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Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow




William Shakespeare famously penned and opined, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”


As a student of English Literature, I always believed that I understood the meaning of those words. But it wasn’t until I walked the path of an educator, that I truly uncovered their deep truth and significance.


As a little girl, I dreamed of a life on the stage. 


After watching the ethereally beautiful American ballerina Gelsey Kirkland dance in PBS’s annual broadcast of the Nutcracker at the age of 7, I decided that the life of a prima ballerina was the one for me.


But by the time I was seriously considering lessons at the age of 10, I discovered that I would already be quite behind in the ballet training required to reach the stage of the Met. 


And once I found out that I would most likely have to give up two of the great loves of my life, chocolate and chocolate cake, this dream fell by the wayside rather quickly.


Next at the age of 12, I decided that I wanted to be a singer, and tour the world as a backup vocalist for Duran Duran. Fellow teenage girls of the 80's understand.


But after tripping over a shoelace onstage during my performance of Annie’s “Maybe” in front of my entire vocal class, and later relegated to the “regular” chorus after two years of auditioning for my middle school’s prestigious “Show Biz Kids”,  I resigned myself to the reality that my Maybe  on Broadway or at Wembley Arena was probably going to be a No.


But truly, in my heart of hearts, my most fervent dream was to become a teacher, and to spend my days in front of a class of students, alongside planning lessons, assigning homework and grading papers. From the age of 6, I started practicing doing all of these things after school. 


Needless to say, I lost a lot of friends who balked at the idea of sitting in my classroom (and being assigned More homework) after already spending an entire day at Van Zant Elementary. 


But the real departure of so many friends strangely did not deter me, and I persisted in pursuing this passion. And slowly but surely, my dreams of the spotlight began to fade into obscurity.


Yet as the years progressed, and I officially entered the teaching profession, I realized that I had in reality stepped onto arguably the biggest and most important stage of them all. And that I, and in fact all of us here, are secretly rock stars. 


If any of you doubt your celebrity status, head into the mall on a Friday or a Saturday evening, and wait for a student that you believed hated the very ground you trod upon, spot you, and then proceed to break into a frenzy and scream your name across the crowded concourse, much to the confusion of every other shoppers in the vicinity.


I can say this with certainty, because it has happened to me many times across my career. So much so that, while it doesn’t sting as much as having to give up sugar, I don’t shop nearly as much as I used to. I definitely save a lot of money, but I miss my frequent shopping excursions, due to this “celebrity” cache.


But why does this happen? None of us are not Rhianna or Drake, 


It happens because our students recognize what we sometimes fail to recognize in ourselves, as we wear the familiar path of bell to bell instruction.


That we carry the flame of the future in our hands, each and every day. And wield more influence in the lives of young people, than any celebrity could ever hope to possess. 


This can very often feel like a curse, as we struggle to live life outside of the precision and exactness of that school bell, and outside of the classroom spotlight, longing for those moments where we don’t have to be “on”.


But it is in reality, a blessing beyond any of our imaginations.


Because unlike Rhianna or Drake, who by this point are probably hopelessly out of fashion, our influence is timeless, and stretches across the lives of so many students who were fortunate enough to sit in our classrooms.



In the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder, the lead character Emily-- in the face of leaving behind her small hometown which she had viewed as druderous and boring at best, and “small-town”  intrusive at worst--suddenly realizes how grand in its humble simplicity it actually was.


“It goes so fast.

We don’t have time to look at one another.

I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life,

and we never noticed. 

Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?”


As we walk our daily walks, the sometimes monotonous precision of that piercing bell announcing both the start and the close of our daily narrative, and the never ending versions of the questions  “what are we doing today??” and “why are we doing this??”  can mask just how important and wonderful is the stage we all walk upon. But it is so deeply important, wonderful, and magical,  all the same. 


But if the often droning tediousness of our daily tasks, paradoxically coupled with the challenges of a performance on the stage is not enough to contend with, life in this arena is also formidably compounded by a reality that much resembles going into battle. 


Each one of us here is a warrior, a crusader fighting for the minds, hearts and future of our students. 


And just as we occupy arguably the most important stage one can conceive, we perhaps fight the most important battle imaginable as well, as we stand as the champions of the young people of our community.


It is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it carries with it the reward of an immortality of sorts, and an unbreakable bond between warriors in the fight. 


In the Shakespearian play, Henry V,  King Henry gives a rousing speech to his soldiers as they head “once more into the breach”, and reminds them that beyond their toil and fear of the battlefield, lies a legacy and a fellowship that can never be taken away.


“This story shall the good man teach his son;

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember’d;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers [and sisters];

For they to-day that sheds their tears with me 

Shall be my brother [and sister]; 


And gentlemen [and women] now still sleeping [past the hour of 5 am]

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their [livelihoods] cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon this day."


It has been the honor and the blessing of my life to share this stage and to fight alongside each and every one of you gathered here today. You have carried both the weight and the light of our mission with passion, dignity, honor, and grace, and I sincerely hope that I have done the same, as the curtain closes on this part of my life.  

As I look forward to new dreams, I leave with a full and happy heart.

Parting is such sweet sorrow,

But I will not say goodbye til it be morrow,

Although by this point it may seem that this soliloquy will never end. 

But I leave with the words of the transcendent  poet Walt Whitman, immortalized by the transcendent actor, Robin Williams, who played a transcendent teacher in the film Dead Poets Society, who challenged his students to “seize the day” and to leave their indelible marks upon the world.


“Oh me! Oh life! Of the questions of these recurring/

Of myself forever reproaching myself/

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, 

of the objects mean,

of the struggle ever renew’d/

The question, recurring-- 

What good amid these, O me, O life?


Answer.


That you are here--that life exists and identity.

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”


I thank the Good Lord everyday for making me a teacher, for the opportunity to contribute my verse to the next generation.


And to my fellow educators-past, present and future- your legacies indeed will be etched across time, and will echo across the universe, forever. 


As we share the spotlight here, on this grand stage called Life.


With Love,

The Bespoke Rose

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