This year, I have a senior homeroom. These 15 students have been in my homeroom since they were freshmen. In a few months, I will send them off into the world with a catch in my voice and trepidation in my heart. I do not fear their readiness academically. They have been given all that we could give them, and they are prepared to take college classes, or join the army, or hold down jobs. I know this. What I worry about is the rest of it. I worry that they are unprepared for independence.
Recently, there have been news stories about fraternities doing shameful things, but this is nothing new. There has been report after report about rapes on college campuses, and the lack of action or follow through in response to these rapes. None of this is new. But how do I prepare my students for these things?
As teachers, we walk a line every day. For some of us, this line is clearly marked with permanent marker. The line dictates what we will and will not talk about. Rather than take the risk of reprimand, we may choose just to teach our subjects. We stick to math. We stick to science. We talk about a book or a poem, avoiding the topics that might burst the imagined bubble of innocence around our students. We hide behind our subjects and our jobs.
But I look at my students in my homeroom, these young adults, sitting safely behind their desks, whom I have known for four years, and I know I must say something.
Here's what I would like to tell them:
Soon, you will be free; You will no longer have an adult watching you for seven hours a day. There will be no one concerned about why your eyes look red this morning, or why your head is on the desk today. There will be no adult who knows you well enough to worry that today you are acting differently, more withdrawn or angry, or even to ask why you seem to be walking on a cloud, why the smile, the laughing lilt to your voice? So, yes, you are free, but you are also alone. Perhaps for the first time. It will be scary, but know that we have given you the tools you need.
Breathe in all of that strength that I know you have within you. Hold that breath as long as you can, and remember who you are.
Look around you at the strangers in your dorm, or your unit, or wherever the world takes you. Choose your friends carefully. Find a person you can trust, someone with whom you are comfortable, someone who lets you be vulnerable, and does not judge you for it. Be a pair, a duo, a team and a shield for one and other. There will be a moment when you know in your gut that something is off, and you will need that person by your side. If it feels wrong, it is wrong. Leave. Trust each other, and leave. More often then not, your gut will know before your brain does. Let it be your compass. Having a hand to hold at this point makes all the difference.
Find your voice. Be a presence wherever you are so that it becomes clear to you and those around you, that your choices are just that. They are yours. If your voice is clear, then people will listen. I would rather be wrong at top volume, than silently right.
Allow yourself to make a mistake. Once. Then learn from it, and don't do it again. There is no point in regret. Regret allows you to wallow, and wallowing is lazy. Get up. Apologize. Move on.
Most of all, learn. Take in the world around you; Soak it up. Because every new experience will teach you more about yourself. And when the world tries to beat you down, as it will from time to time, those who know themselves rise up. Again and again.
Be that survivor. And remember, no matter what, this too shall pass. It always does.