The rink is full like a sold-out game with people standing along the boards, but they've dressed up for this event in heels and skirts or ties and suits. Arwen and I arrive just in time for "O Canada". Everyone in chairs out on the rink floor and in the stands, stand for our national anthem. A drumming group immediately follows with an honour song. There is no clapping.
I see that the reserved teacher seating is full, so we start to walk into the bleachers when we run into Lisa and Talisa. The girls jump into each other's arms and Talisa joins Arwen as we walk up the stairs, through the people standing along the top and walk way, way down to where parents are sitting with babies. The girls fall into their world, oblivious to the rows of graduates sitting pretty or handsome on the stage far below.
Keep On, Keeping On is the motto written high on the wall. Michael's mural hangs from the ceiling, the highway leading out of the valley, sunset shining, silhouettes of young people walking up the road. There are stars and decorative lights.
In alphabetical order the students are called to centre stage. Our principal, Cathy Cochrane, springs up the steps to greet each student with a hug and a diploma. Some of the kids are also given an eagle feather by Elder Robert Bellegarde.
I am a guest at this graduation, having done nothing in preparation. I met one young man earlier in the day who told me that a teacher paid for his photo sitting, but his parents couldn't make it in, so he did a solo shoot. I heard of other acts of generosity and service.
I am so tired, up in my perch, watching the evening below me. I went for lunch today at Outreach. The hamburgers were all gone, but I stayed and visited. I had felt welcome and special. Right now I feel like a cast off, arriving late, sitting in the back, writing notes in my journal.
I clap for each student as he or she steps into the spotlight. I remember a little grade ten joke or insight we shared. And a few never really left my classroom. Dean, like a son, returning to give me technology advice, check in, call me out for some table tennis. Kelsey, my heart-daughter, with her daily visits and our poetry, hugs, and philosophy. And Arwen said it best: Daisy, my favorite cousin.
This is my humility and my joy; this is me being a teacher.