Monday, June 7, 2021

A Graduation Message

 During the final week of classes, the graduating elementary school students had a tradition of taking a small book of blank pages around to their friends and classmates to be inscribed with parting thoughts. Most were rather inane, as might be expected from sixth-graders. Having only a few friends, I filled the remaining pages with comments from the teachers and staff. Most of those inscriptions read surprisingly inane as well; however, one stood out then and still does half a century later.

 Mr. Taylor was the school janitor. He was a pleasant, jovial man with enough white hair interspersed in his crew cut to appear to be in his fifties. I would speak to him as he was emptying the classroom wastebaskets or sweeping the halls; he was always kind and to my 12-year-old eyes a man of vast wisdom. I don’t think many other students, or teachers for that matter, bothered to speak to Mr. Taylor. While he was a fixture within the grade school, to them he was merely the janitor. He was the one to call when the bathroom ran out of paper towels or one of the pupils threw up on the classroom floor. I doubt any of them, including myself, could tell you if Mr. Taylor had always been a janitor. Did he have previous careers? Had he been in the military? Did he have a wife and children? They were never curious enough to inquire because Mr. Taylor was merely the janitor.

 Nearly 50 years to the day, I still have that little book. The pages have browned and Mr. Taylor’s penciled inscription has faded yet is nonetheless legible. He wrote, very simply, “Never give up until you have tried your very, very best.” It was the most important thing I learned from elementary school, and I learned it not from a teacher but from the janitor. Although (or perhaps because) I was only a child, I viewed Mr. Taylor as an adult with valuable knowledge gleaned from decades of life experience, which he was always willing to share but few were willing to listen to one they deemed beneath their station. I think the second most important thing Mr. Taylor taught me was that everyone, regardless of their status in society, has a lifetime filled with experiences we can all learn from. In that half-century, I’ve become a wise man because of the pearls of wisdom given to me by a lifetime of wise teachers, some of whom possessed degrees while others pushed brooms.

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