When you look back, do you see a wake? (revisited)

William Holden water skiing at Malibu Club. c/o Time 1949

As I struggle to write a post that sums up what I want to say to the class of 2014, I realized that all that I wanted to say, I had already written last year.  A friend challenged me to write a commencement speech and this is what I came up with.  It is about me, it is about why I loved teaching you, it is about what I hope for your futures.  Make a wake!

We have all been there. You remember, don’t you, that turning point when you tried to come to grips with what you wanted to do with the rest of your life? It was at this moment that I sat down with my old Young Life leader in the Staff Dining room at Malibu Club. Amongst the clanging and banging of the dish pits running full-bore after dinner, we talked of my future plans, what should I do with my life? Tom spoke to me for a while about the successes and failures he had had in his own life and then came this reassuring phrase…. “Whatever you do, make sure you can look back and see your wake.”

For those who have been to Malibu Club, you know it is a camp built at the mouth of the Princess Louisa Inlet in British Columbia. All the activities we do with kids there are centered on being on the water. That tiny fjord on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia offers inspiring views of the mountains while you canoe, water ski, swim, and sail. And if you are moving fast enough on that water, you make a wake.

It is at this time each year we teachers usually take a moment to look back on our careers with nostalgia. The bittersweet ache of students leaving us to go off into the big bad scary world causes us to reflect on those that we have had sitting in front of us over the years. And thankfully, when I look back, I see a wake.

And I see it for others too. This weekend my Facebook feed was lit up with other teacher’s wakes. The high school teachers were posing with kids at back yard barbeques in honor of the graduates. The professors were posing with their future world leaders at posh cocktail parties, but the essence of the pictures was the same as those of the high school graduates: caps and gowns, group pictures of friends and family, faces of sheer joy, crying moms. They all appear to be excited for their futures, and they are so happy to have their arm around that mentor that helped them on their long quest for enlightenment. My friends look back and see their wake.

Our lives are much slower than that fast-moving ski boat, but the wake is still there. It is why we teach. It is not for the money. It is not for the recognition. We teach because we enjoy being part of our students’ educational journey. We teach them, we walk along side them, and then we push them out of the boat into the world. We get the pleasure of looking back to see the lives we have empowered in all their turbulence, joy, successes, and failures.

So good luck Classes of 2014! Go and make your wake!

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