Sophie has been a quiet, steady presence in my classroom for four years. About sophomore year, she found her style, dying her naturally blonde hair black and wearing some truly fantastic knee-high buckled boots that I envy daily. Her notebooks are filled with beautiful doodles amidst the plentiful notes. But Sophie was absent recently, and Sophie is never absent.
But Sophie returned to school the next day and told me she just discovered that her dad has only days to live. A girl, so quiet I had rarely heard her voice, bubbled over about relatives coming in, the anxiety she felt, and her worries over missing classwork. I held her as she sobbed, thinking she’d have more time with her dad. She was so touched that we were organizing a card from her peers and talked about us as her second family. At the very end of our conversation, she lamented that although a senior, her dad wouldn’t be able to see her graduate.
I thought, “why not? Why can’t her dad see her graduate?” The answer is the same as every time I ask “why not,” there’s really no reason at all. We so often worry about offending the family or the drain on resources or creating a standard of care everyone else will expect. However, after Sophie’s advisory teacher and I talked it over at lunch, we let our empathy and care drive us to doing the right thing.
Within 10 minutes of our conversation, we had called the administrator and she was on board, rushing a diploma. A half-hour later my son had grabbed my daughter’s cap and gown from home. The administrative assistant had visited the local party store and had a living room full of decorations by the end of the school day.
The very next day, at 11 a.m., Sophie graduated in her home, with her dad in attendance. She has pictures and memories to last a lifetime.
Some could have called the rushing around, finding yearbooks, decorating her graduation cap, and signing cards a big distraction. Students certainly were having difficulty concentrating on their work because they were so involved in making the best graduation possible for Sophie. However, my classroom was alive again with friends discussing plans and remembering their classmate in their thoughts and conversation.
The question, “why not,” had inspired a whole movement within my world. So unlike the distractions that make me forget why I love teaching…Sophie, in her need, helped me remember.
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