man that I hadn’t seen in three and a half years. He entered my classroom as a 15 year old 8th grader with near perfect attendance, honor roll grades and a smile. After it was evident that he was beyond the middle school, I looked into his file and spoke at length with him about how he ended up with three years of a two year middle school program. The story was long and lackluster, but the end result was a young man clearly ready to move onto the high school, but stuck in the middle. The dropout rate for Hispanic boys in the community is embarrassingly high and I knew that if he didn’t get going in the high school, his chances were getting worse by the day.
I set about trying to get him moved to the high school… and this is not an easy task. The high schools do not want to take these students for a variety of reasons. It took awhile, but I kept pushing and he was allowed to move to the high school at semester. Fast forward three and a half years… there he was crossing the stage in a cap and gown. After the hats were thrown and the balloons let go, I worked my way to the floor to shake hands with former students. Seeing this particular one was high on the list of ‘must sees’. I tapped him on the shoulder, shook his hand, gave him a hug and let him know how proud I was of him… but could hardly get anything out because he spun towards his Mom and said, “Mom, this is the one… this is the teacher that got me into high school”. At which point his mother snapped a picture of the two of us. It was over in a second as the throngs of people pushed and pulled to get close to their grads. Short and sweet never made more sense than in that instant.