Last night I had the honor of attending the retirement party of the Superintendent of Schools in New Britain, Mr. Ron Jakubowski. Mr. Jake is also the father of my life associate and college roommate, so I've known him for quite a while, in various forms. Mr. Jake is beloved in the town where he spent most of his professional life, his hometown of New Britain. His retirement party was overwhelming; it was the largest retirement party I've ever seen or heard of. There were about 14 speakers; they all talked about his dedication to the youth and his commitment to the people he loves. He is the man and he deserved every good thing said about him. He also deserved to have the baseball field at Jefferson Elementary named after him. A more fitting tribute does not exist.
The night was a great tribute to a great man, and it got me thinking about my parents' retirement parties. I don't remember my father's retirement party very well. It feels like he's been retired for about 20 years now. I can't even remember what he did (a running joke with my friends is that nobody ever really knew what he did). I know he played golf a lot...
I'm kidding of course. He worked at Capital Community College; he was an educator, like Mr. Jakubowski. The little bit that I do remember about my dad's retirement party was that there were a lot of people (there are a few special events I have in mind that could have been his retirement party...when you're a kid, all events where you have to get dressed up and spend the evening with adults are exactly the same). What I clearly remember is a plaque that was presented to him that praised his positive influence on the lives of countless people throughout the years. That same theme was repeated last night. The same theme was repeated at my mother's retirement party about 10 years ago. My mom was also an educator, and there were a lot of people at her party as well. Her party was the first time I clearly saw how many people loved my mom and had been affected by her in a positive way. It was the first time I truly considered how much educators can influence people's lives. It was a very powerful moment, not only because of the love shown for my mom, but for the love shown for the profession. People were simultaneously celebrating her dedication to the craft and to the youth, and mourning the loss of a passionate, caring educator.
Before the dinner started, my aunt suggested that I speak during the event. I didn't really plan on speaking; I didn't want to go up there in front of all these adults, teachers at that. But everyone was so emotional and my aunt and a few other people were giving me the "you don't have to speak, but we'd all be disappointed if you didn't" look, so I walked up to the podium. The first thing I said was, "With all these kind words about my mother, it's obvious none of you people have lived with her for over 20 years."
That killed. Seriously, I know it's not that funny just seeing it written, but the crowd loved it. I mean, all night people were getting choked up, some were even openly weeping. The varsity football coach made a speech and he was crying. People were dying for a laugh.
But I was serious, in a way. I was trying to get to a larger point about my mom and about teachers in general. There were many times growing up that I thought my mom was being overly strict...and slightly psychotic. But that was the educator, and mom, in her. She wasn't trying to be my friend. She was trying to make me a better person, every day. To her, every moment is a teachable moment. Another thing I said in my short speech was that my mom never stopped teaching; not when school was over for the day or for the summer, and not after retiring. Even on the way to her retirement party, she was teaching me, asking me about my writing and telling me to keep at it, to keep trying and keep pursuing my dream.
That's the thing about good teachers and educators: their jobs are never over. They don't work a 6 hour school day, they work 24/7, 365. I had the benefit of having two educators as parents. Growing up, I didn't really see that as a benefit, but that's the ignorance of youth. You don't really appreciate the people that make a difference in your life until you're older. That's why teaching is so often a thankless job...until your retirement party. I remember the love my parents received from their coworkers and from the people they tirelessly served, and I saw the same thing again last night. You don't always have the chance to thank people who have influenced you, or to tell people how much they mean to you, but retirement ceremonies are a place to do just that. As the M.C. told Mr. J last night, "the next time everybody will be here for you is when you're lying horizontally in a box." (Or something like that...it was much more eloquent and funny when he said it). Too often we wait until the person is dead to celebrate their lives; fortunately for Mr. J, and for my parents, their lives of dedication were celebrated with them in attendance. They were able to see firsthand the number of lives they have touched, and now they can enjoy the rest of their lives with the knowledge that their hard work and dedication meant so much to so many.
Here's hoping all good educators have that opportunity.
Congratulations Mr. J, aka Big Poppa Weedle.
And thank you, Mom and Dad.
I Love You All (Especially Educators)...Class Dismissed.