I just had a beautiful but surreal moment. I went to the Washington Middle School 8th grade Graduation. I was able to witness every one of the students I’ve been working with walk across the stage that not only completes their Middle School education but begins their High School career.
Only 12 days after my own graduation, it came at me like a wave of surrealist paint. Like Paul Fleet’s An Eye With A View, I felt like I was looking at a scene of looking at a scene. Another UNM graduate spoke at the ceremony, a UNM graduate who had once attended WMS. She spoke to them of trying circumstances and not being asked to join groups during High School, but rather having to take a leap of faith, put the goal in front and just go join the Honor Societies, the soccer team, the academic clubs. She had to take the initiative and because she did, she’s now a college graduate.
She spoke of the statistics these kids are bombarded with from every direction. Half will drop out, 1/3 will become unwed parents, 2/3 will be arrested for something before 18. I saw many not so dry eyes, because some of these kids are the first in their family to make it this far. Some are the first to be headed to High School in America, the land of opportunity, as long as you’re not Mexican. These kids are fighting the odds put against them, and winning it right now.
It made me think of all the things people said to me when they first found out I was going to teach at Washington, largely known as one of the toughest schools. Wow, really, are you scared? Oh my gawd are you trying to change placement? Make sure and bring a whistle, it startles them. These children are pre-teens, barely teenagers, and they are faced with obstacles that would make a lot of different people drop out, but they are doing it through those circumstances.
I know students who live with distant relatives because those relatives live in the US. Their parents still live in a different country; Cuba, Mexico, Chile. I know students whose parents are in jail, dead, or not part of their lives for various reasons. These kids are just kids. The various reasons they are in the situations they are in are not their fault. But they are dealing with the stereotypes, the people telling them they can’t, the biased tests telling them their not smart enough to, the families that can only offer so much, and making their education important for themselves at the same time.
I see my own Middle School experiences, my lack of High School, and now my struggle and triumph with college. It was hard, really hard for me. I had to fight for every moment in College. But I did it in a society that accepts me simply because of the color of skin I was born into. I can’t help the skin I was born into any more than they can. I can’t change the fact that there are privileges I have, that they will rarely have, for no other reason than being born with fair skin.
I too was born into a low income home. I too dealt with abuses. I rarely found moments in which I felt supported. I often raised my siblings. I didn’t finish High School, dropped out in 10th grade. I was married too young, had children too young. I connect to these kids on more levels than they will ever understand and fewer levels than I can understand.
It was surreal, these many thoughts running through my mind as I hugged every one of my students after they received their diploma. I don’t know if I was technically allowed to, but I stood at the foot of the stage stairs like one of the faculty and hugged them all as they came down the stairs. I know that life is about to hit them harder than they’ve ever known. BUT I also know that this group has an outstanding chance. Maybe it’s my bias because I taught them, talked with them and learned from them, but I feel like this group is really going to go somewhere amazing. They are fighters for their own education.