When I look at my students, I see many things.  I see them as children.  As teenagers.  As scholars.  As dress-code violators, gum chewers, and pencil forgetters.  I see them exhilarated and depressed, stressed and relieved.  I see them blunder.  I see them bully.  I see them sweet and vulnerable, and wrapped in emotional barbed wire.

And I see potential.

Every child possesses it.  The light that shines from within, the aura of the possible – of the future.  Some do their best to hide it, and some don’t know how to show it, but most of the time, young people’s potential is readily detectable.

Sometimes, it is blinding.

Tonight I attended a beautiful, heartbreaking candlelight vigil for a student – an exceptional student, a boy whose potential burned bright as any star – who died Sunday at age fifteen, in an accident.  It’s so hard to accept this.  He was my student – not my child, my friend, or my family member – he was part of my world for only a moment, and after he left for high school last year I never saw him again.  Perhaps I never would have seen him again.  Yet the news is devastating.  I grieve the loss of him – I grieve the loss of what he was, and more, I grieve what I saw radiate from him each day, the unmistakable light within him that promised a dazzling future.

When I look at my students, I see that light.  Middle school is just a bridge from childhood to young adulthood; each student is with me only briefly, and I get just a glimpse of that beautiful brightness before it is gone, off to illuminate greater things.  But I remember how they shine.  I think of them.  I’m happy when they come back to see me.

The depth of love I feel for my students surprises me sometimes.  Even after several years in teaching, I can’t quite fathom how or why I become so swiftly and fiercely attached to my kids.  I even call them “my kids” without thinking about it.  Maybe it’s because they’re entrusted to me by those who love them, and I am highly conscious of that charge. Or maybe it’s because, when you spend time helping something grow, you develop a very real stake in it.

I had a stake in that student.  I believed he would change the world.  And in his short time, he did.  I know he did.  I saw the influence he had on his classroom and his community; I saw how he inspired his friends and his teachers.  Where he walked, he shone, and he left the world brighter for having been in it.  He was too luminous to go out completely.

He is missed.

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