“The only thing that matters is getting @runningdmc to sign my yearbook.”

It’s a tweet I’ll save. An honor to be considered so highly that students come by and say thanks.

This time of year is a beehive. Seniors roaming the halls, caps, gowns, tassels in the air. Some I see every day, others pop out of the woodwork. I haven’t seen them since they left my class. I hope I mattered.

It never ceases to amaze me how fast it ends. They disappear. From the graduation ceremony to the parking lot they are gone. A lingering moment dispersing into vapors, leaving ghosts in the hall.

I see the ghosts for a while. The spot where he hung with his friends, late for every class, the spot where she kissed her boyfriend where I told her to leave room for the image of her dad, the path worn down the center of the hall by the kids that never seemed to have class, “Are you the hall monitor?” I’d ask.

I remember them when they were little, and they first entered my class. When they came out of their shell. When they got their licenses. I asked them to park far, far away from my car. When they showed me their prom and quinceañera pictures. And I see them now, near-adults buzzing around the school waiting for the end of the year picnics and breakfasts I can never attend. My class is still filled with freshmen, the new versions of the future them. I watch from afar with anticipation. They’re all grown up, waiting to go out on their own. 

I hope they know enough about life. I hope they feel I did something for them. I hope I served them well.

“Can’t believe the big day’s seven days away,” wrote one, “I hope everything goes in my favor.”

It won’t. That’s the thing. Life is rarely the path we imagine. I tell her that–that life never goes as planned. It’s dodgeball. How we react is the key. We take what life throws at us and fashion a way to make it suit us. If we do, we succeed. If not, we get hit by a lot of dodgeballs. Then we learn to dodge dip, dive, duck, and dodge. We win the game.  That’s the only lesson that matters–the one I hope I’ve taught.

I don’t want my seniors to win the game. I want them to own it. It used to be that they disappeared, only the specters remained. Now, I see them on social media. They connect. I see them become great. When they reach out to me as real people, co-participants in life, that’s the biggest complement a teacher, a person, can have. Then, I’ll know something I did mattered. I know they’re on the road to being great.

No number two test, no grade in my class, no high-stakes assessment can give me that feedback. Only life can–a longitudinal study in how well the lessons I taught served each individual in my temporary care.

In a few days, I’ll sit at graduation and hope I planted enough seeds to grow into a garden. But today, the halls will buzz with tassels, yearbooks, caps, and gowns–with students excited to unleash their potential on the universe.

And teachers hoping they’re ready.