A Junior Farewell

I’ve loved this year. I spent today, the last day of classes at BFA, as I’ve spent many 

days with this year’s group of students, sitting on the grass by the river, talking about books. Thankful tonight for the blessing of working with these students I so deeply admire and will miss dearly. In lieu of another tribute to them I’ll share, as I did last year, the letter I wrote for this class.

25 May 2012

My Dear Juniors,

The other day, I found a poster on the top of the closet that I forgot to put on the wall. This is what it says:

“I am afraid that I gave you too much assurance of your inevitable safety, and you must remember that I did that through faith in your springs of effort; not in the silly conviction that you will arrive without struggle.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

You’re welcome to fully absorb it later, but for now I’ll tell you that this advice comes at a point in the story when the protagonist is ready to give up. His mentor writes him this letter, essentially saying “I’m confident you’ll succeed. Not because it will be easy, but because I know you’ll fight for it.”

These words remind me of what impresses me most about the Class of 2013. I remember telling you something similar at the beginning of the year—that in some sense this class would challenge all of you, and that you should do your best to stay involved. For some of you it was writing long papers, for others standing in front of your peers to read a poem or give a speech. A few of you were learning in English for the first time, or read your longest-ever books this year. Then there are those of you for whom all the writing, reading and speaking came easily. Yet even you, for the most part, continued to challenge yourselves, asking hard questions that start with why and how. More than any students I’ve taught before, you’ve been a class that doesn’t shrink away from large tasks and difficult questions, and for this I deeply admire you.

In this year of reading American books together, I can’t pretend that we’ve explored the happiest or easiest sides of life. There have been no models of how to live, love, serve or worship.  Though we’ve examined great works of art, words and characters that remain alive through your voices, questions and thoughts, I’m struck with the impression that we’ve seen, more than anything else, the essential brokenness of human life.  As we end our time together, I pray that you continue to grow into young men and women who encounter this brokenness—both fictional and real—with compassion, open eyes and a readiness to lean on Christ in the midst of challenge. “You will seek me and find me,” God once wrote to another group of seekers, “If you seek me with all your heart.” I urge you to keep looking beyond the easy answers, keep chasing the capital-T Truth, even if the chase takes your whole heart.

“I believe in it, the struggle that transforms,” I wrote back in September, while you were crafting your own statements of belief on topics as diverse as chocolate and FC Barcelona, filmmaking and human trafficking. “I believe in struggle because I learn more, trust more, on the edges than anywhere else.” It holds true in life as well as English class. I am confident that same people who grappled with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” The Scarlet Letter and author research projects will face the more critical complexities of this world in which we live with grace and boldness, encountering them not alone, fighting battles on our individual energy, but together as the body of Christ, united in pursuit of truth and love, the kingdom of God.

I am thankful for this year I’ve spent with you. Even teachers wait for summer with childlike impatience, but to me it seems too soon this year. I’ve loved spending time with each of you, the students whose quotes, stories, doodles and laughter have filled the last nine months. Thank you for being “fully present” in English class, making it so much fun to be your teacher. I continue to love teaching more every year, and I’m convinced that it’s mostly because God blesses me with students like you. In four months I’ll probably be back on a bench by the creek, reading new student journals in the morning sunshine. Come find me, and let’s keep talking. Until then, I pray that your summers are restful, rich in relationship and growth. Thank you for a wonderful year.

Peace in Christ,

Kristi Dahlstrom

The last class of the day, on the last day of the year!

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