Each year, in most schools across the nation, an important committee convenes to solicit nominations, collect votes, and announce the results to recognize an outstanding educator with the distinguished honor of “Teacher of the Year.” According to the standards established by Departments of Education, among the criteria for selecting candidates are the use of effective instructional techniques and methods and the development of feelings of self-worth and love of learning in students. The teachers I recognize today are those who have accomplished this by inspiring children on a daily basis.
Who are these amazing teachers? At graduations, they are not all seated among the faculty and staff members as you might expect. They're not among the Board of Education members and local dignitaries. They're not mingled in with the administrative team. They're seated out there, somewhere, in the audience.
Every caring and nurturing parent or guardian should stand to be saluted as the Outstanding Teachers of the Year. It is with great admiration that society pays tribute to you for your relentless dedication, your tireless work, and your unselfish partnership with schools. You have nurtured exceptional young adults while facing overwhelming obstacles. You have done it all during this most challenging time in history. Yet, most of you have kept your composure, humor, and compassion.
I honor you, the mothers and fathers and guardians of students because, you, America’s parents, are the first teachers. In our media driven society, our culture has really confused terms like victims and heroes, celebrities and role models. As a society, we are so enthralled with the stars of pop culture that we have come to care less and less about the "content of one's character." Yet, stunning examples of fine character are walking up and down the streets of our own neighborhoods every day. If we simply turn our heads, just a few inches from the television or computer, to the window, portraits of real heroes will be there, framed by the responsibilities of daily life. As a famous athlete once told his young admirers, "I am not your hero, kids; if you want a hero go home and talk with your parents."
Parents give their all, and often sacrifice their own dreams, in order to nurture the potential of their children. In our country, many parents have uprooted their lives, left their homelands, abandoning their relatives and support systems—not to pursue material riches, but in search of a better future for their children. Thousands of Moms and Dads have given up their professional and personal aspirations to spend time preparing children for school, chauffeuring them to various activities, and carefully orchestrating each day. They struggle to ensure that learning is fun, strengths are developed, and weaknesses overcome. Scores of parents are also volunteering in the classroom, chaperoning class trips, tutoring children who need assistance, organizing PTO activities—all the while monitoring their children’s health and well-being.
Yet, you rarely find a moment to congratulate yourselves for all that you've done. In fact, most spend a great deal of time mired in anguish about what you haven’t done. No matter what, you always think you could or should do more.
You probably don’t even realize how phenomenal you really are, and how lucky your children are to have your loving support. It’s time to do what you forget to do: pat yourself on the back and think about all of the incredible ways you’ve made a positive contribution to your child’s life. In fact, I want you to ask yourself, “Am I a hero?” A hero is defined as a prominent or a central person in any remarkable action or event. You all have certainly played the prominent role in the remarkable events we celebrate during graduation season. So I call you heroes. A hero is also described as a person of distinguished valor or fortitude in suffering. No one can deny the courage or valor you need every day to face the challenges of parenthood in this chaotic time. So we call you heroes. And amid the joyful moments, you have endured varying degrees of suffering. And even as we attempt to celebrate you, there are mixed emotions. After you’ve nourished and protected your most treasured and prized possession, nature will now force you to part so that your child can makes his own way in this world.
As each child’s name is called this graduation season, a face somewhere will stream with tears, because graduates are now the future’s children. World-renowned poet, Kalil Gabran, summarized the bittersweet nature of the parent/child relationship in his book The Prophet.
"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
We can never predict just how far that arrow will go or where it will land. We cannot even know for certain if it will ever reach the destination that we would have chosen. It's all totally out of our control. But as it soars gracefully towards its destination, I ask you to please find some peace in knowing you have been and will continue to be the wind that speeds these children on their way to tomorrow.
Did your child ever tell you that you’re his hero? Give him time because time is the only true ingredient that produces this glorious patina on your special work of art. In the interim, please accept my congratulations and deep condolences, because I know firsthand, that the arrow soaring towards tomorrow cannot reach its destination without first piercing through your heart.
(This blog is dedicated to Stephen Trembley.)