Our motto for the Upward Bound Summer Program 2015 : “I cannot change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to reach my destination.” This phrase was made all too real the day my kids left me—at least they felt like my kids. They were the Upward Bound students I had mentored for the past six weeks, twenty-four hours a day, five days a week. It was a day I had dreaded since the summer program began back in July, and today, I discovered how this motto would change my life.
We started early as usual, a norm for our group excursion to Chicago. I roused Shounam and Nam (two students from my floor lucky enough to have their favorite Tutor Counselor as a roommate on the trip) by rolling them out of the covers, onto the floor, and back to reality. My stomach sank, for I knew this was the last morning of the summer I would be waking them up.
“What are you doing?” moaned Nam as his eyes fluttered open.
“I’m getting you up! This is your last day with me, so we have to make it count, and the bus leaves at 10!” I moaned back with a grin.
He smiled, along with Shounam, and I returned to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I looked up at the mirror and saw someone I had never seen before. Instead of insecurity and doubt, I saw a heart filled with my students, newfound courage, and confidence. These kids had rocked my world, and today, I would have to say, “See you later. Until next year.” Wow, I was not looking forward to 12:00 PM. Departure.
After an unsatisfying breakfast, we loaded the busses to head for Shedd Aquarium. I ran through attendance, and we were off.
“This is gonna be a rough day,” I whispered to Karina, my fellow TC.
“I know. Goodbyes are the toughest part of what we do,” she replied.
I made my rounds up and down the aisle, handing out smiles, hellos, and stickers. The students eagerly accepted what would be my last round of gifts. 10:15 AM.
At the museum, I felt my stomach drag on the floor behind me. I left a part of it in the gift shop, another in the amphitheatre, and yet another by the penguin exhibit. Needing evidence to prove this wasn’t a dream, I made sure to take as many pictures with the kids as possible. As I watched them peruse the museum, I reminisced in the memories we had shared together. I recalled the bus rides to intramurals, the downpour on move-in day, playing “Euclid Says” in geometry class, and “TC Tuesday” nights in the UB office. I was going to miss this. 10:45 AM.
After a candid photo in front of the museum, we began to walk our herd over to the east doors of the Field Museum where boxed lunches awaited our arrival. I felt my eyes begin to swell, as I knew that many tears were soon to come. This was our final goodbye for the summer. Unlike before, the students—my Upward Bound kids—weren’t just headed home for the weekend, ready to return the following Sunday. They were going home to stay until next year.
I felt a sudden blast of cool air as I passed through the museum’s vestibule.
“Turkey,” I said to the caterer, “and I’m gonna need that cookie for later.”
She smiled and handed me a box teeming with food. I felt my appetite fade; there was no way I could even stomach a bite of what awaited inside. I returned outside once again to see a line of charter busses prepared to take my kids away. I hastily walked my food to “Bus 3” and shoved it under my seat. My cheeks felt wet. 11:58 AM.
Outside, the students began to hug and say their goodbyes. Before I could decide who to hug first, I heard, “Triscuit! Don’t go anywhere!” to my right. I turned and was “blood-clotted,” as they called it, by more kids than I could count. I could hear myself sobbing now.
“We’re gonna miss you so much, Triscuit!” they cried. “You’re the best TC ever!”
I was overcome with emotion.
As the busses departed, I wiped tears from my cheeks. I looked back at the sidewalk of goodbyes. How could I move forward? What would I do without these kids in my life until next summer? Not only had they touched and filled my heart with joy, they had assured me of my passion for students. I needed to teach. I may have cried goodbye to my Upward Bound kids of 2015, but I shouted hello to a lifetime of impacting my students. I was unsure of my destination, but my sails had been adjusted to bring me to wherever that may be. Until next year, kids. 12:10 PM.