Saturday, June 22, 2013

My Four Graduates

Today is Graduation Day for the high school in which I work, and I always attend when I have students taking that last, glorious walk up to the podium to acknowledge their accomplishments.  This year I have two current and two former students of mine walking the walk and I couldn't be prouder. I have histories with each of these four kids and for me as a teacher, watching them graduate high school having battled against all of the odds stacked up against them, gives me a feeling of satisfaction like no other.  Here's a little background on my four graduates:

Former Students

That's Rommel to my right, with Jonathan and Kevin, 
the students of my first elementary ESL class


I first met Rommel when he was 8 years old.  It was my first year as an ESL teacher and he was one of my first students, a third grader.  Rommel and I have had an on again/off again kind of relationship ever since, and I'm happy to say that after several years of an uncomfortable separation, we've come full circle and I will be there cheering him on today.

You see, when Rommel reached 5th grade, another teacher had been hired full time in the elementary school and I left for the secondary school full time.  Before that I had been the only full timer, teaching three classes in each school.  I had made the move in January, the middle of the school year.  When Rommel reached 7th grade and was in my school, I reached out to him, making sure he knew he'd still be a part of our family, but after only one or two visits, he stayed away.

That smarted a bit, but only a year or two ago, he started making short forays again into my classroom, along with some of my students he'd become friends with.  And this year, maybe because he knew the end was near, he's really come around, spending more and more time with us.  Just a couple of months ago, he told me how hurt he had been way back when I'd 'abandoned' him.  I hadn't realized how my move had affected him.  Once I did, however, I became filled with a sense of both understanding and relief, and was only too happy that he and I had come full circle and that somehow I had made a difference in his life.

Rommel, I want you to know that I am happy for this and that I am also proud to have been a part of your life for the better.  Congratulations buddy!

Can and I in Central Park, NYC


Can (pronounced "John") is an affable, quick-learning Turk who will probably be in my life in some capacity for a long time to come.  He first came into my class at the age of about 13.  He was in the 8th grade, and what I remember most about Can back then was that he always had a smile on his face and he was fiercely proud of his country.  During many a class discussion, he would throw in a "did you know that Turkey was the first to..."  Lol.

Can really learned English quickly and he exited my program a few years ago.  But that doesn't mean that he disappeared from my class.  No, even right up to the end he was in my classroom practically every day, either for help with an essay or just to hang around.  He took a college level culinary arts class this year and treated me with many a surprise delicacy.  Thanks buddy!

Can has become more Americanized than most of my students, learning both the pleasantries and not so great things about our culture, especially materialism, but it's all good.  A couple of years ago, other students found out his other given name was Mohammet, and they thought it was cool, so one day he comes into my classroom and says to me, "my name is not Can, it's Mohammet!"  Yeah, right!  I refused to call him that, not for any other reason than I'd always known him as Can.  Besides, his family calls him Can, too!  

Can was the student who spoke up at the Board presentation I did back in February and got everyone all worked up into a love fest (see A Blissful Validation).  He'll be going to St. John's University in the fall and I couldn't be happier for him.  Way to go Can!  I'm so proud of you!

My Current Students

Me and Missael, December 2012


Missael is the one student who's been with me the longest.  This quiet, reserved young man from Guatemala first came to me when he was in the 7th grade and he took a long time to learn English, so long that I even left him to repeat 7th grade in his second year.  But time and perseverance eventually won out and I am still amazed when I have a conversation with him today, his proficiency has improved so much.

Missael is somewhat of a loafer, and I've spent many a frustrating time trying to get him moving.  He came into this year having to pass two state exams, one in English and one in US History, which made for some very tense moments over the last month or so.  To his credit, though, Missael put his head down and got to business, even giving up two weekends to do so, and I am so proud to say that he made it!  That was one of the happiest phone calls I've ever had to make.  Awesome job Missael!  I am so proud of you!

Yunus, me and Eli on Nerd Day


Eli is the sweetest, prettiest and hard working students I've ever known.  Having come to the US only two and a half years ago and in the 11th grade, Eli's path to graduation was monumental.  She had to not only learn English, but pass four out of five state exams to boot.  And to top it off, this young lady's life has been besieged by tragedy, having lost her brother to violence earlier this year back in Guatemala.

For the past three years, Eli has been voted as both the 'Hardest Working' and 'Best Friend' in our annual polling for the ESL Awards, a testament to her character.  Eli had to pass three exams this year, another monumental task, and with hard work and tenacity from the get-go, I am so proud to say she did it!  Eli, I've been rooting for you for almost the past three years and I could not be any happier and more proud of you!

So this is my testament to four youngsters who've all come from faraway places to live the American Dream. I cannot emphasize enough how much I admire them for all they've accomplished in such a short period of time, having had the difficult task of learning our language while at the same time having to meet the rigors of our educational system.  I hope that today is not a finish line, but a jumping board for even better times to come for Rommel, Can, Missael and Eli.  They deserve all the happiness in the world and I'll be rooting for them all the way!

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