It was nice...a pretty big deal...graduation night left me feeling a little thrilled. It's been five years since I started working with these students, and since the first year hardly counts, this was the first time I've gotten to watch some of them graduate. This is the first group that I've known for four entire years. It felt momentous, perhaps even more momentous than my own graduation, which I'm sure it was. At the time I'd have had no idea how big of a deal it is. I would not have appreciated it. This time, however, sitting high in the crowd I was overwhelmed with smiles and emotion and occasionally nostalgia. I'm glad I went. I almost didn't. I almost shrugged it off.
"I would have made you go
," June said afterward, "I would have forced you out the door.
Sometimes I do that. To be honest, I do that a lot. I disassemble things and diminish their meaning. I shrug them off. I would have regretted missing this.
Some kids hugged me, and many more ignored me, embarrassed to talk to me in front of their friends, or worried sick that their parents might find out that we speak. I might have gotten a sideways glance and a smile, of if I was lucky, a wink. That part makes me a little sad...that my job is such that I must be kept a secret, that I can't be shared. It's not that I'm eager to meet their parents or friends. I'm usually not. I know too much, and from only their perspectives, so what I know may not even be entirely true or accurate. It's just that I wish that I wasn't such a stopgap in their lives. I'm sure I get forgotten about quite easily. A lot of people disagree vehemently when I say as much, but I suspect that it's true. I think immediately of the young man who I drove home from the park at midnight, in tears, hell bent on not seeing the sunrise, and how he has graduated now, and will not as much as look in my direction when I pass him at the arena, or on the street. He still texts me, even now, in college, but he won't stop to talk. Those moments upset me, even if they do make sense.
After the ceremony I waited for a few students, and found them excited and bouncing with energy. The rest of their lives were ahead of them, as surely as they felt just a few short months ago that there was no hope. It's funny how fine a line we draw between happiness and despair. It's paper thin.
I watched the boy walk across the stage who no one thought would...who doesn't talk to me anymore because I ratted him out before a fight that would have gotten him kicked out of school, and sent to jail, as he had other charges pending. I did it to keep him out of jail, to see him walk across the stage with a cap and gown, but he didn't understand that, and I felt proud to watch him even if he had no idea that I was there, or cared.
There was the girl who always came to me twisted in knots about that boy, always teary, and always desperate, and then always left laughing and emboldened. We made jokes of most everything. She walked right past me and only barely offered a glance. He was with her so I understand.
There was the boy whose Father died just a month ago. I shook his hand and offered a quiet smile, but I kept moving to offer him a easy reprieve from any conversation. He didn't stop me.
The girl with the many problems, the ones too enormous for words, and often action, whose secrets only I knew, never spoke a word to me, despite multiple discussions each week across two years. She carried the biggest burdens of any child that I've ever known, and was always so desperate to talk, still...not a word.
Those moments are tough. Still, there were others, eager to hug, and easy to find tears, happy to acknowledge a connection, and eager for a picture. All of them made me proud, even if only some of them could own me out loud.
It's a quiet job that I have...quiet and solitary...with few gauges for success. A diploma isn't one of them, but it's a big deal nevertheless. It's mostly void of thank you's and in all the years I've only ever had a small handful of parents say anything. That's difficult to swallow some days, but last night it was erased by two or three amazing students determined to not let years of urgency fall away from their memories like locker combinations or phone numbers. Last night it felt as though I was more than just a tournaquitte that stopped the bleeding.