Their Names

North Branch Area High School Class of 2015

North Branch Area High School Class of 2015

I recently traveled back to North Branch Area High School to watch my former 2nd grade students graduate.  Just seeing their names in the commencement program was enough to bring me to tears.

Reading their names immediately transported me back 10 years to our time together in the classroom.  It seems like yesterday that we were engaged in animated read alouds, recess games, and exploring different passions.  As time has passed I’m certain that my former students have become less interested in LEGOs, Hot Wheels cars, and knock-knock jokes.  Yet these will be the memories I cling to because my heart explodes with a sense of wonderment just reflecting on our time together…and how far they’ve come.

After the graduation ceremony I received an e-mail from one of my student’s parents.  She shared an uplifting update about her son, and also mentioned how he was touched that I was able to make it to his graduation.  What she didn’t realize was that I will always count seeing her son’s name in the commencement program, shaking his hand after the ceremony, and reflecting on all of the time we spent learning together as a “lifetime highlight.”

It’s funny how we can take for granted the infinite number of times that we may write our students’ names down in the course of a regular school year.  It always seemed that there was an unlimited number of names that needed to be written and attached to locker assignments, name tags, books, and countless other items we personalized for students.  However, as time passes we are called upon less often to write their names.

Perhaps this is why nothing prepares a teacher (or principal) for reading a student’s name in a graduation program after so many years apart. It is magical.

About Dr. Brad Gustafson

I am an elementary principal and author in Minnesota. You can connect with me at or on Twitter via @GustafsonBrad

Posted on June 11, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Brad this was powerful and the line about writing the names and how we do it less and less was brilliant stuff. I could tell this post came straight from the heart and meant a lot to you. It kind of reminds me of the scene at the end of Toy Story 3 that tears me up every time I see it. The one in which the boy is seeing his toys for what may be the last time. And he can’t leave them without one last “play” in which in joins the little girl to whom they’ve been passed on to. Thanks for sharing this personal and powerful experience.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback and sharing, Jon. I love the connection you made to Toy Story and “one last play.” Maybe that’s what connecting with former students at their graduation is like…one additional chance to check-in, encourage, and reflect together (or one last play as you so eloquently put it). Thanks again!

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