Monday, May 18th will begin my final two weeks during this school year when I will be seeing PATH clients (the in-school mental health counseling program). The week that starts on Monday, June 1st is scheduled for final exams, turning in Chrome Books, and completing final projects which means that both of the high schools where I see students in Appleton will have funky class schedules, so I won't see students that week: they've got enough to worry about and it would impact them greatly in a negative way if I pulled anyone from a class that's reviewing course material or administering a final exam. Plus, Thursday, June 4th is graduation day and seniors don't have to "report" on Friday, June 5th as underclassmen do.
Last year at graduation time, I had been working in two high schools for the spring semester, one in Appleton and one in Menasha. Now I've been working with some students from two Appleton high schools for a year and a half; that's a significant amount of time to spend with a kid week after week, watching them grow through loss and success, bearing witness to their pain, walking with them through the wretched path that adolescence can sometimes be. I have also had the privilege of encouraging them week after week to make positive decisions for their futures and celebrated with them when they've been accepted to the college they really want to attend, get the scholarship they doubted they'd receive but did, and decide who they want to be and how they want to present themselves as college freshmen.
It's been a process I have trouble putting words to. The resiliency of "my kids" (which is how I refer to them) is astounding. I would challenge anyone who thinks of him- or herself as an adult who can bounce back from any setback. Really? So you would be able to change your gender identity from female to male in high school and tolerate the name-calling, bullying and uncertainty that goes with that decision? You would be able to have a baby at the start of second semester, create a support network for yourself and your infant child which allows you to complete the school year by attending online school without losing any credits? You would be able to learn emotional regulation and acceptable and unacceptable behavior with technology, all while learning how to communicate effectively with others using sign language, which your own parents don't know or understand?
If you are willing to take on the challenge to live the life of one of my kids for one school semester, a relatively short period of time in one's life, message me on Facebook because I guarantee that you will fail. I know I would and I've been working with these kids for roughly 17 months. I know their secrets, their dreams, their fears, their goals, and who they want to become...and I would fail at "successfully" living any of their lives. Their lives are so much more complicated than mine was as I graduated from high school on June 8, 1989. Good grief, gossip, "rating notes", and sitting with the "cool kids" at lunch was hard enough to navigate 26 years ago without the influence of Snap Chat, Facebook, askfm and Instagram.
When I was in junior high and high school, my parents told me how much "easier" it was for me compared to what they had to endure in the late 1960s while in middle school and high school. I will be the first person to get in line to say that kids in junior high (ok, middle school) and high school now have it MUCH tougher than I or most of my classmates could ever imagine the world would become. In my generation you could tear up a note written on notebook paper. This generation has to live knowing their entire lives are available to anyone willing to search hard enough to find "nude" photos, intimidating comments and bold face lies posted about other people one may have made in a moment of impulsivity or plain bad judgement. An applicant's online presence can be searched by the potential college he or she wishes to attend. Potential employers have the ability to discover what someone may wish was undiscoverable, but is easily found by someone with the required computer skills. Would any of us have changed our behavior if we knew that documentation of our stupidity, immaturity or impulsivity was "unerasable"? I think so. I know I would; but I come at this issue with the knowledge and hindsight of a 44 year old adult, not a 17 year old teen ager.
As this school year comes to a close and as I watch some of my kids walk across that stage to accept their high school diplomas, I will wish them all the best the world can offer them. I will tell them to grab every opportunity presented to them. I will tell them to believe that their best is enough, whether other people acknowledge that or not.
I will tell them to spread their wings and fly.