“The Make Good Son” is dedicated to the student who for five years kept me up at night worrying if he was going to blow an opportunity few inner city kids ever have. Yet, despite all of the setbacks, false starts, and one-step-forward; two-steps-back, he became the first in his family to graduate from high school.
As I mentioned in the July 6, 2017, “Throwback Thursday: The Speech I Actually Gave,” writing letters to particular graduates has become a tradition over the years – dating back to when I got married and missed the 2015 Thornt0n-Donovan School commencement.This student, though, supersedes most – if not all – of my success stories because he wasn’t expected to do it. And he did it in spite of all of his detractors, including himself.
You’ve made good on the promise I always knew you had from the moment I started working with you. Sure, it wasn’t easy. There were a lot of missteps along the way and maybe even more excuses – plenty of arguments and strong words and everything else too – but as many times as you’ve made me bang my head against a wall, I never once stopped believing in you. And I never will.
You have a heart bigger than any student I’ve ever taught. As tough as you pretend to be sometimes, you’re kindhearted and compassionate. These are the qualities that make you a human and endear you to others. It’s why so many people have always tried to help you even when you didn’t always give them a reason to do so. They knew how good of a person you were before you did.
Never before have I had a student who is so loyal that he asks me if I need his help when a parent is raising his voice and thumping his chest at me. Be careful, though. There are some who deserve your loyalty; there are others who will take advantage of it and bring you down with them in whatever hole they’re hiding. Watch out for this pitfall. Trust me.
Be your own man, no one else’s. Make measured decisions in the interest of the present and the future. With this in mind, think before you act. The days of getting Get Out of Jail Free cards are over, so before you make a questionable decision, think about the ramifications. Then, after you shrug your shoulders at that because you probably still think you’re invincible, consider all of the people who believe in you and how you carry their hope with you wherever you go. Don’t let them down, but more importantly do not let yourself down.
If I can leave you with one last piece of advice, understand that the world continues on with or without you, the same as it does with me and any other person as well. So cherish the time you have and the opportunity you’ve been granted because it doesn’t always work out that way. There are people far worse off.
You’ve made it to this day, an accomplishment in and of itself. With your high school diploma, you have your ticket to college, a chance you didn’t give yourself for a while. But you’ve made it. And, in a lot of ways, now your life begins – not because you’re graduating, but because you’re entering the stage of your life where you choose your course for yourself and no one else. Choose wisely, young man. There is still much for you to learn. And even more for you to achieve.
Congratulations on the first step. Now, keep climbing, for you will go as far as you believe in yourself. Don’t forget, though, that there are many of us pulling for you too.
I leave you with the words of Langston Hughes in his “Mother to Son”:
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
With great pride and a heavy heart, yours truly,