In August 1999, I stepped into my very first classroom as a teacher. I was assigned to CF to teach First Grade. I had already done my Special Education Practicum, but that didn't count because it was 20 days of Summer School with two other teachers. It wasn't the same thing.

I was 26 years old, and I can honestly say I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing. Looking back, I think I learned more than the students during that semester.

In that classroom, I had two boys who built my character. Their names were Jemal and Mike. I can distinctly recall Jemal hiding under the table at one point while the kids were lined up, and praying in my head because my cooperating teacher was gone and I had no clue how to handle him. To be honest, I can't remember how he got out from under the table. Mike was a good kid, he just had a temper that had to be controlled at times. Honestly, I can't recall a specific thing that I did to connect with the two boys while they were in first grade, all I know is that we connected.

I had the pleasure of having them in my classroom in second, fourth, and fifth grades as the Special Education Teacher. I was close with all those students by the time they left my school and went on to Middle School. I lost touch with most of them, but Jemal and Mike continued to drop by every once in a while and let me know what was going on in their lives.

Jemal dropped off the radar once he hit High School. I continued to pray for him, and was honestly hoping he would just graduate High School. I knew it would be a challenge for him, but I always knew he could do it.

Mike and I stayed in touch. I was given an award by a local car dealership in town due to an essay he wrote about me. (He also got $50 if I remember right!) Mike helped me move last Spring and Summer as well. He has grown into a fine, young man. He has joked with me for years that I would get a Graduation Ticket, and today I got to see him do just that!!!

Both Mike and Jemal graduated today!!! And, for the first time in my life I had a life experience of what PROUD really means. I hear and say it a lot, but today I understood it for myself. Jemal came over and hugged me and said he was probably headed into the Army. I am cool with that, as long as it TRULY makes him happy. As for Mike, he is headed to play football at a college and is majoring in Teaching Special Education. According to his Mom, he spent a lot of time helping out this year in the Special Education Room at the High School and really enjoyed it.

Mike joked today that they weren't in jail...he said that because I told them both in fifth grade that I wanted to see them graduate, NOT WIND UP IN JAIL!!!

I am happy for both of them. I look forward to hearing what WONDERFUL things they do with their lives. Mike promised I would hear from him as he comes through to head to college up North.