Graduation

Graduation. noun. The receiving of an academic degree; a ceremony marking the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another. See also: commencement.

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Dear freshman Anna,

On Friday, you graduated from college.

Right now, you think this day will never arrive. And when it finally does, you will not have high expectations.

On the morning of graduation, you will be a cranky monster. The day will seem anticlimactic, since many of your friends will have already graduated and you’ll have four weeks of student teaching remaining. (You’ll stick with that double major you’re doubting right now. It will be painful sometimes, like when you have to continue student teaching even after graduation, but hopefully it’s worth it.) Worries about being late and not wearing the right thing and still having to go to school on Monday will be overpowering. You might have accidentally say “Can we get a move on?” out loud during rehearsal.

But graduation day will turn out to be surprising and complicated and sweet. In fact, your whole college experience will be surprising and complicated and sweet.

Right now, the campus buildings are still becoming familiar. You still don’t remember exactly where the registar’s office is (much less what a registrar does). In four and a half years, those halls and classrooms and sidewalks be stamped with memories.

You’ll spend hours in that office in 3rd floor Naz. That professor intimidates you now, but eventually you’ll work for her and she will find out all of the details of your life. You’ll learned the value of a juicy red pen and write sentences about a grapefruit named Ruby, who will go on dates and have picnics by the lake.

You’ll pound out workouts in the gym with the basketball team. You will be forced to play intramural volleyball games at 11:00 pm, and you will barely tolerate it. During the basketball season, being a freshman benchwarmer will knock the perfectionism right out of you.

You’ll live in Hartill 254 and 255 and 155 and 259. Now, you tote an Audrey Hepburn poster and a vague hope for community as you walk into Selah 2. You will find: some of your dearest friends, 2 staffs of Hartill RAs who will share stories and laughter and birthday cards and movie nights, a hall of girls you’ll lead and love for a year, much late-night conversation, brownies eaten straight from the pan, and the ability to hang decorations without nails. Your sister will live in two of those rooms a few years later, and that fact will amuse you.

On the island, you’ll swim on warm evenings and canoe on spontaneous dates. In a few weeks, your hall will go stargazing there, and when you’ve finished singing worship songs, you’ll accidentally witness a boys’ dorm initiation. An entire hall will streak by in their boxers, jump in the lake, and run back, yelling. They will never knew you were there. (You’ll also live in an apartment with the RA who organized this stargazing trip, which will be a random gift from God.)

You will not do much homework in the library. When necessary, you’ll find the tables by the big windows passable. The people-watching is the best there. Don’t go upstairs, where it’s too quiet, unless there’s a nice guy who you need to study Chinese with.

You will never establish one precise spot to sit in Maha, though you’ll prefer somewhere the right side, a few rows down. You’ll sing worship songs every Friday, and learn the names of people you will never meet as you scan their IDs, and tell 500 freshman about your search for identity. In this same auditorium, you will graduate.

On graduation day, you will walk in behind the World Languages banner, though you could have fit equally well under English & Literature or Education. You will feel a flicker of accomplishment when the president congratulates you for your honors, when you move your tassel and become alumni. Your boyfriend will surprise you after the ceremony. (Yes, you will get a boyfriend, if you follow the library and Chinese studying instructions.) You won’t be expecting him for another five days, and you’ll almost lose your mortarboard when you see him walk toward you, bearing flowers. One your current roommates will be there, catching the ceremony between her brother’s hockey games. She will have shared endless YouTube videos and buckets of support with you in the past years. Your family will take you out to dinner at one of the coolest restaurants in St. Paul, a former warehouse with tall skylights and excellent salmon. You’ll forgot your car on campus and the Public Safety officer on duty won’t ticket you when you call and beg for mercy. You still won’t like talking on the phone. The day will end with Sebastian Joe’s ice cream cake, a sweet finale.

Right now, as a baby-faced freshman, you think that this graduation day is a magic ticket to being a competent adult. You watch the seniors, who walk around campus so purposefully, and assume that in four and a half years, you too will have everything figured out. You think that you might have a job lined up, or the promise of a ring by spring, or maybe even style.

