My grad discovers joy, meaning of writing

My grad discovers joy, meaning of writing

Like many, my memories of becoming a parent for the first time are pretty seared into my brain, from the moment my wife gave me “the look” to the moment, three days later, we brought child No. 1 into our home for the first time, convinced none of us would survive the night. “Be sure you sleep when you can and be sure you breathe,” my mom said to me. It might be the best advice anyone has ever given me.

There was a moment during our hospital stay that I found myself holding the “baby burrito” — pink hat on head, pink mittens covering hands, and her body wrapped in the white cloth blanket covered with hot air balloons and light blue and pink striping on the ends, a blanket synonymous with hospital newborns.

A nurse was about to come snag her for a bit so Mom and Dad could get a little sleep, so I was taking in all the “baby’s head to dad’s shoulder” snuggles I could get. “Don’t you dare grow up too fast,” I found myself whispering into her half-dollar-sized ear. I knew then as the nurses carted her away, as I would guess all parents have felt, this kid would break our hearts.

Before nodding off for the newly parented power nap, my wife and I did some math — never a good thing, even when we are not tired — and realized this kiddo, in all likelihood, would be moving on in 18 years, aka 2023. A year that seemed a lifetime away in 2005, but I will be darned if I did not blink and here we gather, thanks to the thievery that is time, on the cusp of high school graduation.

An 18-year journey that I would equate to a whitewater rafting trip, minus the banjo playing, mind you: mostly calm, soothing moments filled with picturesque scenery, some intense rapids that could toss us off the boat at any time, yet always mindful and hopeful that when/if the inevitable waterfall arrives, the drop will not be too steep.

To be clear, 2023 is not a year we are, or have ever been, dreading. We are more than excited to watch her proverbial next steps, knowing the groundwork has been set, by countless individuals, for her to step into a world that needs her patience and grace, her sense of humor, and her critical thinking mindset.

But 2023 is not just about her, or her family, or her graduating class. Her story and the stories of all those about to head off into the great unknown become chapters in the greater scheme of things, albeit a chapter filled with life-changing but exciting moments.

Reading her senior column in The Wooster Blade, it became abundantly clear to me that a major reason she has reached this tassel-flipping moment is because of the people in her life who have helped her open a door or turn a corner, stop at a stop sign and/or press the gas pedal when needed.

Neighbors sharing their sidewalks and driveways for endless circular bicycle races that would make the most ardent Indy 500 fan jealous; medical professionals who want nothing more than both the physical and mental well-being for their patients, even when that patient has reached her wits’ end; a nonaggressive church family that allows for the questioning of ideas and waits patiently as discoveries about faith are made; coaches, the good ones and the not-so-good, who ignite passion and the spirit of competition; and teachers who instilled in her, from preschool to senior year, that of all the things we learn, writing well and allowing for self-expression and discovery are maybe the most important gifts we can give our students.

Her senior Blade column was honest and raw, as were her fellow newspaper colleagues who wrote of memories made, experiences had, difficult times and life realizations that are made all the easier because of the friends who walked along beside them, in some cases since their school-age stories began.

What we may fail to make obvious to our students is writing about experiences — meaningful writing, not the kind that can be sent in a tweet or a snap or a text — captures what they are experiencing and feeling in this given moment. And what a gift that is for family and friends as well.

Years from now, with just a few marbles left rolling around in my head, how grateful will I be to the students who took it upon themselves to share a note or two about their time in classrooms, hallways or in the PAC, or those who simply wanted to share a bit of themselves to pause and reflect so that years from now their writings will show a little bit about who they were in their brief time spent as young adults?

Upon its creation, writing is the most private of educational experiences because, once introduced, it is one of the few skills students do alone in a classroom. And sometimes, it only has to be sent into the world if the writer chooses to do so — a risk I know many students worry about because writing well is hard. They need reminded while that may be true, personal reflection is not.

So now we are passing that “baby burrito” off to others, all of whom I am sure will play vital roles in shaping her thinking and well-being. It seems fitting she is attending a self-proclaimed “writing school” — there is assured parental contentment in that.

But as this chapter closes, I would be remiss if I did not say I am forever grateful to the many people who gave my daughter and many of her friends and classmates the courage to use writing in the most personal of ways, as a tool for discovery and a pathway to healing.

Brett Hiner is an English/language arts teacher at Wooster High School, where he also serves as the yearbook advisor and Drama Club advisor/director. If he’s not at work or doing something work related, he is typically annoying his children and/or wife. He can be emailed at

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