Tonight I am emotionally wrecked in the best possible way. Today was the Senior Tunnel; one of my very favorite traditions at South Medford High School. To commemorate the last day of high school classes for seniors, students make their way through a tunnel of staff members to say their goodbyes. But in order to fully understand the significance of this day I must first explain what happens four years prior as these seniors enter high school as freshman. Anxious frosh enter the gym and into a tunnel on their first day of school formed by enthusiastic staff members welcoming them with loud cheers and clapping. Awkwardly avoiding gazes and high fives, these young adolescents hurriedly file through the tunnels in hopes that they won’t be noticed.
Let’s fast forward to the Senior Tunnel assembly held on the last day of classes their senior year to celebrate this special rite of passage. To kick off our assembly, an amazing organization called the Sparrow Club announces how much money was earned for our school Sparrow “a local child in medical need” through student’s community service. It’s heartwarming to see the reaction from the Sparrow’s family as well as from the students knowing that it took a school community to put love and service to action and make a life changing difference for a child. Just when you think that the emotional climate of the gym couldn’t be elevated another notch, the lights dim and a video begins. The video is footage of the senior class walking through the tunnel as freshman to begin their high school experience. Tears and laughter fill the air as students recognize their younger awkward selves. It’s precious. As the video comes to an end we hear the words seniors have been anticipating for months, “It’s time to form the senior tunnel”. Staff from all corners of the gym make their way to find their place in the two parallel lines that form the tunnel from one end of the gym to another. The tunnel looks just like the one we formed at the beginning of the year for freshman, but the emotion that will soon fill this tunnel formation is a stark contrast to the emotion of the August tunnel. The air gets a bit thicker as everyone anticipates what comes next, “Seniors you may enter the tunnel”. Students fill the tunnel and tears begin to flow as they make eye contact with the teachers and staff members that have made a significant impact on their high school years. With each embrace a flood of memories come. For the student, the joys and challenges of the high school experience. For the teacher, the joy and challenges that come with supporting and teaching a young adolescent to adulthood.
For the past thirteen years, I have woken up on Senior Tunnel day, applied my waterproof mascara, and entered the gym with my Kleenex box in hand to say goodbye to students who I have loved and cared for throughout their high school experience. This year was different. I woke up today not as a high school teacher, but as a district Tech Integration Specialist. With my morning agenda booked solid with a four hour planning meeting I didn’t think I’d be able to attend the Senior Tunnel assembly. However, even if I could would I feel awkward standing in the tunnel since I was no longer a teacher at South? Would kids even stop to say goodbye since I wasn’t part of their Senior year? It may sound silly but I was even thinking, will they remember me?
As I walked into my morning meeting I quickly realized I couldn’t focus because all I was thinking about was the Senior Tunnel and how sad I was that I would be missing it. After voicing my thoughts to my colleagues, they said, “You should go.” I didn’t have to be told twice. When the time came I left the meeting and made my way to the high school just in time for the assembly to start. Once I entered the gym it was confirmed that I had made the right choice. How could I have even considered missing out on this special tradition. As the announcement was made to form the tunnel, I found my place in line like I had for the last thirteen years. However, this time I wasn’t carrying a Kleenex box. Secretly I was thinking, it will feel different this year. I won’t be nearly as emotional. I couldn’t have been more wrong or more blindsided by what took place next.
As the Seniors began to stream into the tunnel a student who I had for three years looked at me and did a double take. What came next literally took my breath away. She gasped and immediately burst into tears, embracing me with the biggest hug that she wouldn’t release. In this moment I knew I had made an enormous mistake by not bringing my Kleenex box. The flood gates had opened and my tears wouldn’t stop. What surprised me even more was all of the similar student reactions that followed; gasps, screams, hugs, and uncontrollable tears. Though I hadn’t been a part of the class of 2019’s senior year, they hadn’t forgotten me; the connection we made was lasting. It was the most amazing and powerful experience and hands-down the most emotional. It even trumped when my daughter walked through the tunnel, at least then I was prepared for the emotion.
Driving back to my meeting at the district office, the tears were still cascading down my cheeks. What I had just experienced validated all that I believe about education and my “L” of MAGICAL: Legacy. The emotion that filled today’s tunnel wasn’t because students crushed the OAKS test or mastered all of the content standards. The tears flowed because students had found a home within our school walls due to a loving staff that pour their heart and soul each day into the lives of kids. Freshman enter our school with fear and trepidation and leave as seniors feeling connected and a part of a school family that loves and believes in them. That’s powerful!
It doesn’t matter what role in education you play. Don’t ever underestimate the difference you’re making in the life of a child. Build relationships with kids, listen to them, give them a voice, show them you care, believe in them, love them, support them, give them a safe place to learn and grow, create unforgettable experiences that immerse and empower them. Your students may not remember all of the standards or the lessons learned, but they will remember that you made them feel special and how much you believed in them. Our role is so vitally important. You hold a magic that is all your own and are leaving a legacy that will last forever.
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.