For years prior to this one I had seen you around school, your nearest and dearest never more than a few feet away and all of you with almost constant smiles on your face. Thanks to another teacher, I got to know you through lunch time check ins and quick offers of math help before moving on to ask a kid at the table next to you to stop flipping his water bottle 7 feet in the air for the third time this lunch. And then you became my husband's chemistry "kid" and I knew I loved you before I even really got to know you.
Just a few minutes before lunch ended on the first day of school this year, you and your best friend arrived at my classroom door. You looked a little nervous, a feeling I imagine you might have had formally meeting anyone for the first time. Thinking now, I think of all the amazing ways in which you were different from any other kid I've ever met. But I bet for a 16 year old who longs to live the most normal life they can, there is an uneasiness before you know how someone new will treat you. Luckily for me, you knew and trusted my husband and it gave me an automatic "in" I can imagine would have taken much longer to develop without him (shoutout to him for being the best teacher and person I know).
And then, I had the privilege of being your teacher. I got to watch you and your favorite people giggle together when you came and ate lunch in my room. I saw you surprise yourself with how much math you actually could do when you just had the time to think and try. I laughed as you doodled pictures of your cats when I had a typo on a test that made a question unable to be answered. And I saw how you fought.
Calling you a fighter is an understatement. You fought through days when you didn't feel yourself, coming to school and giving your best effort with a smile. You fought me when I told you that I was exempting you from assignments because I knew you were balancing a lot of other things on your plate. You fought with Khan Academy when it told you that you were wrong after 3 questions in a row correct (even though I'd asked you repeatedly to please stop doing them because you were E-X-E-M-P-T, exempt!). When treatments started to interfere with your confidence and attendance, we talked about if you should drop the class and you fought that too. These were just the surface, the fights I could see. All the while, you were fighting so much harder.
When you started having longer and longer leaves of absence, my relationships with your friends changed drastically as we hoped for the best but braced for the worst. Other teachers and I tried to be a safe space for them, to support them so they could best support you. It was one giant trust fall. And then, on the day before our winter break, neither of your very best friends were in school. And you were gone. I hope I never experience a day like that again in my career. As news spread, waves and waves of students came to find a safe space. We ordered pizza, we played with play doh and colored, we sat in circles and talked and talked. We cried and laughed and cried some more. And then we all left each other for 2 weeks of winter break....each of us experiencing our loss apart from each other.
Once your services were over, we eventually had to come back from our holiday break. I could barely breath when our class started and I knew I had to say something to address the unbelievable loss our class had just felt. We decided as a class to keep your seat open, because we all knew no one else could fill it. We eased back in to a new sense of normalcy. Some days were easier than others, but somehow time kept passing.
We made it through midterms and prom and finals week and here we are. You would have been celebrating the end of junior year, looking forward to senior year and all it had to offer. And though today wouldn't have been your graduation and though I know next year will be even harder for me, you filled my mind and heart all day today.
So thank you, thank you, thank you. I don't know how Mr G and I were lucky enough to both be your teacher, but you've permanently shaped us as teachers and people. Your infectious laugh, the optimism you displayed in the face of the most daunting challenges, and the joy you brought to every day inspire me to be better than I am. I once marveled to you about your optimism and you said this to me:
This hangs, framed, in our house. I look at it when I'm struggling to see the bright side of things and remember what power your optimism and joy had. When we have children, they will grow up with your words in their childhood home. They may never know you, but they will know your spirit. Your grit and determination, your refusal to accept defeat, and your tenacity are things to which I aspire. The depth of your friendships is truly unparalleled and I pray to be the type of friend that surrounded you daily. You've taught me about the way people subconsciously treat others they view as different from themselves and how imperative it is that we bring the same warmth, compassion, and high expectations to every student we teach. To every person we meet. You've made all of us better, just by being in our lives.
And lastly, because I wouldn't be talking to you if I didn't say it...
You're the best.