My first batch of freshman are graduating from high school on Monday. I feel a special attachment to this class. After all, they taught me more about teaching in that first year than I learned in 4.5 years of college. I'm sure many teachers can attest to that.
I've been lucky enough to go camping with some of those babies from my first class.
Obama is their commencement speaker, so of course, they are running around the school with giddy smiles and Obama t-shirts. They are coming into my classroom with open house invites and senior pictures, making sure that I post them in a prominent place. They are coming into my classroom with super short shorts and an attitude because they don't care if they get in trouble for having their butt cheeks hanging out. After all, they are graduating. They don't care! I remember the feeling.
But I am not really thinking about all of that stuff. Over the last few weeks I've learned something else from a seventeen year old senior that I feel compelled to write about.
I met this student when I subbed for many of her eighth grade classes and got to know her well through her freshman year in my English class. She is a gifted girl. She's been through some rough times, but she's tough. She's one of those girls who won't cry in front of you. She won't take handouts from you. She used to bristle a little when I hugged her (I'm one of those huggy teachers... no apologies). Instead, she might just come at your with her claws out.
This girl flourished despite all of the roughness. She thought it was cheesy when I said it over and over, but she had it pounded into her head that she could get out of this town with her high school diploma and Kalamazoo Promise.
Five years later. August. I was getting my classroom ready for the incoming freshman. She sauntered in, as usual, and gave me a hug (she grew into the hugging). She sighed and paced around a little. She sat down. She stood up. I had to ask.
"What is with you?"
"I have to tell you something."
"Well, out with it."
"Well, you're not going to like it."
"Just say it. Although I will say that if you tell me you are pregnant, I will probably be pretty pissed off."
"Um, I'm pregnant."
"Are you mad?"
"No. Do you need anything? A pickle? Isn't that what preggos like?"
We laughed. And that was it. I went home and cried a little bit because I wanted her to get out of this town and move on. But everything happens for a reason.
A few months later, she came in with the baby's ultrasound. She pointed out something weird sticking up in the picture, but said that it was how she knew he was a boy.
A week later, she told me the "something weird" in the ultrasound was a birth defect called Gastroschisis, which means that his intestines and other organs developed outside of his abdomen. We googled it and in the image search saw that his organs were in something that looked like a sack on his stomach area. She talked about him going into surgery after he was born and the doctors putting everything back in. There was a plan.
Her stomach grew. She was tired, but she felt happy and secure, although sometimes she felt a little pudgy. In February she went into labor prematurely and I got a voicemail:
"Miss Younggggg, I'm at the hospital."
She is a trip.
I'm not going to go into too much detail, but he was born and put immediately into Neonatal ICU. Things were not going well from the start.
A few weeks ago, I found out through a friend who is also close with her that the prognosis was not good. She wanted me to come in and meet him.
So I did. It was heartbreaking.
He died last week. And she has remained strong. This seventeen, almost eighteen year old girl has taught me what true strength is. She came into my room today to tell me when the service would be and that "I was not allowed to wear black." We sat and talked about what's going on and how to get everything together for the next few days. She said she didn't have anything to wear for the service. I told her to get into my car and we would go to the store right then. She refused. No matter what, she never takes handouts, even when I tell her she can just pay me back someday. Her strength never wavers. I admire her immensely.