My Fellow Educators in the Pandemic: A Commencement Address

The following commencement address was delivered by Julie to…herself, in her school office, this past Monday after her umpteenth disconnected student Zoom meeting; returning parent phone calls regarding general complaints about her district office, that one teacher who has “that” tone in emails, COVID safety protocols, and the food choices in the cafeteria; and trying to sneak bites of her almond butter and jelly sandwich in between in-person student meetings. She never did finish her lunch.  

My fellow educators,

I am honored to be with you all today as we say goodbye to this school year.

Since this is a commencement speech, this would be the moment where – in an effort to inspire you – I would recite a typically banal quote from some philosopher, esteemed leader, or children’s book author. However, in my effort to find such words, I found myself on the internet scrolling and scrolling through Pinterest-ed clip art and CANVA styled posts, and practically wanting to gag on my third glass of Pinot Noir. What could I say to all of you that could adequately convey how I, along with so many other educators, felt this year?

Well, I think I speak for all of us when I say,

Miss me with that BULLSHIT.

This year was straight up BULL. SHIT. No quote from Nietzsche, Eleanor Roosevelt, or even a line from Everyone Poops could sum up this cursed year. Not even the most acclaimed credentialing program could ever prepare us for what we had to endure these last 15 months.

We were pushed, pulled, twisted in every direction, and yet expected to never break. What began with us being lauded by parents as heroes and saints, we found ourselves vilified by many for wanting better safety protocols in an effort to keep ourselves, our families, and even our own students safe. We faced conflicting messages: Keep up the rigor, but don’t push; hold the bar high, but not too high – perhaps an inch or two off the ground. As the days progressed, we felt our professional integrity and mental health holding on by a microscopic thread.

Then there were our students – the reason we got into this profession. Day in and day out, we watched learning gaps become learning chasms, anxiety and depression infiltrate distance learning classrooms, and blacked out screens and ceiling fans. For students who see the classroom as safety and a refuge from a house of horrors, that house became their classroom. We found ourselves in a constant battle to connect, protect, and inspire.

Did we give up? Hell no. We’re educators – an industry that is grossly undervalued, underpaid, and gets a measly discount at J.Crew. Thanks for my 15% discount, Crew. I’m sure I’ll be able to buy even more $200 cashmere crew neck sweaters with all that extra money in my bank.

The pandemic may have pushed us to the breaking point, but nevertheless we persisted. Teachers, school counselors, psychologists, speech therapists, and other school staff became more resilient – a tenet already required for our jobs. We stepped out of comfort zones, found ways to engage both the student and the human being, and swung at any curve ball thrown by school districts, disgruntled parents, or changing health and safety guidelines. Sometimes we struck out, but at least we stepped up to the plate.

That resiliency and persistence paid off as we found the light in a year of darkness. More and more students returned to schools, not in an effort to raise their grades or get that A in a class, but to get back to a sense of normalcy. Soon empty hallways, offices, and classrooms had the energy of students and although it is going to be a while until we come back to “normal,” we’re on the right path. A path, my fellow educators, we never deviated from and will continue to lead because we’re educational bad asses. 

So, here’s my wish for you this summer: May the only alcohol you have these well-deserved months end up in a margarita glass and not in a hand dispenser. May your summer reading be filled with books that if brought onto your campus, you would have to attend a sexual harassment seminar. Finally, may the last time you hear “ZOOM” be from your car peeling out of the school parking lot.

We did it, and we will do it again because we’re educators. 

Congratulations and Thank You, Educators of 2021.

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