The text message reads, “As soon my son walks across the stage and receives his diploma I will leave for class. He’s graduating high school tonight.”
My response, “No way. You stay until you get that Father/Son post-graduation picture and send it to me, THEN you can come to class. Class can wait.”
What was this father going to sacrifice? A grade, ridicule from fellow classmates, a missed lesson in ethics class, some lecture from me, the teacher, on being a responsible adult? In the overall scheme of things, so what, right? We’re talking about a family milestone and a chance for a Dad to give a huge “atta boy” to his youngest son; something far more important that any of the aforementioned consequences.
What saddens me is two things: 1) There are teachers out there that would have said, “Great! See you when you get here,” and then have some penalty for tardiness with strict academic by-the-book justification, and 2) Adult students who would have made class (a grade, image, etc.) the priority in their decision.
I may have been one of those rule-abiding teachers had I not had my wake-up call when I was in my own graduate program. I missed class for being out of town for a work conference and the following week I was vacationing with my family 3 hours away. As I stripped myself away from my family to “make it in time for class” I knew my life/my choice was out of balance. I contacted my teacher and told him I was turning around and that I couldn’t justify missing time away from my family when I had just missed class (and my family) the week before. He told me I was doing the right thing, but he needed to drop me a full grade for having two absences and he did, I got a B for the class. I obviously didn’t graduate with a 4.0, but I’m more proud of that ‘B’ than any ‘A’ I ever earned. I learned a valuable life lesson from that and still earned a graduate degree.
Don’t get me wrong, when you have responsibilities like school and work, the right thing to do is to follow-though and honor our commitments. I also appreciate this gentlemen for his willingness to compromise; trying to make both work, because I also value his sense of obligation to being in class too. After all, I too am away from my family to teach class. Time is precious and there is no responsibility greater than family and I feel truly blessed to have paid-it-forward.
After class he came up to thank me and thanked me. Sharing that his son was beaming when he saw that he was there for the whole ceremony. What really brought me to tears is that he said his son was fine with the fact that Dad had leave early to get to class, but when he saw that he had missed class and was there for the whole ceremony, he was extremely happy. That is what made this story all the more special and inspiring for me.
I praise God for giving me the discernment that this is where this Dad and student needed to be. I pray that this young man will make the right choice for his family when his adult commitments collide. To me, these smiles are priceless; a life experience that no tuition can teach.