The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.
At 8 pm tonight, my sister Kirstie graduates from high school. I’m back home in Illinois at my dad’s house for the occasion.
Kirstie is 12 years younger than I am.
She will forever be the same age as the last class of my students I will see graduate. I realized this on the plane ride last night and almost turned to the stranger next to me to share the news.
My other sister, Rachel, is another keystone of my teaching career. The first time I stepped into my own classroom in Florida, my eighth graders were starting the same year of instruction as Rachel was back up in Illinois.
Though the ages of my students have fluctuated as I’ve taught different grades, I know that those from that first class who went to college just finished their third year.
Next year, as Kirstie begins her first year at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, I’ll think of this graduating class of SLA students who will be starting their full-time college careers all over the country.
My students will be taking all sorts of paths once they leave our halls and classrooms. My connections to past students on Facebook have taught me this. Still, Kirstie will be my bellwether of where they are in their lives. For every milestone in Kirstie’s life over the next few years, I’ll wonder about the same milestone in the lives of any number of students.
This is a change.
For the past 8 years, my students have unknowingly filled in for my siblings.
For each teen drama, every end-of-quarter stress out, all the proms and formals – I watched my students feel their way through the chasm of adolescence, thinking of my siblings stumbling along their own paths hundreds of miles away.
My students have helped me come to terms with choosing to move away from my family after college. The pieces of their lives they brought with them to school and allowed me to counsel them on helped me to be at peace with not helping my siblings work through those same experiences back home.
While always my students, in moments, they let me care for them as a big brother.
In the same way I hope Rachel, Kirstie and my brother Taylor will choose their own paths in life and go where their passions take them, I have done the same.
At mile 10 of my first marathon, my friend Julie, with whom I had run almost all of my long training runs, turned to me.
“Ok, Zac, go.”
Julie had a slower pace than I did. She was telling me to leave her behind.
My gut resisted the idea.
“No. I’m fine running with you.”
“Zac,” she said with a sternness that was impressive 10 miles into a marathon, “run your own race.”
We both finished the race. Had I stayed with Julie, I would have felt the frustration and pain of running someone else’s race. Had she run at my pace, Julie would have felt the same pain and frustration.
We each needed to run our own races.
This is what I want for Kirstie. It is the same thing my students have afforded me as a long-distance big brother. It will be the thing my sisters and brother afford me as I leave the classroom.
At 8 pm tonight, my sister Kirstie graduates from high school and passes another mile marker.
Run your own race, Kirstie.