When you ask others to recall a significant moment in their lives, I would expect you to hear about wedding days, first dates, births of babies, first days at a new job, perhaps graduating from college. Like most, I recall all those significant days very clearly and with a lot of joy. However, I decided to write about something a little different – my last day of school as a middle school principal.
I was the principal of Hartland Middle School at Ore Creek, in Hartland, Mich., for 20 years (and the assistant principal for four years before that). I was there when the school was designed and built. I had access to the architects and builders and was able to have some input into the type of school we wanted. We wanted natural light in every classroom, collaborative work areas for teams of teachers, courtyards, an open “commons”-type cafeteria with lots of windows, accessible tech labs throughout the building, and everything all on one floor. It was — and is — a beautiful school.
But, it is not the building that makes a school great. It is not the books, supplies, curriculum, or equipment that makes a school a great school – it is the people: the teachers, the students, the classroom aides, the lunchroom staff, the custodians, the bus drivers, the counselors, the front office staff, and even the principal. On my last day with the kids as their principal, I knew It would be all the people I would miss when I entered “retirement.”
On the last day of school, I was called out to the hall for an “emergency.” What I saw was all the hallways throughout the school lined with students and staff holding large cut-out signs of my large face cheering and clapping for me. I then saw that the staff had invited my family and they were there. I held hands with my wife, Jodie, and walked through all the hallways of the school getting and giving hugs and high fives all the while crying. I was blown away.
This is how people can make a school such a wonderful place – by all coming together, caring about each other, connecting with each other, working together towards a common purpose. It is the people who can create moments that others will recall for the rest of their lives. Celebrations of academic, artistic, and athletic achievement. Creating special bonds that will be remembered for a lifetime; being that “one person” who always believed in you and never gave up. How many of you remember that special teacher or staff member who made you feel cared about, valued and connected? Always remember that YOU also have the power to do that for someone else!
That day demonstrated with very few words that I mattered, I made a difference, that I would be missed. The people of the school came together with one purpose and made me feel loved and admired. I will always remember that day.