by Denise Dykstra
Last week our third son of four graduated from high school. He was so excited that there was little sadness over it all
Every graduation has been different, as different as our boys are. For our oldest, I was a mess. He was ecstatic to be done with school and moving on in life and I was hit with the reality that our little family of six was about to get smaller. It was all the firsts and it was hard, even if the change was great for his future.
All change, even change that is truly wonderful, is difficult. When our second graduated, it was the year of 2020 and nothing was like anything we had ever experienced before. And now we have another graduate, and everything feels totally different again from his brothers’ graduations.
I had grand plans of an end of school wrapup article, all nostalgic and full of encouraging words. I asked Eli for help writing this article, to give me his best thoughts on school, and advice he would give others. Bless that boy, he gave me nothing much more than a shrug. I was going to have this column in on the customary Tuesday, but I literally could not come up with how to write it.
As stated earlier, he was little help. Eli told me to tell everyone not to stress about grades because in the end, everyone gets the same piece of paper that says they graduated. Those were his final words of advice for me. Then he told me he had to get to work. Eli loves his job, and there was no way he was going to take more time to help me write this.
Let me tell you this story to explain what kind of student Eli was in school. When our pediatrician, whom we have loved all these many years, asked a very young Eli what kind of grades he had, he was honest and told her “not great.”
Compassionately she asked, “What subjects do you struggle with the most?”
“Spelling and penmanship.”
Our concerned pediatrician explained to Eli how this was a life skill he needed to carry with him all his life and he needed to do his very best. Eli listened to her until she finished and then said, “Not how I see it. I’ll make enough money and buy a phone like my dad. Then I’ll just talk into it, and it will spell everything for me all in nice type so everyone can read it. I won’t need spelling and penmanship then.”
We were all speechless.
That is Eli. He thinks through what he has to do and does it. He doesn’t waver. He doesn’t do anything halfway. But if he doesn’t see the point of it, there is no way you’ll convince him otherwise. This has been a blessing as well as a curse in raising him.
There is a verse in the Bible’s book of Proverbs that says, “Raise a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” There are a lot of people who have a lot of thoughts on what this verse could mean and how it is interpreted. Over the years, my thoughts on the meaning have changed. And they may change again.
I expected my children to all be the same even while my siblings and I are as different as can be. While the jury is still out on how I’ve done as a mother, I have tried to see what is of interest to them and then guide them in that way. Instead of being rigid with what you should be doing, I have tried to learn what way my boys are bent, to go and then tried to guide them in that way. Training them in the way they are naturally bent, guiding them so they know the way to walk their life path. The foundation stays the same, the training differs.
It’s why Eli and I watch “Star Wars” movies. Now, I had never watched a Star Wars movie until this year, and I cannot for the life of me remember who anyone is in the series. I get so confused and have to ask all the questions like, “Wait, isn’t that so and so? I thought they died in that other movie!” But Eli is patient and explains it all to me. We watch all the movies and then we see how Star Wars really does make a lot of practical life sense.
In some ways, it’s me helping raise my son in the way he should go. Watching Star Wars isn’t what any other one of his brothers would do or enjoy, but it is for Eli. I get to connect with him, and it’s something special we have.
The teachers who also have made the most impact on Eli’s life are the ones who followed this approach as well. They found something Eli connected with and used it to teach and guide him.
Mrs. Eichler was his kindergarten teacher and she is the one who helped us realize Eli needed glasses and opened up the world for him, quite literally.
Mrs. Chamberlain who loved these children so much all throughout their second grade year and regaled them with stories of her dog, that the students can still recall.
Mrs. Brenner, who taught third grade, remains one of Eli’s favorite teachers.
Mrs. Vader, who not only introduced the boys to Gary Paulsen, but also pushed her students to see the best in themselves, and became such a cheerleader for her class.
Mr. Boyd is a school treasure, the GOAT if you will; he has his students convinced he is 152 years old, and he has nicknames for every student.
Mr. Visser, who was not only Eli’s cross country coach every year, but was also the one who made one of the biggest impacts on Eli’s life as a teacher as well.
All these teachers had the amazing talent to reach Eli, and other students, in an impactful way. A way that reached him and taught him the way he should go. There are more amazing teachers, but I mention these monumental ones because every single one of them has retired or is retiring this year.
In watching my son begin his new mission, if you will, at this new part of his life’s story, I am overwhelmed with gratitude at those who have had such an impact on helping Eli find the way he should go.
Tell me, do you have a teacher who has made an impact on your life? I love to hear about these stores and I bet others will too. Share about your favorite teachers! And if you can, maybe take the time to thank them personally.
I set out to write a graduation column, and in the process, I guess I did… in a different way than I planned. I am able to thank these teachers who are graduating on to their new chapters of their life stories. Thanks for teaching Eli how to embark on his new journey, and as you begin your new journey, please know that you do know the way. You taught Eli, and he is doing fine. You will too. Thank you.
So graduation and retirement. All in one emotionally packed week. As Mando says, “This is the way.”