No Words, Just a Feeling

My son Mason was married last week in Philadelphia. As the weekend approached, and I struggled to plan my toast, I worried about the emotions that often reveal themselves when I talk about my children. What quickly became apparent was the importance of the people who helped raise Mason. I thought about the teachers and coaches who believed in him, challenged him, and gave him space to be his own person. Our friends shared their passions with him—photography, technology, sports, cooking, and needling his father. My father taught him about the Green Bay Packers and the Maine coast, and my stepmother taught him about art. His maternal grandparents nourished his love for architecture, math, human rights, and the city of Philadelphia. Rooted in these examples wasn’t just a litany of skills but deeper lessons in friendship, loyalty, love, and courage for him to embrace.

Without question, our responsibility to teach our students the skills and habits necessary to thrive in life is central to our mission at Poly. We measure and document them in our assessments, lesson plans, and division transitions. Less obvious is the long-term impact of how we convey these lessons. Maya Angelou’s adage, ‘They won’t remember what you said but how you felt,’ couldn’t be more apt. The adults in our students' lives—all of the adults—bear an enormous responsibility in raising them. They see and feel how we treat them, their classmates, and each other. They hear what we say when we speak loudly or in whispers. They remember how they feel.

In a room wrapped with photographs of Mason and his fiance when they were just children, we stood to give our toasts. Their eyes held all of childhood’s innocence and curiosity at the doorstep of growing up. I felt a rush of images (and, yes, emotions) of Mason with the people sitting in front of us. As parents, we often wonder if we are capable of taking on the enormous responsibility of raising our children. Alone, we are not; however, if we can let go just a bit and surround them with people who care deeply about them and about us, they will thrive—and so will we. 

I have a photograph of my father walking with Mason over the rocks on the coast of Maine. My guess is they were walking in silence, although Mason may have been recounting his latest adventure. As they neared the pathway leading up to our house, my dad would have squeezed that little hand one time, four times, three times for ‘I Love You.’ No words, just a feeling.