The day I started taking my education serious was the day I drew Walt Whitman as a Duck Dynasty character.
To be honest, I was a callow child for the majority of my junior year. I would come into my English class with Ms. Hillary Hale talking only about how I was ready to drop out and how school was never important because I could do just fine without receiving a high school diploma. Every class, up until the end of the first semester, I would walk in and ask, “What’s the point of education?” and I always got the same crestfallen, heartbroken and devastated look from Hillary. She tried endlessly and harder than any teacher ever has to give me eloquent, patient answers to my unavailing question, but none ever seemed to stick.
One Thursday I was up to my usual shenanigans while we were studying “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman as it pertained to the film “Dead Poets’ Society.” That day I pushed Hillary a little too far. This class began with the usual absurdity of me talking about dropping out and not wanting to be there. It wasn’t until we finished reading the poem and came to the scene in “Dead Poets’ Society” where Mr. John Keating took his class to the trophy case and asked the students “What will your legacy be?” that I pushed Hillary over the edge by drawing Walt Whitman as a Duck Dynasty character.
I, along with the rest of the class, thought it hilarious, but Hillary, on the other hand, didn’t, and I couldn’t understand why. With the look she gave me, I knew I had screwed up. Her eyes were filled with anger but also sadness, as if she had failed, not as a teacher or an educator, but as a mentor. She told me to go outside. “We need to have a talk.”
At first I didn’t think much of it. I have had numerous talks with numerous teachers and they all ended the same: I walk back into class, laughing while they walk back with a confused, defeated look on their face. But this talk, this talk was different.
Her first words as she walked out were, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Never in my life had a teacher said anything like that to me. It caught me off guard, but I was prepared to fight. I wasn’t going to lose this battle. I always came out on top, but Hillary wouldn’t give up. I looked her in the eyes with a straight face and said, “No one cares, so why should I? I already have my dropout papers ready and signed, I just need you to fill out your portion.”
Right then and there I knew I was gonna lose this argument. She looked at me with utter disbelief and sorrow. With her eyes filling up with tears, fighting them back, she said, “I care.” And there was a silence. Now, it was probably only one minute that I didn’t respond, but to me it felt like hours. All I could hear in my head was her voice repeating: “I care.” It was like a song you get stuck in your head, just replaying over and over: “I care. I care. I care.” To be completely honest, I wanted to laugh, tell her she was full of it, but for some odd reason, my heart wouldn’t let me, as if it knew something my mind didn’t. That was the first time I think I ever apologized to a teacher and actually meant it.
Now here we are, May 18, 2017, graduation day, the biggest accomplishment I’ve ever had, something I never thought I’d do. This means more to me than any championship game, or anything for that matter. The day I started to take my education seriously is the day Hillary became my “Captain”; she became my “Mr. Keating.” She believed in me and saw something in me that, even to this day, I still don’t see in myself, but I promise I will one day see what she sees and I’ll come back and say “I see it too.” Hillary was probably the teacher that saved me, kept me from being another statistic, a drop-out with nothing to do or look forward to.
And for that I am forever grateful. Due to Hillary I have learned that I am not alone. I have learned that people care even if I don’t. I have learned that no matter how difficult things may be or get, I’ll always have someone to count on even if it’s the one person I least expected. I have learned that no matter what, nothing is ever impossible if you have someone to help carry you, carry the load.
My message to everyone younger, struggling with the idea of dropping out, is don’t do it. I promise you the reward is worth the pain, the constant struggle and the endless hours of work because here I am, having dropped out twice and having hated school since the beginning. Here I am graduating. Here I am as a future freshman of Highlands University. This is my legacy.