They could not walk, so I did.
The rain was lightly falling today when I happened upon the display of the 2020 WHS graduating class posted in front of the Boone Post Office. In my mind, I had made a promise that if I found them displayed, that I would go see them one last time. As is often the case, God answered my prayer before I knew I had prayed.
One placard after the other, faces of the students who had become part of my life, now part of this virtual graduation. Part of me wanted to cry, while another wanted to laugh. One after another their smiling, proud photos brought back hundreds of memories. In many of the Professional Developments (PD), they teach and encourage new teachers to get to know the person behind the desk. For me, it was the only way to understand how a child was relating to the material. As a Math teacher, you quickly come to understand that most of your pupils are only there because they are required to take the class. So, for the most part, you must know where they are coming from in order to better reach them, and in that hope, plant the seeds of education for what curriculum you represent. I took it to heart.
In my journey, learning the person behind the face not only became part of my job, it became part of my mission. Each day during the pledge of Allegiance, at the end of the short ceremony, I would breathe the silent prayer, “Lord give me strength, guidance, and wisdom.” Each time, when I would open my eyes, there before me was the purpose behind the path upon which God had placed me.
There were all manner of days to deal with, from the unforgettable, to the horrific. From the jokesters, who at times stretched my patience beyond boundaries I knew existed, to the sweetest personalities that could melt a heart of stone, they were all there. This was not the first class of graduating seniors who had passed through my classroom. But these were the first that seemed like we never got to say goodbye, for more reasons than one. In essence, their moment of shining before all to see had been taken away thanks to an unseen enemy. Now, without them knowing, we were saying goodbye in a one-way tribute.
Sweet Ms. Carol Brown told me before my first day of teaching at Watauga, that I would find a different kind of student on the mountain, any unlike I had met before. She and her late husband Horace had grandchildren up in that area. They were never more right. Ironically, before learning that I would become a Math teacher, I had read the story of Crossnore and how Dr. Sloop and his wife, Dr. Mary Martin Sloop, had struggled with the indigenous peoples, particularly with keeping them in class when they were needed on the farm. The stories Mrs. Sloop recalled gave one an insight into the mind of those mountain families who inhabited the deep hollars of the Blueridge. From their work, the Crossnore Children’s home would come to be. And yes, eventually my life’s pathway would lead through there as well, but another story for another time.
My life’s journey had taken a detour from Watauga before this year’s classes began. God’s plan is never our own. And wherever he says to go, I must follow. So as painful as it was, I was able to tell those who had me on the last semester goodbye in 2019. But today, with the pictures of them in their graduation robes and hats, it seemed more final. Here before me was the entire class of 2020. For a year, I had not seen them, and most were still the same, those faces of innocence only the parent of teens can appreciate. While others had changed so much that it was not until my second pass that I realized who they were. As my feet traveled down the damp sidewalk, it was as if God was allowing me to review those three years, as if to say, “It was all worth it.” There were some who made me laugh out loud, while others made me stop and say, “Thanks be to God, they made it.” There were those who had made an impact on me in ways that were never expected. One day, on my way to the school, a song came on the radio by Casting Crown, “Only Jesus.” In it, the lyrics remind us that our life should not be about us, but rather, should point toward Christ. We shouldn’t strive to leave a legacy about us, but instead, point all we are to Him. From that day forward, my purpose became to have them not remember me, but only Him. So, in all that I did, I tried to be someone that would bring the light into their life, even if they didn’t realize it.
One can only hope that we plant the seeds of hope, and the truth for their generation instead of taking it away. A virus may have ended their “true” senior year before it was allowed to culminate, but my prayer is that they will make something of themselves far beyond what the limitations of this physical world will bring.
Yes, today I walked for them because they could not.
They will forever be in my heart.
Congratulations class of 2020 everywhere.
Thanks be to God.