Hate to break it to you, honey. But at graduation, you will still feel as clueless and uncertain as ever. Right now, you value your own efficiency, discipline, and ability to excel. You place your identity in those things. In four and a half years, you won’t anymore. You’ll lose confidence in your own merit. You’ll realize how messy life is, and you’ll lose hope that working hard can fix everything. But you’ll gain more important things. You’ll find composure in front of a class of middle schoolers. You’ll discover passion for investing in relationships. You’ll gain definition in your cheekbones. And the things you’re learning in life are just beginning.

Every graduation speaker will tell you that commencement does not mean end. It means beginning. (Pretty sure you said this in your own high school graduation speech, actually.) It’s horribly cliché. But it is also true. You’re launching into the rest of your life soon, a new beginning, and it’s scary. You won’t ever feel totally ready.

But if you’ll learn one thing over the next four and a half years, it’s that you’ll make it, even through the scary and unknown and intimidating.

Have fun, kid. Make some memories.

– Me

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ESL

ESL. acronym for English as a Second Language. My classroom of residence for the past 10 weeks; also home to the cutest kids on the planet.

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My term as an elementary ESL student teacher comes to an end this week. I’ve been camping out in the ESL room for 10 weeks now, working with kiddos in grades K-5. These are the stories that shine as I ponder this experience.

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I think the gene for teaching the very small ones skips a generation. My mom is a rocking kindergarten teacher, and I spent Thursday evenings throughout high school watching her work with little guys at ECFE. And then my turn came. I sat at the tiny table with the tiny kinders, the ones who hold hands when they walk out of the classroom and tell me sometimes, “Miss C, you look beautiful today.” And I realized that I had no idea what I’m doing. How is teaching the alphabet, numbers 1 through 6, the question “What do you do with your family?” so hard? I planned lessons I thought were fine and showed up to have my squirrely group distracted and my timing off and my teacher reminding me to pick one focus and to keep them moving and teach behavior over content and do the whole thing differently. So I sighed a lot and kept trying and asked for feedback and wondered why on earth the simplest concepts in school were so dang complicated to teach.

And one day, lightbulb. We were working on numbers, and I was stressed. Math has caused me more angst than any other school subject, and the trend was continuing. But I tried. I found a worthwhile new game on the miraculous Internet. I thought through my plans. We moved through the activities “boom boom boom boom,” as my teacher says in her rapid-fire Chinese accent, and I saw that they had just enough knowledge to be successful but still struggle productively, and they were engaged in making independent choices the entire time, and they didn’t go bananas when I handed out materials. I overheard my cooperating teacher tell another teacher that I looked like a veteran, and I wanted to cry.

She did not say that every day after that. Some lessons, we spend more time practicing not kicking the table and keeping eyes on the book and not talking when it is not our turn than learning vocabulary. Some lessons, I still got reminders from my teacher to pick just one focus, and I wanted to say, “I’m trying! I promise! I am actually thinking about this! Why is that not clear?” But there were shining little moments, where I asked the right questions and had good pacing during drawing time and used helpful visuals, and I saw a glimmer that I was doing some tiny thing right. I saw my mistakes, stopped agonizing over them, and did better the next time. Try and fix and try and fix and try and fix. That is all I could do. That is all I needed to do.

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The 2nd graders caught the giggles a few weeks from the end. The entire time I was videotaping lessons for assessments, they were golden. They were engaged and curious and only occasionally distracted. Classroom management? Why would I struggle with classroom management? said the prideful one before the fall. Because then the honeymoon ended. And they caught the giggles. A sentence about a character named Eric and his parrot triggered laughter. A little dude’s deep, throaty impression of The Voice of the Mountain caused explosions. One girl’s slouching so low she nearly fell of her chair provoked giggles. And I’m all for laughter, but not when it does not stop. In my last week, we had serious talks in my teacher voice about what it looks like to be active listeners. The skills were practiced and modeled, the reminders were given, the countdown to quiet was attempted, the consequence of taking a break in the hall (horror of horrors) was in place. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I was making some headway. And then I told the kids it was my last day of teaching them, one of my dear distracted dudes said, “Aw, now we can’t be weird anymore!” And I realized that they knew. My newbie status had been found out. I wanted to laugh and cry and possibly send the kid back to Vietnam. (I kid, I kid.)

