“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded”
Thirty years ago I had the privilege of sending off an extraordinary 8th grade graduating class to high school. I used this quote by Emerson as an opening to my farewell speech. At the end of the ceremony, I was approached by some students who told me they would not forget me. Well, I did not believe them at the time. Recently, destiny has allowed me to bump into a few of them who recognized me right away. I must confess, I had to look deep to try to see the faces of those 12 and 13 year olds to recognize them. One of them, recited the quote and said, “Remember me, I never forgot what you said at graduation and I often think about you.” Then the memory lightbulb sparked; this was the student that told me he would never forget me. I became very emotional. Now that I am retired I think about many of my students. I remember the bright ones of course but I also wonder about the ones that struggled the most.
The new school year will begin soon. I could not believe it when he told me his daughter would start college this year. The best thing was when he told me he had written Emerson’s quote on an index card and slipped it into his daughter’s wallet to remind her about what it means to succeed. He thanked me for the inspiration and said, “You have succeeded.”
I want to wish all new teachers who will start their journey as educators of young people a wonderful and fruitful school year. Hopefully one day a student will walk up to you and express the sentiment my student did when you most needed to hear it.