My heart is overflowing

After two days of walking down memory lane, my heart is overflowing. Monday was the first Adairsville Elementary School Field Day I attended after my retirement, in which I did not know any of the elementary students. It made me sad that my last group of kindergarteners are all grown up. They are already finishing up their sixth-grade year at Adairsville Middle School. Not knowing the participants, though, gave me more time to visit with middle and high schoolers, teachers, other staff members, parents, and grandparents, who were there to help or to watch someone they love take part in the best day of the school year. Many wore shirts that said, “small town, Big Pride;” a perfect community motto for the town I have grown to love. What a joy it was to reconnect and take pictures with my people. 

Tuesday night was graduation for the class of 2024—the class who were finishing up their sixth-grade year when I retired in 2018. Most of them have grown a foot or two since I last saw them. Some I follow on Instagram, or have seen at basketball games, or around town, so I recognized them when I saw them on the football field after the ceremony. Some looked like a big sister or big brother of the fifth graders I taught, but others changed so much I had to ask their names. Several had so many honors cords around their necks, I’m sure they will need a massage after carrying the weight for so many hours. I could not be prouder of this group. What a joy it was to see them on such a memorable occasion. They will represent Adairsville well whether they leave or come back home, as the Salutatorian suggested.

The Salutatorian spoke of the class never being together like this again and encouraged her classmates to leave as friends, as an Adairsville class of 2024 family. When she reiterated a common phrase, “once a Tiger, always a Tiger” I felt the love. Thirty-six years ago, this community captured my heart. Through the years, they have embraced me as their own and made me feel as welcome as those who were born and raised here. 

The Valedictorian used Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses, that begins “I am part of all that I have met . . .” her mother and her grandmother used in their Adairsville High School valedictorian speeches. Having taught her mother when she was a sixth grader my first year here in 1988-89, I beamed with pride. What amazing families come from Adairsville, I thought. So many successful graduates, whom I had the honor of teaching when they were young and impressionable, flooded my mind. 

On the field, I hugged dozens of former students and their parents, yet missed seeing so many more. One student from that same first class of 1988 surprised me on the field. She popped up in front of me in her black robe with adorable short blonde hair and asked if I remembered her. I stared at her for the longest as she gave me hints until I finally made the connection. I vaguely remembered hearing she was teaching at the high school, but it still blew me away to see her standing in front of me. The last time I had seen her, she wore her hair to her waist. Now she says she has her specialist’s degree and has been teaching at the high school for 20 years. How did that happen? I must have blinked.

The final former student I connected with made my already full heart nearly explode. I had him for his fifth and sixth-grade years and later taught his son, standing nearby in his green gown, and his middle children. When I told him I was traveling and writing about my travels, he said to let him know when I finished my book, Finding Joy. He would absolutely be at my book launch. When the teacher mentioned she had heard that I got baptized in Florida, he inquired. I shared my story. He hugged me and asked if he could pray for me. Right there on the football field, one of my former students prayed the most beautiful prayer anyone has ever prayed for me as the teacher and I bowed our heads. Who does that? Well, I guess Adairsville people do that. That’s what they call family. I never needed to leave home to find joy. And that’s why my heart is overflowing.