I realized that maybe I’d screwed up. Maybe I’d been a little too chill. Maybe I’d let the consequences go unenforced for too long. Maybe my teacher would take over and wonder what in the heck I’d been doing for eight weeks. And it would be okay. The world would not end. The kids had still learned something. I could smile. I could fix it next time.

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I started stepping away from classes this week, to observe how a rockstar 1st grade teacher manages her classroom and what upper-grade Language Arts teachers do for context as I step into 7th grade English. On bus duty, telling kids to “Walk down the stairs, no, you come back and try that again, that is not how we walk to the bus,” my cutie-pie kids waved at me. They missed me. They asked why I wasn’t in class and if I would come back and teach them tomorrow. My 3rd graders, the ones who always ask “Can I tell you just one thing?” which is never just one thing, check every day now when I’m leaving. One of them made sad faces at me when I watched my cooperating teacher teach their class and hugged me when I walked by in the hallway.

I look back, at the moment on the video recording of one lesson when all of the students leaned in close over a simple experiment, curiosity piqued. At the time when the brand-new kid used the words “my brother” for the first time in conversation. At the look on the 4th grader’s face when he found out we were writing letters to the principal, and that she would actually read them. At the quiet embarrassment of the kiddo translating his own strengths and challenges into Spanish for his mom at conferences. At the questions of the 1st grader, who requested, after some stubborn prying into my personal life, “Can’t you bring your boyfriend here, so I can meet him?” And I tuck those snapshots away. In the middle of this placement, I got restless, so ready to move beyond ABC and 123 and truck-car-train. In my hustle, I forgot that this time has held sweetness.

Sure, it’s been complicated too. I have been challenged and passionate and bored and confident in the same morning. I am sad to leave the cute little faces and the setting that’s become familiar, class by class, but I am ready to move on. I want to make a big dramatic stink over this, but this messy ball of feelings, the way things move on before you’re ready and after you’ve been ready for forever, is life. And life involves beginnings and endings, changes and transitions, hellos and goodbyes. All I can do is name the good and the hard, and let them quietly change my heart.

So adios, kiddos. May you always be adorable, and may your vocabularies always be increasing. Thanks for teaching me more than I taught you.

Done

Done. adjective. According to Dictionary.com, “Completed; finished; through.”

Yes, I am a complete sap. Image via Pinterest.

Yes, I am a complete sap.
Image via Pinterest.

So apparently I’m done.

My junior year of college is complete.

The rooms of Phileo 2 are empty, their inhabitants tricking out into the world beyond Northwestern. The dusty pennants and the banner graffitied with ballpoint pen are down, soaked with excited girly screams and snippets of hallway conversation. The rooms will never be filled with the same blend of spunky and sweet and hardworking and kind women; next year, different lives and stories will cushion the industrial furniture and white walls. I know that many of the sweet girls will still be on campus in the fall. But no longer will the same group gather to eat fondue or roast s’mores over the stove burner or talk about art or build the community I dearly loved.

These babes. I like them so much.

These babes. I like them lots.

The Hartill staff has dispersed, spread to summer housing and foreign cities and familiar homes. No longer are we cemented together by our common duties and struggles. That the year with these beautiful women is done cracks my heart. I just love them so much. Through JoJo’s from Trader Joes and books read aloud and vulnerability and desperation to be understood, coworkers have become deep friends and sisters. I’ve been cheered by their goofiness, shaped by their Christ-love, stretched by their wisdom, encouraged by their tender hearts. No longer do we live just halls apart, the threads of our separate lives knotting together every week. We’re cut loose, linked a little less tightly.

So much love for these women.

So much love for these women.

Friends pull away to their summer lives of work and travel and separation. Chance encounters in the coffee shop and casual weekend movies don’t work quite as well. I don’t receive the everyday afternoon update on the building of their lives. We’ll all be reunited in the fall, both changed and the same. Slowly we’re moving on, chipping closer to real life, with brand-new announcements of engagements and fast-approaching graduations. This summer, we feel that.

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Longtime, lovely friends

 

More awesome people who play intramural volleyball

The rockin’ intramural volleyball team

This is weird.

