Slid across the desk with triumph — an iPhone shows me a picture of a former student in rainbow glitter with a caption: “Like Lizzo says: ‘All the rumors are true, ya’ — or at least about me. I am gay.”
A senior, and a former student of mine, came to see me on her last day of senior year to tell me that she made the choice to come out of the closet as publicly as possible — over social media.
About two years ago, I wrote a blog about feeling the need to be “out” as a teacher.
I wrote in that blog that I should be the person I needed when I was their age. Now, this student coming out publicly her last week of high school may not have anything to do with me. But, back in the Fall, when she was applying to colleges, she came to see me. Two school years had passed since she was my student. There were 18 other teachers she had encountered, plus the 5 other from freshman year, and a handful of coaches she had known as well. Still she specifically sought me out for advice.
Our conversation focused on her desire to break free and lead a new life in a new place and how that countered against her instinct to stay close to home and be “safe.”
In the conversation, I noticed phrases, and thoughts that mirrored my own as a high school senior. I sensed, in a way that probably only LGBTQ community members could, that she was hinting about her bigger life quandary. I did not pry or ask any questions, but I tried to tell her what I think I would have needed to hear. About being independent and authentic, and finding a place where you could be your true self.
About a week later she asked me to read an admissions essay. In the essay she opened about holding onto a secret, and in a meta approach, she said that by giving this particular essay to her English teacher, she could dive off a cliff, and tell someone who she was: a gay young woman.
It was a profound essay, but more importantly, I feel like it was a necessary moment for the student. She needed someone to know the true her as much as the rest of us need oxygen.
Seeing photos of her in a tux at prom, or in front of a pride flag — this young woman has grown into acceptance measurably earlier in life than I had.
The conversations, essay help, and end of year check in were all quick, relatively. Quick moments that contributed to her taking ownership of her identity.
And, is there a greater reward for a teacher than to see our students feel confident in themselves and ready to enter the next chapter of lives a bit more complete?