October 13, 2006

Forever Young

Every year around Memorial Day, a song comes on the radio that always chokes me up a little; it choked me up even more when I was teaching. It's "Forever Young," by Rod Stewart, and of course they played it because graduation was coming. It's basically a benediction song, so it's fits. I'm a sucker for such things (attendees at our wedding may remember me similarly choking up when Father Pat snuck in the traditional Irish blessing during his homily.) It comes to mind today because our community is saying goodbye to one of my babies this week.

They say you never forget your first class as a teacher, and so far that's been true. Derek and I started at the same time--he was in the first crop of freshman I taught, during my first year as a teacher, and therefore was in the first group of seniors I watched graduate that I had known for four years. He was killed by a roadside bomb on Sunday. He was 21.

Of course, the news is full of his family's grief at the moment--his uncle was a colleague of mine, and still works at the high school--and of course they are saying wonderful things about him. What's interesting to me is that all the wonderful things are pretty much true--he was a good guy. I remember him as a questioner; he was unafraid to ask why we were doing things, but always managed to be respectful, and would go ahead and do whatever it was even if he wasn't happy with the answer. He had a good mind--along with all those questions!--and I encouraged him to take Public Speaking, which he did. Apart from that, he was just plain a nice kid. As far as I know, he shared that respectful attitude toward everyone. We could use more of that in the world. In any case, that is what will stick in my mind...even though I knew him when he was older, I remember him as a freshman, squirmy and full of life. I didn't know him when he was a Marine, serving first in Afghanistan and then re-upping to serve in Iraq, but it certainly sounds like him. That's why the words are coming back to me:

Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart
You'll always stay
Forever young

Goodbye, Derek.

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