The closing of the year is always a strange thing. For the last days on campus, end-of-the-year loom dark over finals and move-outs. I try to swallow them until the whole thing is done. And then, all at once, it is. Tests over, assignments in, room empty, goodbyes said. The car pulls out onto Lydia on a one-way trip, burdened with stuff. And after six hours and only a few breaths, I’ve slipped into the comfortable routine of home, though my boxed-up college life still lingers in the entry. But I feel like it’s just another school break, that a few days more will find me packing my clean laundry and trucking back to the Cities for another helping of this year, the same people and routines and scenery and themes.

But that’s not true.

It’s really done.

All that remains of this year are the moments that I tuck away, like trinkets in under-bed boxes, to later rediscover, a little dustier and a little dearer. Late-night dance practices in end lounges. A lamp-lit circle of girls crowding my dorm room, sharing their ordinaries. Weariness tempting eyelids down under fluorescent classroom lights. Cinnamon tea warming hands on frigid mornings. Prayers from tired RAs dissolving inexplicably into laughter. The warm-sugar smell of cookies baking in dorm ovens. My rapid heartbeats as student eyes watch for a lesson’s beginning. Salty stovetop popcorn and chick flicks. Wandering red lines scratched over messed-up grammar tests.

The gentle handling of these moments is sweet, heavy with God-breathed blessing. Letting them go is hard, a little hesitant, as life keeps drifting on. But it’s expected, this shifting forward of life. The seasons warm and cool, hesitant and apprehensive girls slapping on Resident Assistant nametags become a little less unsure, shaky voices firm with confidence. And then the cycle starts anew.

This year is fading in the rearview mirror, with all of its difficulty and beauty and stress and joy.  It is done.

But here, now, today, another season begins.

Conclusion

Conclusion. noun. According to Dictionary.com’s elaborate definition, “end.”

The party is over.

The house is quiet, the robe and mortarboard are stowed away, the cheesecake is gone, and my little sister’s high school career is finished. Tis the time of year for graduations. And for conclusions.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with these buggers.

At my own graduation, I was thrilled by the prospect of moving on from my tiny hometown, of gaining independence, of escaping the same-old, same-old that comes from living in a place with no strangers and one restaurant. But even I, the girl who refused to cry during the ceremony because I was so dang excited to be done, felt a twinge of nostalgia, the significance of the moment that was passing. Even I had to admit the unknown, looming future was a teensy bit scary, and that I wasn’t quite sure how things were going to pan out.

This battle sneaks over into the realm of books and words, too. I am conflicted when I flick the last page of a spellbinding book, reveling in knowing how the story ends but dreading saying goodbye to the alternate universe I’ve discovered. No more vivid characters to engage in imaginary conversations. No more discovery in new places and times. No more intriguing plot to untwist. According to Pinterest, other people have this problem, too. It’s diagnosed as a book hangover. The dread of the book hangover is the reason I’ve been soaking up chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird for months, desperate not to leave the world of saucy seven-year-olds and small-town Southern drama. I’m no good at writing my own conclusions, either. I like the idea of wrapping up a piece, finishing with a memorable pop and loose ends knotted in a neat little bow. But what turns out pretty and satisfying for others feels repetitive, pretentious, or annoying when I try.

And then, bigger than a book hangover or a flopped final paragraph, there are the real-life conclusions. The end of a favorite class. The goodbye to comfortable routines and places. The partings with far-away friends who won’t be seen for months. After two years of college and countless conclusions in other arenas, I still have no idea how to do these well. Do I recount sentimental memories, reliving all of the good times we’ve had? Do I offer some dry, direct derivative of “I like you. Have a great summer.”? Do I go in for a hug?

I have no answers to these questions. And I also have no great insights about conclusions. All of my experience has led me to this stunning realization: they happen. We can’t hold life still, can’t cling to the last few days of high school or college or a relationship and stretch them out until we’re ready to let go. Things are going to change. They might go down the toilet, or they might turn out tremendously. But we cannot change the fact that life is going to keep chugging along, chapters closing and doors banging shut along the way. I guess all we can do is try to keep up, to look back and smile but to keep moving, to keep living.

And that’s all I’ve got. See? I told you I was bad at conclusions.