Graduation Day

This week, another school year comes to a close for the Cartooning classes.

I always feel ridiculously bereft when our last-day pizza party wraps up and the kids go haring off out into the hallway for another year. I suppose it's a kind of empty-nest syndrome. A few days ago, my old friend Rick D. was musing on the CBR forums about how bittersweet it felt to watch his daughters grow up and move away, and I thought, Christ, I feel that way every June.

Now, teachers are supposed to maintain a certain distance, and I do. I don't play favorites. I apply the same standards to all. I work very hard at being rigorously fair.

But just because you try not to show attachment, it doesn't mean you don't actually get attached. Avoiding favoritism is a job requirement; but avoiding having favorites is impossible.

Avoiding meddling is sometimes even harder. There have been times, especially with the troubled kids, where you really want to just pull a Captain Kirk and say Screw the Prime Directive, the only real solution here is to find the person responsible for this travesty and beat the crap out of him.

But you can't do that either.

Often you can't really do anything. There's a huge middle ground between "that kid's from a happy home" and "time to call Child Protective Services," and most of the problem kids fall short -- sometimes just a hair short -- of something you need to unleash the System's full force on. So you talk to the parents, and often you discover they're the problem and they refuse to deal with it. After that, there's usually no place to go.

But that's an ongoing frustration of the job you learn to live with; and there are occasionally work-arounds, interim solutions, things a teacher can do to at least help a little. It's certainly not the hard part about June (though it does factor into it here and there.)

Mostly, the hardest part about June is just knowing that you probably won't see the graduates ever again. That they are passing out of your life.

This year it's goodbye to Lindon, to Tiffany, to Danielle, to Nina, to Denny, to S'Noviah, to Nicole, and to Natalie. Most of them have been in Cartooning all three years of middle school and I've been able to watch them really blossom. Quite a few of them, I've come to think of almost as my own kids.

But what I find out every June is that I miss all of them. (Even the ones that I came home cursing all year long for being bratty little shits.)

I want to hang on to them just a little longer, to make sure they understand some of the things I've been trying to tell them.

And I worry. I worry about how they'll handle high school. I worry Tiffany will be too trusting, that Danielle will be too reckless, that Nina will be too scattered. I worry that flirty little Sno will find out the hard way that flirty girls are vulnerable, in ways that guys just aren't. I worry about Denny being on his own all the damn time, withdrawing further and further from the world. I worry about Lindon... oh, Jesus, I don't even want to write out that list. Let's just say 'I worry about Lindon.' That kid lives on the razor's edge.

I know that I'm being a silly old man, that kids are far more resilient than adults give them credit for.

After all, I lived through high school. Most of us do. But I remember how hellish it was, and it's almost impossible sometimes not to give in to the temptation to try to warn kids about what lies ahead. In the hopes that maybe they can skip over the worst bits of what I remember with such horror.

But it always comes out as a lecture. I can see them rolling their eyes, and I stop myself before they actually start elbowing each other and giggling.

That's when you know -- really know in your heart -- that no matter how much kids like and respect you, you're just another adult. Even if you're the cool teacher at school... you're still only a teacher. To reach the realm of authentic coolness, where your opinion really matters, you have to be a peer. And I'm not.

Still, we had a good year. The new class at Aki, in particular, really stepped up. Considering this was the ghetto school everyone warned me about for two months beforehand, I think a little smugness might be allowed. From both me and the kids. Most of them never even tried seriously drawing before, and the boys in particular really leaned into it and got their geek on. We got that program off to such a good start there that it actually is going to be a real during-the-day class next year, an elective with grades. (We're still figuring out how we're going to meet state requirements for curriculum and so on -- I'm going to be doing a lot of work this summer -- but I'm pretty stoked. And so are the kids.)

And we had successes at Madison too. Tiffany and her Tamora Pierce strip, as well as the teen romance she followed it up with. Seeing Connor and Carlos turn themselves around from a couple of detention-bound losers to the creators of one of the most popular strips we've ever published. Shane learning to ink so well that the other kids were coming to him and asking him to do their pages too.

Remembering that kind of thing gets me through June.

Anyway, here they are, the class of '08.

From Aki:

From left to right: the front row is Carlos, Edwin, and Nathan. The back row is Erick, David, Luis, Andre, Jada, and the other Luis, with Dom sitting just in front of them. Lynn and Cheyanne didn't make it that day.

And from Madison:

Again, from left to right: the front row is Nicole, Nash, Pazuzu, Caitlin, Carlos, Connor, and Danielle leaning over with the green hair. Behind them is Marcus, Lindon, Dani, Jordan, and Andrew. Absent from the picture but definitely a big part of our year were Tiffany, Jessica, Shane, Brandon, Luke, Allen, Ian, S'Noviah, Gavin, and Dasha.

I'm really proud of every last one of them. (Yes, even you, Connor and Carlos.)

Those students that are coming back, see you next year. Those students that aren't... good luck. Take care. We'll miss you.

(And try to remember some of that boring stuff I told you. It will help you. Seriously.)

Those that aren't students... well, I'll see you next week.

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