I’ve been kvelling for over a week. Day after day, my former fifth graders (from the final year I taught in Manhattan) have been posting their photographs on Facebook of graduating from college. They’ve graduated from schools like Davidson, Iona, Ithaca, NYU, and SUNY-Albany. Some have graduated magna cum laude. Some are attending graduate school this fall, while others will be working. All of them have made their families (and their former fifth-grade teacher) extraordinarily proud.
If you’ve ever heard me speak about successful writing partnerships, then you might recall the name Tyresha. She was part of the most dynamic writing partnership I ever witnessed as a teacher. Tyresha and her writing partner worked together the entire school year when they were in my class. In fact, they plead their case — mid-year — for why they didn’t think it would be fair for them to have any other writing partner while in my class. I agreed. Not only were they helping each other grow as writers, but if one of them missed school, the other one would turn-key the previous day’s minilesson so I wouldn’t have to do it! (How could I break up that kind of dynamic duo?!??!)
Over the weekend, Tyresha graduated from college with a major in psychology and minors in counseling and marketing. She’s completed multiple poster presentations about mental health and plans to attend graduate school once she hones in on exactly what she wants to do in the field of psychology. The first line of her Facebook post, which included photos from her graduation, began with these words:
I come from a place where people are not supposed to prosper, yet here I am.
Tyresha continued by thanking her parents, family, friends, mentors, peers, and professors who supported and guided her through her educational journey. She expressed a beautiful sentiment, which matched the radiant smile on her face as she stood in her cap and gown for photographs.
However, hard as I tried, I couldn’t get past Tyresha’s first line. Her words pinged around inside of my brain all day. By Sunday evening, I emailed Tyresha to ask her if I could share her words in a blog post (She said I could.) and if I should attribute them to her or leave her anonymous (She wished to be mentioned by name.) in the post.
As a former inner-city classroom teacher, I am troubled by the sentiment Tyresha expressed in her post.
There she was — a college graduate — despite other people’s expectations based on the zip code in which she grew up and the color of her skin.
I cannot imagine feeling as though I was not meant to go to college. I cannot imagine how it must feel to grow up thinking as though people didn’t expect me to reach my potential. I cannot imagine what it must be like to know people wouldn’t be rooting for me to succeed in life. These things were not my feelings growing up in suburban New Jersey, but they are real feelings for many young adults like Tyresha.
No one should grow up feeling as though people are rooting against them. To marginalize someone’s potential because of where they’re from is unfair and just wrong.
Included in Tyresha’s album of college graduation photos was a photograph of her mortarboard, which looked like this:
The message Tyresha donned as she marched across the stage of her college graduation is one that shouldn’t need to be repeated. However, it MUST be repeated. It reminds me of what still needs to be done to help young people in communities like East Harlem, where I taught, so they feel as though people — not just their parents and teachers — want them to flourish. No young adult should reach their college graduation day and feel as though people didn’t want them to cross the finish line. It’s been nearly two days since I read Tyresha’s words. I still find them heartbreaking.
May Tyresha’s words remind each of us of how much more work must be done so all kids — regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, or sexual orientation — feel as though there are many people rooting for them to succeed.