After 9 years of teaching, I have reached a point where students I once taught in the 8th grade are now graduating from high school. As 8th graders, they were just entering their teenage years and 5 years later they are walking across a graduation stage. It’s quite remarkable to see these students donning caps and gowns ready for the next stage of their lives with hopes and dreams of being successful.
My first group of graduates finished Chester High in 2014. I no longer taught in the district, yet some former students discovered where I was teaching, looked up my contact information, and invited me to graduation via email. The Chester School District is one of the lowest performing school districts in the state of PA and when this group left my 8th grade classroom in 2009 I truly worried that many of them would not make it to their high school pomp and circumstance. So you can imagine my elation receiving an email from James on behalf of the group inviting me to their graduation.
As a part of his email James also gave me a brief heads up on some of his future plans.
“I’m going to do a year or two at DCCC (Delaware County Community College) majoring in criminal justice and earn enough credits to transfer to a state college. My only goal is to be successful & I’m going to try my hardest.”
I took a moment before replying and thought about his only goal to be successful. James was not aware of it but his email was continuing to help me define success for myself. Which is something I suggested that he do also….
“It seems like you have a plan and that is a huge first step. Please understand that this is just a plan and things often change forcing you to alter those plans. I am proud of your goal to be successful but make sure you start to define what success is for you. Don’t allow the world to tell you what your success is. It’s different for every person. It took me some time to figure it out but when you start chasing your own definition of success it is a lot easier to achieve than pursuing after what somebody else believes it is. You reaching out to me 5 years later to invite me to your graduation is a major part of my definition of success. Best of luck defining yours!
Next year marks my 10th year as a teacher and as more of my former students graduate I will continue to encourage them to define what success is for them. They may not discover it over night and will probably spend some time chasing other people’s definition for a while like I did but hopefully they will eventually discover what success is for them and realize how much more fulfilling reaching that success is.