#474: Level Up

May 8th, 2015

It’s easy to wax poetic at a graduation. That’s sort of what a graduation is, a chance to don medieval dresses and impractical hats and wax poetic about the last four or so years.

I had been asked to the commencement ceremony by the student speaker, who gave me the heads up that her speech would give a few nods to the class she had with me. It would be my first commencement in the three years I’ve been teaching part-time.

Rather than add to the poetry about opportunities and futures and potential — nurtured under the stewardship of the university that will be asking you for alumni donations from this moment until your death — I’ll just talk about these great students.

There were students I was surprised to see made it. That’s not a critique on them as people, just an expression of happy surprise that they got their acts together, or that the terrible personal situation they were in when I had them had not swallowed them.

I know I flunked one of the newly minted college grads. I told him he had earned my respect and an F. We would stop and chat every time we saw each other after that.

A few of the students were grade-grubbers, the A students who refer to themselves as A students and will soon be bringing up their GPAs on job interviews. They are brilliant and resourceful and in for a big fall when the world doesn’t pat them on the head for being clever.

I worry about their brilliance. One day there will be something they don’t get right away, and they never learned how to learn.

Others give me no worry.

One woman crossing the stage was one of the most tenacious studiers I’ve ever met. She would review and review and come to my office hours so we could jointly review any topic she didn’t completely understand.

It wasn’t always easy for her, which is why she’ll succeed.

I saw one of my repeat customers — she took two classes with me. She was an older student who returned to her education after her kid got old enough. She was there because she fought to be there, not because she saw it as what you do after high school.

She’ll be fine.

I watched students I respected, students who made me laugh, students I barely remember, students I barely tolerated and students I know I’ll be asking for a job from someday walk one by one across the stage.

It would be reductionist to end this story on them “entering the real world.” They’ve always been in it, as the single mother student and every student who has dealt with a class load and a family crisis can attest.

So all I can say is this level of their lives is done. Their lives will separate from this point, that stage in a Rogers Park basketball arena the last place they’ll inhabit at the same time.

Wherever they go from here, whatever challenge they choose to make their next level, is up to them.

And that’s as poetic as I can wax.

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