My high school principal had a story about The Nerd. The Nerd was a man who did deep background checks for the government. Every couple of years, someone who had grown up in my little town would apply for a high security job out in the great wide world and The Nerd would come and talk to people about the applicant. One year, he was asking neighbors about the young man who had grown up in the house next door and a woman told him that she didn't remember all that much...except that one time she was watering her yard and the kid ran through her sprinkler and flipped her the bird. The principal told us this story as a morality tale: you never know what people will remember about you, so be careful about what you say or do. One day, The Nerd might be there on our behalf.
I thought about this story after seeing a former student in Home Depot. I had him in class when he was a junior. He was a high energy kind of guy and not on task very often. The thing I most remember about this student was his constant pining for California. His family had recently moved to Washington and he was quite unhappy about that---and loved to tell us all about how he was going back right after graduation. And here it is...nearly 10 years after graduation...and he's still living and working in the same town. When I see this kid---who is now a young man---this memory pops into my head. It's really unfair, isn't it? He probably doesn't even remember going on and on about "Cali" those years ago and there is more to his life now. But in my mind, he is forever frozen at 17. I can't reconcile that with the person he has become, because I don't know him now.
Maybe that is just the way it is in teaching. We have kids for a brief moment in time and then they move on to new teachers and life experiences. They don't get to grow up for us. We don't get to watch them change and be part of their lives as they learn new things. We just have to make the time we have together a positive one and wish them the best as they head down the road.