Go for the gusto, but be happy
It was almost 3 a.m. A hypnotist had just completed his act and the audience was still laughing about the antics of some of their friends. It was time for ice cream sundaes and then the drawing for all manner of prizes. Then the lights would come on and we adults would bid farewell to these boys and girls who only six or seven hours earlier had stood in the halls at Oceanside High School as “almost graduates.” They stood; ready to take that last walk as high school students. They could not wait to bring it all to an end.
Some time in the future, they will learn, as we did, how true are the words to that Bryan Adams song, “Those were the best days of our lives.”
At 4:30 a.m. they headed into the parking lot, going home to sleep and, for a few days, to continue celebrating high school graduation. Project Graduation was done. These were no longer high school students; they were graduates and they had the diplomas to prove it. The daylight that was just beginning to ease the darkness out of the night sky above Penobscot Bay was heralding this first day of “adulthood” for the class of 2012.
Students passing by shook hands with me, several offered up hugs, and there were tears. I climbed into my Blazer and paused to give thanks that for this one night we had done our very best to keep these young people safe, sound and alive. From hereon they will mostly be in charge of doing these things on their own. My comment to many of them these past few weeks has been, “Careful of this adulthood thing. It’s not always what it’s cracked up to be.”
Returning to the teaching profession has been, and continues to be, a pure joy. I truly enjoyed my 27-year hiatus in the newspaper business, where I was paid real money to do something I loved, and still love; to write! As the years went by and management responsibilities took an ever-bigger bite out of my time, I found less and less time to do what I best loved. The opportunity to move on was just that, an opportunity. I am so glad I grabbed it when I did!
The young people with whom I interact each school day are mostly having a tough go of it. School is somewhat of a struggle for them and they sometimes talk of giving up, of dropping out. Our staff does its best to prevent that and most of the time we succeed. When we do not, we are saddened. We talk to them a lot about the importance of school, of getting that diploma. It is shocking how many times I encounter the thinking that dropping out is a better alternative, that “I’ll just go get a job and get my GED later.” “Later” often does not happen.
There was a time when young people could quit school, walk down to the waterfront and get a job in the fish packing plants, or on a fishing boat, go lobstering. Then, the fishing was good. You could usually end up making enough money to buy a house, a car, get by. Those are days gone by. The fish plants are long gone. Ground fishing is hard to come by. Sometimes you can lobster but when it’s time for a new boat, or a bank loan for equipment, that missing diploma is going to haunt you.
A couple of times this past school year former students stopped in for a visit and became engaged in impromptu conversations with current students. In the matter of finding work they minced no words. There are 20 people ahead of you looking for the same job. If you’ve dropped out, the chances of you making it are slim, maybe less than slim. You want to work? Stay in school. I love it when former students come by.
One thing I will enjoy this summer is the break I will get from enforcing the rules. I was no angel in high school but I learned early on that breaking rules has consequences. Teachers are expected to enforce certain rules. At times, we spend as much time in a class period enforcing rules as we do teaching. It is typically all the result of one or two knuckleheads but every student loses out. There is too much of an attitude these days in high school that breaking the rules is no big deal.
Be on time! Late is late is late. If you develop the “lateness” habit, sooner or later you will learn that if the plane to your vacation paradise is set to leave the gate at 9:26 a.m. the plane leaves the gate at 9:26, not 9:28, not 9:36, and the doors close even earlier. And if you are supposed to be at work at 8 a.m., that doesn’t mean 8:15 or 8:20, it really means by 7:45 so you are ready to work at 8 a.m.
Cell phones! Teachers and staff at the high school fight that battle non-stop. Not me. You come to my program; you hand in your cell phone at the door and pick it up on your way out. Don’t like that rule? Find another program! It is a practical application of real life rules. In many adult jobs, using your cell phone while working is grounds for firing.
OK, that’s enough with the complaining.
We also have plenty of wicked awesome young people with whom I have wonderful interactions throughout the year. With the class of 2012, I watched them through the prom, went whitewater rafting, celebrated their Inspiration and Graduation ceremonies and then pulled my first intentional all-nighter in more years than I care to remember. It’s at Project Graduation that we can see the “adult” in these graduates beginning to emerge. We are most likely to be “Mike” instead of Mr. McGuire. I found myself answering questions concerning what my dreams were when I graduated. I could hear some fear, or at least trepidation, in voices as the night marched on towards day.
When it was done, when we sent these graduates on their breaking-dawn ways, it was with hopes for their future; hopes for success, new adventures, exciting discoveries, wonderful accomplishments, and happiness. Above all, happiness.
Michael McGuire is director of the Alternative Education program for Oceanside High School and former associate publisher of Courier Publications. He is very pleased that Editor Dan Dunkle invited him to write a column “every so often.”