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Portrait of a class in its last days

June 28, 2009 am30 11:20 am

My small school just graduated its fourth class. That makes seven years for me, seven classes both here and gone; 300 odd graduates, 280 current students, another incoming class of 100. I’ve known them all; I’ve taught the vast majority.

Class #4. Class of 2009. What was the matter with them? All of us were concerned from the end of their freshman year. And over time, they got worse.

They misbehaved in small, but very noticeable ways. They talked back and argued. “A students” earned A minuses and B students earned Cs. Too many of them failed courses “here and there.” Their collective homework ‘habit’ was suspect. They were chronically late. There was a developing “pack” mentality. We worried.

Going into senior year, this year, we looked down the list. Graduation numbers? We held our collective breaths, while calculating the worst. Ugly was possible. Ugly seemed likely. And by April? “Not ugly” started to look possible, but the more likely outcome was told by the numbers of 55s and 65s in required courses… deep breath…

But a few things happened, some counterweight. The behavior became a little less perplexing, less annoying. Last year’s “pack” was this year’s mutual caring and responsibility. And for a bunch of under-achievers (many, not all, fell into this general category), they were shooting the lights out with college acceptances. Last year’s behavior had become this year’s “personality.” And boy, they had personality. They were fun. Their trips were fun. They held together nicely. And it still beats the hell out of me how they did it, but they ended with our highest graduation rate ever.

I think I always liked them better than most of my colleagues did, but this year I adored them. And they pulled it together. And prom was wonderful. And what a nice graduation. It was not 2008 when I was occupied elsewhere. It was not 2007, when I spoke about giving back, including a line against the war; when I choked back tears through the whole ceremony. Different connection. I was happy. For them. For me for knowing them.

And Thursday they got their diplomas and transcripts, watched each others’ documentaries, and they were through. Done. Nothing left. But they didn’t care. Almost all of them came back on Friday for our year-end barbecue (unlike last year). They stayed past the barbecue. They stayed longer than the underclassmen. They chatted with teachers, and each other, and each said goodbye to the same peer or adult 2, 3, 4 times.

I walked outside the school. The linden blooms’ sickly-sweet perfume hung heavy. It reminded me of the last day, two years earlier, when I felt empty. But no emptiness this year. Joy. And concern about the blandness of school without my biggest little friends.

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