Class of 2020: I loved being part of your ‘wild, precious life’

  • New Hampshire Teacher of the Year Heidi Crumrine works with ninth graders in her English class at Concord High School in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor columnist
Published: 6/11/2020 1:42:16 PM
Modified: 6/11/2020 1:42:04 PM

To the seniors at Concord High, and seniors everywhere, I have a question for you. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver asks this question in her poem, “The Summer Day” and it seems like a perfect time to ask you the same.

Here you are on the precipice of adulthood in the middle of a pandemic. You have lost all of the traditional rites of passage that you expected, your launch into adulthood is currently being called into question, and you are probably wondering if you’ll ever move out of your parents’ house.

When you were 5 years old and your parents took you to kindergarten, they were weepy (I can say this, because I’ve done it three times), they were nostalgic, and they were already envisioning your graduation from high school. They visualized you in your cap and gown, walking across the stage, waving to them, and they cried.

What would it feel like to see their sweet baby-faced 5-year-old cross a graduation stage? What would happen in all of those years between the now of the kindergarten drop-off and the seemingly far away now of graduation? They blinked and now here we are, and this is not what they imagined. And it is not what you imagined, either. But you know what? That’s okay. Let me explain.

Our current reality could be no greater metaphor for you for what life is really about. Things come out of nowhere and change everything you thought you knew. You can’t plan for it. What you thought was real turns out to be just an illusion and what becomes your reality is what you could never have imagined. However, in the mess of it all, it’s still your wild and precious life, and you still have the power to do something with that messiness and turn it into something that matters. You still have the power. That’s what matters.

I first met most of you when you were in the seventh grade at Rundlett. I had been teaching English at CHS for several years, had been on an extended maternity leave, and was offered a one-year opportunity to teach an extra literacy class at Rundlett. At that moment in my family life it was the perfect decision. I accepted the position excited about the chance to do something different. I just didn’t fully realize how much you, my students, would capture my heart and remind me what it is I love about teaching: You. When the year came to a close and I prepared to return to CHS, I was already excited for when our paths would cross again when you came to the high school.

There are so many things that I remember about you. Like the day in mid-September when one of you (I wish I remembered who it was), came up to me and said, “I just lost a tooth.” What?! I hadn’t had a student lose a tooth in my class in years. In that moment I realized that you were young, you were impressionable, and you were mine.

I remember when Lauren came to me and said, “Why is my brother so weird? He used to be normal.” I replied, “Sweetie, he’s a seventh-grader and he’s a boy, which means this is normal. It’s okay; you’ll meet him again in a few years.”

I remember when Laurel and Megan and Maya and Alison signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and came to eat lunch with me while we talked about the novels we hoped to write someday. No one actually wrote one, but we shared ideas, we shared excitement, and we created community. I still believe that, someday, we might write those novels.

I remember when Faida came to me after every book she finished and said, “Okay, what should I read next?” I remember when several of you in homeroom taught me how to use my selfie stick. I remember when I let you spray paint my hair pink in memory of a student who had recently died. I remember when we made motivational notes and taped them to the lockers of every sixth-grader in the building.

At the end of our year together, I returned to CHS to teach English, but I always carried you and our year together with me. When you came to CHS for “move up day” a year later, I was so excited to see everyone that I interrupted your tour, and an administrator, who happened to be my husband, told me to settle down and let you finish the tour. We giggled and shared silent eye contact. At home that night I said to him, “I’m not sorry I interrupted the tour. They’re special to me.”

I remember going to your guidance counselors in your first few weeks of ninth grade and telling them about each of you. You don’t know this, but I went through the entire ninth-grade class list and told a story about each of you. I felt protective of you. I told them about you. I told them your stories. I found you in your English classes and told your teachers about you. I just love you. It’s that simple.

Here’s the thing. Most teachers don’t get to teach a group of students and then see them again a few years later. Normally, you are ours for a year, and then we have to let you go. We hope that you remember us, we hope that you take what we have taught you, and we hope that you will make our world a better place. But we don’t get to see you again.

So, I have been excited for your graduation for over six years. You’re the only class I have ever taught who I knew when you were 12 and on the cusp of adolescence, and who I then got to know when you are 18 and on the cusp of adulthood. You are special to me because I got to keep you for just a bit longer. I was excited to come to your celebration and know that I had taught nearly all of you. That I knew you as you when you were just 12 years old, and look at you now! You’re going out to change the world.

And now it’s not going to happen in the way that we had imagined. We don’t get to give you the sendoff that you deserve. So here’s what I want you to know. We love you. All of us. All of your teachers from kindergarten to your senior year. Individually and collectively, we believe in you.

We want you to have a graduation, to have a big celebration, to have that big moment when you walk across the stage in front of your entire class, your teachers, and your families. But we know that you don’t need it. You’re bigger than the stage. You’re bigger than a prom, than senior skip day, than the senior prank, and all of the other fun things that you watched everyone who came before you get to do. Yes, it’s okay to be disappointed. Yes, this is your first rite of passage, but it is not your last. You are smart and compassionate and caring and your lives do not need to be framed by what didn’t happen for you, but rather what you make happen for others.

So what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? I hope that it is to go out and do great things. When you feel overwhelmed or when you feel far from home, consider the words of Paulo Coehlo from The Alchemist: “When you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.”

All of your teachers in the Concord School District know that you have what you need to be able to move forward. The world is waiting for you. We’ve believed it all along – it’s time that you believed it, too. Be brave. Be kind. And never forget where you come from.

(Heidi Crumrine, the 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, teaches English at Concord High School.)

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