Milestones and the people that make them happen!

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OK, so I’m going to just say this up front. I’m sick. Been fighting whatever is going around!

But today is the milestone achievement of graduation for two schools I cover, it is import we bear witness.  We might think this is just a standard thing, each year 17, 18 or 19 year olds graduate high school.

But think again.

Many kids drop out. It’s not a prerequisite of life that we all graduate from high school! And it’s not a prerequisite of life that we even ‘get’ school.

We are all wired differently.

When I was little, I had a thirst for knowledge that was hard to stay ahead of; I asked teachers for more to read, more  fun assignments to do. I thrived doing work and handing it in to my teacher. Everything I read and did gave my imagination a place to go. My parents bought World Book Encyclopedias in hopes that they would satisfy my hunger for knowledge.

They did. But school did not.

I wasn’t a kid that got school. I hate structured learning and I got frustrated and ended up being a middle-of-the-road high school student.

But I was still hungry for knowledge!

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Today, I was watching students prepare for graduation. I saw kids who were like me, just there because they had to be. I saw the usual stereotypical groups of kids hanging together. I had a couple people ask me questions today that I couldn’t answer. I think they thought I was someone who worked for the school district or something. In trying to be helpful I was taken aback by the student’s inability to ask further questions to obtain the answers they sought. Or that they somehow didn’t know the answers already or certainly know that I wasn’t a person to ask. I’m not judging, but I was surprised.

Then, I saw the same people seek out a teacher they knew and the teacher was able to decipher the question and lead towards an understanding that I wasn’t! Perhaps because the teacher had a familiarity with the student and understood how current teenage thought processes worked.

I love teachers!

They are among the most caring people on the planet. Mrs. Merrill Cowart told me she has been to every graduation since she started teaching. This amazes me. (Now, let me put in a disclaimer here. Mrs. Cowart is my boss’s wife and it might sound like I’m sucking up to the boss. I’m not. Anyone who truly knows me knows that this isn’t the case. I mention her because she is worthy of mentioning for what she does for kids!) The love teachers have for their student’s is something hard for anyone outside of school to realize.

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I’ll come back to Franklin in a moment.

I also witnessed today Father Justin Pino asking each and every one of the 11 Venango Catholic graduates to come up to stand with him for a face-to-face remembrance of their time at VC together. He then presented them each a personalized gift. This is a teacher who paid attention to the individual needs of his students and understood them as human beings, not just kids taking the class.

This was really cool!

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Pino talked about how schools often bring in speakers to give addressees, but, they are people who don’t know the students. As a result, many students, teachers or parents don’t even remember who spoke or what they spoke about in their own graduations.

I tried to remember and, to be honest, I’m not even sure we had a speaker at mine. And if we did, I sure don’t remember who he or she was or what they spoke about.

But I will remember Father Pino today. Humbly he spoke to each student as an equal and it was beautiful. He gave them each a very thought-out personal gift. The actual object he gave will be meaningless to these students in years to come, but the fact he took the time and energy to think about giving a gift that spoke to the relationship between student and teacher is immeasurable!

I got to witness this!

This was a gift to me as well. A gift of goodness in a world that is sometimes easy to get there is goodness.

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Someday these students will realize what this meant!

I also got to witness an extraordinary talent today. If we do no not see Eileen Miller performing in front of kings and queens someday, I’ll be surprised. She matter-of-factly walked up on stage and waited patiently for her guitar accompaniment (Damon Lewis, who is very talented himself) and then sang a song titled “Dare You to Move,” that I hope was recorded for the world to see someday when they look back at her career.

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I’m not easily impressed, but this was something to witness! Earlier Mrs. Cowart mentioned in front of me that she had heard Miller rehearse and that she thought the school should be selling tickets to this graduation!

I agree!

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Then, there was Marcy Lusher going around to every grad on the left side of the cafeteria before they marched toward graduation. (I’m sure she had an equally awesome counter part on the right side of the cafeteria!) She went senior by senior to help straighten out their caps, tassels and gowns. One student, Eric Hoffman, seemed to have a tassel from Hell. It was twisted and confused and Miller calmly told him what to do to fix it. He and his fellow classmates on either side, including Kendall Hoffman, who isn’t related, figured out how to straighten out.

When Miller returned, she determined it was close, just needed a scissors trim and it was good.

How cool is that that an 11th-grade English teacher cares that much about one kid’s tassel?

It hit me that it wasn’t the tassel. It was the accomplishment. Hoffman and the others made it. Miller was there with them.

High fives!

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The thing I respect most about teachers is this. They care more about what is next for their students than they do about the job they did preparing them for what is next. You ask a teacher about a student and they will inevitably tell you what they are doing now or what they became after graduation.

I said earlier I’m not sucking up to Mrs. Cowart and my boss and I’m not, but I am giving due credit to teachers who cannot reach every single kid, but hopefully one of them at least reaches one or morekid to help them on their way.

I know for me I have many who helped me. Some gave me bad grades (wait let me change that – some gave me the grades I deserved!) and in doing so taught me valuable lessons. Some saw in me something to push me toward and, when I was capable of listening, this made me soar! I owe a man in my junior year of high school named Tom King, who wasn’t even my teacher for the class I needed help with in a final project. I wanted to one thing that wasn’t working out, he suggested something else that I balked at. He eventually insisted and he then put the school’s Nikon camera in my hand.

One teacher, one moment. Thank you Mr. King.

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Today was a day where two area schools had milestone moments they shared with their students! This is a day to be happy and hopeful for tomorrow!

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This is a day to celebrate those little moments of significance that one day each student will look back on and realize, holy crap…. that F I got in Algebra so perhaps  the fourth or fifth most important thing to happen to me. Thank you Mrs. D. Or the time you were falsely accused of cheating that taught you how to calmly stand up for yourself. Thank you Mrs. Heeton and Mr. Light. Graduation is a pause to realize accomplishment, the real work still lies ahead. But your teacher’s lesson aren’t over yet. Someday you’ll just be ready to learn them.

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About the Author

Richard Sayer
Staff photographer at the Derrick and News-Herarld newspapers in North Western Pennsylvania.