In the fall, you wrote letters to me. You shared the basics: who your 6th grade teacher was, how many books you thought you read last year, and anything you thought I should know about you. You all mostly kept it safe. You weren’t sure what to expect of seventh grade. In my eight years of teaching, I have welcomed almost one thousand 12-year-olds to their first day of seventh grade. Saying hello on the first day may seem scary, but for me, it’s saying goodbye that’s the hardest.
In the fall, I left you to welcome my own child into the world, but I still thought about my kids at school – you all. I wondered what you were reading, what you were writing, and most importantly, what was going on in your lives. When I came back, you wrote me another letter. You updated me on what happened in your lives – there were many changes. Some good, some not so good. You were celebrating achievements – making sports teams, dancing on national television, welcoming new members to your family. You were experiencing heartache, too – divorce, cancer, and saying goodbye to loved ones. There were big changes, and you faced them with bravery.
But now it’s my turn to write you a letter. To let you know how proud I am of each and every one of you. You grew as readers, and you grew as writers. Most importantly, you grew as better people. You may not have seen it in yourself. But I did. Always remember that you have a lot to do in this world. So do it big.
And always remember what Coltrane taught us – you may be dropped in the middle of somewhere you think you don’t belong, but you are not your past. You are not your mistakes. You can make a difference.
And remember what Jeffrey taught us – that when we face the scariest battle, we can get through it with family and laughter.
Remember what Staples taught us – a person’s exterior can just be a mask to protect a scarred life.
Always remember what Luis Urzua taught us – no one gets left behind.
And please, please, remember what Zach Sobiech taught us – never give up when all seems lost. Smile, smile, smile. And you’ll go up, up, up.
This year, we laughed together and we cried. We questioned and sometimes we didn’t get along. But that happens in every family.
I hope you keep writing me letters. When I get emails or tweets from former students, the memories of that classroom community, of that year, come flooding back. Because each group that sits in these seats together is forever linked through the stories we shared in books and in our own writing.
Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.
And don’t forget to DIVE IN to a good story every once in a while.