We made it through graduation sunshine intact today. Maybe too much sunshine. It was about 100 degrees and humid and we’re all sunburned and dehydrated, but it was worth every second. Watching my daughter out there – receiving her diploma as well as performing the Star Spangled Banner in sign language – it was amazing and wonderful and beautiful and bittersweet.
There’s so much I could write about my daughter and why I am so proud of her, and how she struggles with a lot of things, including OCD, and gets through all of them and why her graduating with not just good grades, but good friends and the admiration of all her teachers is such a moment of pride.
Anyhow. Before I cry again.
This is something I wrote on June 20, 2001, as Natalie was preparing to graduate from elementary school. Fifth grade. I still think about the words I wrote that day, and how everything that happened in 5th grade had such a huge impact on the girl who accepted her high school diploma today, and the person she is.
June 20, 2001
There is a sign hanging up in Natalie’s classroom. It states, as the song goes, "I Believe I Can Fly." If Natalie believes she can fly, it is because her teacher has given her wings.
Natalie graduates from elementary school tomorrow. It has been a long, stressful and demanding road to this day. From pre school, when I was told she would never read on her age level or do math, to this year – just yesterday – when she brought home her Math Olympics certificate. From kindergarten, when she had no friends, to 5th grade, when the phone never stopped ringing.
The years before this one were difficult. They were marked by low self esteem, learning difficulties, peer pressure, dejection, rejection, and my own depression. Natalie struggle through 3rd grade to fit in, anywhere. To be a better reader, a better basketball player, a better student. To have a friend, even just one. To be happy. She never stopped trying. She never gave up. And I never gave up on her.
This year has seen Natalie grow from an insecure, quiet mouse, to a lion that roared.
I believe that each child has in them unique talents and gifts that will go unrecognized unless they have the right teacher. I believe that a child’s love and excitement for school is in direct proportion to their love and admiration for their teacher. Natalie loved school this year. She treasured it. She looked forward to each day, each project, each challenge. She persevered through homework that seemed to never end and books that were difficult to understand. She never gave up. She became a writer. She found her voice, and in turn, found her unique talent. She had a teacher who worked that talent, who nurtured it and watered it like a beautiful flower.
Never once this year did Natalie complain about school. Never once did she beg to stay home. Never once did she complain about being alone on the playground or lonely after school. Never once did she make a disparaging remark about her teacher. She smiled. She spoke out loud. She made eye contact. She excelled in math and read voraciously. She was in chorus and band and drama, giving her best in all. She stood her ground on an otherwise all boy team in basketball. She stood up to a bully. She stood up for her friends. She found her voice. She found it in the form of her 5th grade teacher, who made every single child in her class feel as if they were the most important, talented special person on the earth.
She may never have a teacher like that again. I can only be thankful that she did this once, that she had this teacher at a pivotal point in her life, when she was teetering on the brink of a very large crack. Because of this teacher, Natalie did not fall through that crack. She will not be one of those lost kids who never quite fit in, never quite enjoy school, never quite smile. She will shine in whatever she does because she has been given wings by one very special person. Because of her, Natalie will always believe she can fly.
And she did fly. She became everything Mrs. Wirth expected of her. I thank Mrs. Wirth not just for changing Natalie’s life, but for helping me to see Nat’s potential, to see past everything everyone else had predicted for her, and for teaching me how to extract my daughter’s full potential, as well as the incredible personality that was hiding inside that little girl. I thank Mrs. Wirth for the absolute pride I had today as Natalie graduated high school.