For me, the most memorable and moving part of watching LDS General Conference today came as I watched the MTC men's and women's chorus sing in the afternoon session. Acres of bright and shiny Elders. Hair trimmed down to a fare-thee-well. Faces shining with expectations and commitment to their calling. Rows and rows of beautiful pastel-clad young women, earnest and innocent and committed to their decision to be a missionary. All of them singing with a passion that spoke of their love and commitment to their forthcoming assignments around the world. And parents, Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, grandparents, watching, looking carefully, searching for their son or daughter or brother or sister or grandchild. And then that surge of pride, realizing that those years of messy rooms and drinking out of the milk carton from the fridge and surviving first loves and piano lessons and soccer games and report cards had all come down to this moment of joy in seeing the results of all of those hours and days and years of nurturing and hoping and praying.
I realized with more than a small pang of remorse how much I miss the generations of young people I taught over decades of labors in classrooms around the country. For over 40 years, I lived in an adolescent and young adult world. How many were there? Maybe somewhere in excess of 20,000 students, give or take. What good did I do them? Did I make any lasting impression? There were always a few problem cases, of course, that were not so enjoyable. But almost all of them were like an extended family that I cared about and did my best to honor my job as a teacher and leave them with something more at the end of a class than they started out with. Where are they now? What have they done with their lives?I
I can still smell the nervous perspiration in a warm room of 400 students taking a two hour final exam, tension and exasperation filling the air. I watch their expectations on the first day of school as some of them have heard I am a hard teacher, and most of them know ahead of time that they hate economics. They wonder what I am going to be like, if they are going to make it. I try to sort out those with learning disabilities like dyslexia to make sure their learning possibilities are not thwarted. I watch the pregnant girls bravely go through the class, one barely making it through the final exam, and one, at Colorado State, breaking her water in class. I ordered all males to leave the room quickly, for the young women to gather around her, and sent someone to call the ambulance immediately. I always wondered if this baby was a boy and thought he should have been named after me.
When I first started teaching school, the young wives worked while they "put their husbands through school." In my last years, the husbands and/or wives switched the baby carrier in the hallway after class so both of them could continue their education, many of them bringing their babies and young children through the commencement ceremonies at the end of their college careers.
And so watching the MTC chorus was sort of like a reunion. Here were the kinds of young people I worked with and loved for decades. Now they are gone and I still miss them. Each fall a new crop arrived, anxious moms and dads hoping for the best, young men and young women anxious to get on with their lives. By Thanksgiving, most of them were veterans, they knew the campus inside out, they knew what they could get by with and what they could not. One young lady came in just before Thanksgiving weekend and told me "I'm so thankful I won't have to take the final exam now. I just got engaged and I'm getting married at Christmas." I wanted to scold her but instead wished her well.
I still miss them all.