Three years ago, I taught a troop of ninth graders. This year, those ninth graders became seniors, and I was able to attend their graduation ceremonies. What a satisfying treat! And what great men and women those teenagers had turned into! I was thrilled—and sometimes pleasantly surprised—to hear each of their names called as they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. They had made it! And I was proud of each of them.

I believe the theory that a teacher always remembers her first year of teaching. These new graduates were my first students, so it was only normal that I wanted to see how they turned out. But their class with me probably had more meaning for me than it did for them, and that, too, was normal. So it was really no surprise to me that I felt a happy disconnect from my now-graduating ninth graders as they moved on with their lives with little or no thought for me. I was thankful I had some influence in their lives, and I’m glad I did my best to make that influence count. I was happy to let them move on.

It’s true that, as teachers, we affect eternity and we should take that influence seriously. But, honestly, we usually don’t know exactly how or how much we have affected any of our students—or whether we have affected them at all—unless they say so. If that happens, it might not come until much later. It was over a decade before I actually thanked the specific teacher who influenced my career choice. And as you readers know, I work with people who sometimes reach middle-age before they realize or admit to anyone their former teachers’ life-changing influences. Watching my former ninth-graders graduate made me realize I may never know my influence on them. Many simply and successfully moved on each year without another thought for me—and that’s fine. I hope I was a good teacher; I hope I influenced each of them for the better and even offered inspiration. As our students move on, so do we.

In the end, it really is the student’s success; it is their work, ambition, and determination—together with supportive parents, teachers, and other positive influences—that give them the ability to walk across that graduation stage. What a privilege it was for me to be one teacher in my students’ lives, and what a big difference that short experience was to me.

Some teachers don’t attend their school’s yearly graduation, but they should. They help put our work in perspective and offer satisfying closure for us and our students, allowing us all to gladly and confidently move on to the new, exciting adventures life has to offer. On to the next adventure!

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