It’s been almost two weeks and I still cannot believe I have finally graduated college. It has been a whirlwind of emotions and confusion, and I’ve really been struggling being stuck in this temporary limbo. So today I went through some old things to try to regain some sense of direction.
In high school, I had the same math teacher every year except junior year. His first year was my freshman year, taking over our honors algebra class when our original teacher went on maternity leave. At the end of sophomore and senior year he wrote us notes about our academic strengths and weaknesses. For those of us he carried through from the beginning, he wrote a bit extra and gave us all digital copies so we could always access them if we wanted to. Here’s what he wrote:
Academic Strengths: Intelligent, quick conceptual learner
Comments: The love of learning, sense of silliness and overall positive attitude that you bring to the classroom everyday has made it a joy to teach you over the last 16 months. I think that you are the first student who I remember from that first day substituting for Mrs. Hartshorn, as you brought your list of questions for me to answer about myself and nearly refused to go on with the lesson until I answered at least some of them. It has been my pleasure to watch you grow from that freshmen girl into the powerful young woman that you are today. Thank you for always remembering to take life as seriously as necessary, but no more so, and always remember… Gino lives in all of us.
Academic Strengths: intelligent, hard worker
Academic Weaknesses: hesitant to ask for help
Comments: It has been a pleasure to once again have you in class. There is a drive and thirst for understanding that you bring to everything you do. You are one of the most talented and capable students in your class, and NDA will be lesser for losing you next year, as Westfield State steals you away from us. My one piece of advice for you is to be less hesitant to ask for help and to remember to talk to people who can possibly make a difference in any situation in which you are having difficulty. You do not have to go it alone. Thank you for always being attentive and asking questions, even when it was clear that you would rather throw the book, and possibly me, out the window. You really were more of a contribution than you realize. Good luck next year. Oh, and by the way, you made a great Annie.
One of the reasons why I became a teacher was students like you who are such a pleasure to work with. You and I have gone through a lot together. It started with you and the other freshmen being so welcoming and open, and forgiving to a rookie teacher who had no idea what he had signed up for. You all made me feel at home, and I actually looked forward to honors algebra every day. You have no idea how much of a gift it was to look forward to coming to work everyday, especially after the dreadful experience I had had in my previous job. Thank you for always being supportive, even if you did not realize that was what you were doing.
Don’t tell Briana or her classmates, but it really was your algebra class, and you in particular, who convinced me that I had made the right choice. When I think back to that first year at NDA, you are usually the first one who I think of. It really was your enthusiasm and energy that had me fall in love with teaching. Thank you. I still see that enthusiasm, though it is tempered with a bit of worry and stress now. I hope that you never forget that exuberant freshmen girl who I met. She really was a wonderful person to get to know. I still see her occasionally, like when you danced at the fall ball with complete reckless abandon.
I have many memories of you throughout the years, but they are hard to put into words. One of my few regrets from your freshmen year was not attending the Wizard of Oz play. I have definitely enjoyed every performance since, especially your portrayal of Annie. My wife and I both thought that you did an excellent job of portraying a young, strong-willed, starry-eyed girl. You could almost believe that you were 12 in some of those scenes.
I will miss having you around NDA and occasionally popping in to grab a tissue when trying to avoid pre-calculus or after glee club. It won’t be the same during open houses without you showing people around. Who am I going to get to make a new birthday crown, or to remind me of Gino and burgermobiles? Who am I going to get who will be as passionate about earning every possible point during geometry court rebuttals?
Good luck at Westfield State. I am sure that you will do well in whatever field you finally choose, and I am proud to have been a small part of your journey.
With love and gratitude,
While the jokes and references I know won’t make sense to anyone who wasn’t in those classes, these notes reminded me of someone who I seem to have lost over the years. Obviously at 14 there’s far less to worry about than there is at 18 or 22, but it shouldn’t be so much that it takes away part of who you are. Unfortunately, my senior year of high school brought a serious and unexpected loss, and the shock and pain of it affected me through the rest of the year. It took away a silliness and brightness that I’d had when I was younger. It was a change I was aware had happened, but I needed time to mourn before I could be that person again.
I realize now, though, that I never worked to bring her back. While I definitely got closer to being that delightful, bubbly girl again when I started college, I still wore the same worry and stress, just about new things. While they were part of a mourning process in high school, these often plagued me in college because I cared too much what others thought about me or because I took on too much and couldn’t ask for help. Even though it was called out to me before I graduated high school, I have consistently still struggled to ask for help until it’s absolutely necessary.
Having finished college and started doing some serious job hunting, I can feel that worry and stress overwhelming my life once again. It isn’t even something I recognized as a problem until I found this note.
So I’ve set a new goal for myself (among many others that I will likely write about soon): be happy. I’m going to do my best not to let whatever comes my way these next few months take over the rest of my world. I have a lot of good going for me right now. I’ve got a lot of talent that I know is going to take me far once I find the right fit for a job. I want to bring back that person who made someone happy to come to work every day. I want to bring a sense of joy and silliness to the things I do. That, I think, is going to make this whole transition much more bearable than anything else I could do!