Saying good-bye: a message for the Class of 2005 - Teacher Chris Twombley was the faculty speaker for the Mercer Island High School Class of 2005 Graduation Ceremony held at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue on June 16.

By Chris Twombley

Community Voices

We gather here to celebrate our young people today, to send them off into the world. To be sure, it's a scary time for all of us, as any transition is. It's a time of questions.

Graduates: What does the future hold for me? Can I make it without the daily support of my friends and family? Do I shake with my right or left hand when I get the diploma?

Family: Is my baby prepared? Did he wear those shoes tonight to spite us? What's in store for my child?

Teachers: Have we taught them well? Will they remember us in five years?

I like to think of graduation as a time of civility; a time for congratulations and thank yous and unabashed pride and sentimentality. A time for tears: Not for defeat nor for what could have been, but of recognition for what it has taken to get here today. Hard work. Struggle. Tenacity. Community. A belief that hope and character will move all of us to action and compassion tomorrow. Ultimately, today is a time when our intentions are clear: We are here to affirm our belief that our youth, these graduates, in seeking to find their own way, will uphold our common desire to live in a humane, peaceful, and beautiful world. Tonight, our past and future are made poignant in these young men and women.

I often challenge my classes to think about what it means to be human.

I start with the following lines from the ``Brothers Karamazov.'' Alyosha says to a group of assembled boys: ``I want you to understand, then, that there is nothing nobler, stronger, healthier, and more helpful in life than a good remembrance, particularly a remembrance from our childhood.

You often hear people speak about upbringing and education, but I feel that a beautiful, holy memory preserved from early childhood can be the most important single thing in our development. And if a person succeeds, in the course of his life, in collecting many such memories, he will be saved for the rest of his life. And even if we have only one such memory, it is possible that it will be enough to save us some day.''

As humans, we are in a race, because our lives are given meaning by a deadline we all face. In other words, our past and future are shaped by our understanding of the passing of time, of a time when we won't exist. The writer of the previous lines speaks to this very real human fear by suggesting that our memories will ``save'' us by pushing us to be good. These actions help us transcend the limits of our existence by inspiring others to remember us. Like tonight, we are constantly pulled between reflecting and looking forward, of connecting and breaking away. Ultimately, our freedom from time comes in the things that bind us to others.

Graduates, you are a class of fighters and lovers; of artists, musicians, and writers; of would-be rebels and peacemakers; of superstars and everyday Joes and Janes; of activists and backseat drivers; of athletes and armchair quarterbacks; of dreamers and pragmatists.

In short: We recognize ourselves in you. When you get out into the world, do so with a sincere, giving and thankful heart. Most of all, be alive to the world: Delight in its beauty; strive to learn and grow from those around you; champion a lost cause; fight to help those less fortunate; stop to smell a bloom or two; honor those who have given freely to you: Your friends. Your family. Your teachers, spiritual leaders, coaches, and mentors. Trust that you all have what it takes, because we're counting on you.

As a class, you have taught me a lot about myself. Professionally, I feel like I've grown up with you during your time here. You've helped me find my voice and you've rekindled my desire to teach, to make better connections with my students. Four years ago, we sat in classrooms together dumbfounded, scared, and angry as planes crashed into the Twin Towers. Remember? Three days ago, we planted two trees to honor two fallen brothers and classmates. Remember them! Your high school experience is book-ended by two tragedies. The first opened our eyes to a world of enemies and dangers most of us didn't know existed. Our world got smaller and bigger as we watched our TVs. The second opened our eyes to how ephemeral our existence is. As we wandered the halls that day, we understood that life is precious, that, at the end of the day, those we love give our lives value and purpose.

Through all of the highs and lows, you've pushed yourselves to explore your personal, intellectual, and spiritual horizons -- sometimes to the limit, but always to a new understanding of yourselves, of your values, of the frustrations of the joys of being young, and of the often frightening adult world you live in. I thank you for that gift. To say you're a special class is to misrepresent the mix of memories, pride, pain, and hope I feel tonight as I look out over you. Your leaving makes my heart feel young and at the same time very heavy.

I guess life is best lived as a paradox.

I'm going to miss you terribly.

I will preserve you as a beautiful and holy memory.

You are immortal Class of 2005.

Chris Twombley teaches Advanced Placement English at Mercer Island High School. He is also a track coach and teaches retail marketing at the school. He has been at the high school for seven years and was named a district Teacher of the Year in 2004.

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