The Ultimate Gift

Author: Patrick Baker  • 

Last weekend, I had a wonderfully unique experience.

Next month will mark the 25th anniversary of my high school graduation from an independent school.  But that’s nothing particularly special.  It was also an opportunity to see old friends, many with whom I spent more than 12 years going to school from age 5-18.  Special, but again not unique.

A few years ago, my alma mater made a change to invite all alumni of any year to the second night of events because most schools, like the one I attended, have a relatively small number of graduates each year.  As a result, in addition to those celebrating 5-year increment anniversaries, there were others sprinkled in as well.  But of the more than 300 people in attendance, I was one of two people to have the unique lens of both former student and former faculty member.

In the same evening, I spoke to someone I’ve known my whole life, as well as former athletes and students I taught.  On three occasions, I spoke to students I taught both as a second grade teacher and middle school English teacher.  Now grown, out of college, and gainfully employed, I saw these once pre-adolescent boys and girls and heard about them sharing their gifts and talents with the world.

Meandering back to my own classmates of yesteryear, we marveled at how 25 years could have passed so quickly – many of us with soon-to-be high school students of our own.  Struggling to find an answer, several former teachers of ours, now long since retired, found their way over to say hello and hear from us about what we were doing.

As grateful as I felt to be in this space, the gifts and opportunities did not stop there.

Sought out by several former students in attendance, they gave me the ultimate gift that life can offer – all with simple sentences like: “Mr. Rush, I just wanted to tell you that I still remember the writing exercise we did in 5th grade,” or “Mr. Rush, I remember the poetry unit we did and still think about it regularly,” or “Mr. Rush, you helped me to become such a better writer, thank you.”

No, former students.  Thank you.

As a teacher, there is nothing more special than to be thanked for making a positive and long-lasting difference.  On a graduation day, this is not uncommon.  However, when it is 10, 15, and 20 years later – this is truly the ultimate gift.

As I shared my sincere thanks with them for making the effort to tell me, I told them that I was merely hoping to do the same thing that great teachers at our school had done for me decades ago.

There are countless educators who have been thanked by their students.  There are also alumni reunions of all types of graduations every year.  But to be at one event where you are simultaneously reliving glory days and sharing old stories, marveling at who has become what and living where, and also be validated in what you’ve committed to do for your career – that’s a rare trifecta.

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