I just got back from a memorial service for a young man who should have been one of my students. He died of cancer last week. His name was John. Cancer sucks.
I listened to all the remarks of the people who knew him and how such an inspiration he was to them, and I felt a little cheated that I never got to know John as a student.
The year he was supposed to start in my 8th grade class, he was diagnosed with relapse of the brain cancer that he had as a child. Every other 7th grader came through my class, but he was home schooled for my year.
I got to know John’s mother who came in often to get work for him, and I heard updates about his progress from his friends, but he never spend one minute in my class. Cancer sucks.
He was able to attend 8th grade promotion with the rest of his class, however, and he sat in the chairs reserved for the students moving on to high school, and it was there that I was able to finally meet John.
Every year, I like to do something special for my 8th graders. I compose a rap that I actually perform on the last day of school for my students. (I know it sounds corny, but the kids like it, and it’s my way of incorporating a couple of my passions – lyric writing and music in to my lessons. I mention incorporating your passions into your lessons in my second podcast.) The raps normally have something to do with moving on with their lives and doing something productive.
Some of the titles include: “Don’t Slow Down“, “I Can’t Wait (For Tomorrow)”, and “We’re Not Finished Yet“. That particular year, I wrote a rap called “Shine.” The lyrics for the chorus were, “Shine – Use your life to make a dark place bright – Take a stand for what you know is right – Do some good everywhere you go – You’ve got so much to offer this world so – Shine – No more time to waste – Start today – Find a way to put a smile on someone’s face – You can make this world a better place – if you just remember – every day to – Shine.”
A lot of the inspiration for that particular rap came from the strength I saw in John’s mother. She always had a smile on her face. She never showed the pain she must have been going through. Every time she came to school, she shone, and brightened up the room. From what I heard, her son was the same way.
That year, the principal got wind of the rap and asked me if I could perform it at graduation. I hesitated for a moment, but being the ham that I am, I agreed.
Then I got an idea. I shared the idea with the school administration, and they were all for it.
With the help of a couple of administrators, we copied the rap onto CDs, and planned to offer them for sale at the graduation as a memento of the day.
So on graduation day, I performed the rap in front of everyone. Then, the principal got on the microphone and announced that the rap was going to be available for sale – and that all the proceeds from the sale were going to go to John’s family to help with medical expenses.
I’ll never forget the look on the mom’s face as she heard this. I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I saw her face.
I was pushed back out into the front of the crowd where the family and I embraced, and for the first time, I was able to shake the hand of the student that cancer had taken out of my class. I told him, “Get better, John.”
We raised over $2000.00 for the family that day. It was amazing.
John did get better. He lived for another 7 years.
He spent another seven years making a difference in the lives of the people who he came in contact with – like me.
I’ll never forget John, and the lessons he taught me: Don’t complain. Forgive easily. Live life to its fullest. Shine.
Cancer still sucks.
Today’s Tip for ANY Teacher: Five A Day – Pick five students a day, and encourage them in some way. You never know if this is the last time you’ll see them. The memorial service brought that idea home to me today. Do all you can to find a dark place and “Shine.”
If you want to donate to the family of this student, please use the Contact Me tab on top of this page to let me know, and I’ll send you the information. The family is in severe financial hardship due to all the medical expenses. Any donation will be appreciated.