Recently, I attended what could have been my last high school graduation. I say “last” because all of my former students have now graduated from high school. It is scary how quickly time flies, and I still can’t fathom that the kids I knew as 13 and 14 year-olds have grown and are going off to college in what felt like a blink of an eye.
Watch this powerful graduation speech by one of my students:
Xitlalli, the one giving the speech here, is one student whom I grew particularly close with during my teaching career. The thing I miss most about being a teacher is the chance to meet and develop a connection with amazing students like her, for I feel that I have formed what will likely be life-long bonds with these students. They are practically my sisters and brothers now. And although the world may dismiss these students as “black and brown kids from the city”, to place such a label completely misses the mark, for these students are beautifully and uniquely human, and they each have their story, despite being ignored by the rest of society.
I am convinced that there are no such things as innately “smart” or “dumb” kids, and the fact that there are students performing at a high level in one part of the country while poorly in another, is simply an indicator of our systemic failure. Either we have failed to recognize the injustice and racism prevalent in the U.S. public school system, or even worse, we have recognized but simply decided to do nothing to fix the all the wrongs we see, and for that, we should be deeply ashamed.
Then there’s the undeniable truth that there is a lot of political pressure to keep things the way they are. It’s simple arithmetic; for every underprivileged person the society fails to educate, it opens up an extra opportunity for an “over”-privileged person somewhere else because there is one less person competing for that spot in college admission or for a job opportunity. It is no wonder that the gap between the have and the have-nots seem to only widen; many politicians and their supporters are hard at work to try and keep this status quo, fooling many by claiming a phrase like “Make America Great Again,” even though the only people this country was ever great for for its entire history are white men. And worst of all, we often blame the underprivileged for their hardship, claiming that success is the result of hard work and those who want it simply must work harder. Hard work is important, that I agree, but to ignore all of the things that were handed to me just by being born into a privileged upbringing, and to claim that my circumstances are better because I simply worked harder than, say an immigrant mother who had no access to education and works overtime cleaning hotel rooms for the off chance that her children might get a better shot at life, is blatantly ignorant, offensive, and delusional.
But despite all that society does to try and keep some people down, students like Xitlalli manage to arise against all odds, and with tremendous hard work and determination, break the stereotype of “the kids from the hood”. Of all the accomplishments in my life, nothing makes me more proud than the fact that I was their teacher.
There is so much more work to be done to tip the balance of this unjust society, but I have high hopes that we can, however slowly, change the world for the better if each of us do our part.