“Are you drawing me?” Yes, I am. We trade names. We get a conversation going. He has a story to tell, I can see it in his eyes. He just graduated from high school. And he did it his way.
He stays with his aunt. She moves a lot. He went to five or six different elementary schools, three or four middle schools, and even a few more high schools. His mom didn’t have papers. When she went down to Mexico to visit his dad she wasn’t allowed back up. That was maybe…ten years ago. So now he’s only with his aunt. But there was a moment of stability in high school: for maybe two years he got to have friends. He got to know people well. He joined the track team. He was involved in school clubs and activities. And he loved it. It ended eventually. Senior year his aunt told him to say goodbye to his friends. They were moving. Their new home would be an hour away. He would have to change schools again.
Sometimes there’s things you just do. Change schools? He doesn’t even have to think about it. It isn’t even a decision. Yes, he has to move with his family. No, he isn’t going to change schools. For the next few weeks, he is consumed with finding ways to stay at the same school. He wants to stay with his friends. He wants to stay doing track. And yes, his school also has better college prep programs. He decides he’ll take this very same train every day. It’s a long ride. He has to wake up at 5:30 every morning to get to school in time. But there’s a hitch: his aunt won’t pay for the train tickets.
He makes a budget. He sells chips and soda to other students for their lunch time, skipping his. He studies on the bus. He sleeps on the long distance train. He attends classes. He helps out his uncle with a food stand after school to help with the train tickets. He studies on the train ride back. He arrives home and doesn’t even eat. He doesn’t even say ten words to his aunt. He just collapses into bed, exhausted, and before he even pulls the covers over, he’s already fast asleep. Sometimes there’s things you just do. You don’t even have to think about them.
This kid, he’s very sincere. I don’t quite understand what was so important about staying. But I know it was important to him. He‘s getting hardly any sleep during this time. He doesn’t like skipping lunch. But he does what he feels he has to. He doesn’t even have to think about it. It isn’t even a decision.
His track coach notices he’s coming to practice already worn out. “What’s going on?”
The kid explains everything to the coach, from the beginning. “Wow. You’ve been giving yourself so much hell just so you can stay at this school?” Yes. The kid gets called to the principal’s office sometime later that week. He isn’t sure what for. Turns out the principal had heard his story from the coach. It is a crazy story. But the kid had shown how much he cared about staying. How much he was willing to sacrifice to just study his last year at this same school. She decides the school can afford to pay the Metrolink train tickets for him. No more selling chips!
He enjoyed those last few months of high school. Not at just any high school, but his high school. And he graduated, on time, his way, no matter what it took.
* * *
To be honest, I don’t remember his name. I don’t even remember what he looked like. On the train, we continue talking after his story is finished. He’s a good guy, nice personality. I learn quite a bit from him. He gets off a little more than an hour after the train started. Turns out, this was the commute he took every day his senior year. This time would be the last time before college. This time, it was really to say goodbye to his friends. Because this time he was switching schools. This time to university. It had been a hard fought year, but it was his year.
One year later I still think about him. I still remember his story. And it never fails to inspire me. I’m writing it all down now, because I hope it can inspire you too.