(Originally presented to a group of students as they graduated from high school.)
I was a Teacher Assistant in your Grade Four class and your Grade Five class. I was thrilled to have this job because it was close to home, it meant working with ten and eleven year old kids (one of my favourite age groups) and especially, I got to work with Kurtis, the son of my old school-age friend, Maureen. I never expected that I would learn how to be brave during those years, but that is what you taught me! Here is how it happened….
When I was three years old, I walked off the end of a dock in Petersfield. As I felt myself sinking into the depths of Netley Creek, I hoped that someone at the family gathering had noticed my predicament. Luckily, my Dad dove in and scooped me out and I was okay… except for the fact that I then had to wear my sister’s underwear at the party while my clothes dried out! So I was not only scared, but humiliated too! Thus began my great dislike of water.
As a seven year old, I tried to take swimming lessons at Selkirk Park, but the bottom was muddy and disgusting and I cried and whined throughout the first level of classes and I never went back. So now water was gross to me, as well as scary and embarrassing.
As a scrawny little ten year old, I would watch my teenage sisters splash & dive in all kinds of lakes and rivers on family camping trips, while I timidly shivered at the water’s edge. I was just so puny that my skin would turn to goose bumps at the thought of jumping into that deep, yucky and very cold water. I had definitely decided that swimming was not for me!
So imagine my dismay when I discovered that I would be going to swimming lessons with all of you several times a week for several weeks! My dream job had suddenly become a nightmare!... But I had to do my job and I had to be there for Kurtis. And so we began our lessons.
As I ventured out on to the pool deck that first day, Kurtis found me very quickly and stood very close and I realized that he was scared, too. As we gingerly waded into the shallow end, Kurtis jumped up and wrapped his arms and legs around me so tight I could hardly breathe and I knew that he was terrified in this gigantic pool, and that I could not be. I had to be my strong father and my knowledgable swimming teachers and my confident sisters all in one. I looked at all the rest of you laughing and diving and floating and not drowning and I had to learn by your example. And my dad and my teachers and my siblings and you helped me to be brave for Kurtis and for me. So with the help of milk jugs and flutter boards, we learned how to swim. Though we never left the shallow end, Kurtis and I learned how to have fun in the water, especially when we could join in on relay races and games with all of you. And I no longer felt embarrassed or scared. I felt strong and brave.
Most of you have probably long forgotten your elementary school swimming lessons, but it was a turning point for me. Helen Keller said,"We could never learn to be brave…if there were only joy in the world." I learned to be brave through this scary swimming experience and I learned it from you. As you graduate from high school, remember that you taught me how to be brave.
Be brave in your choices. Be brave in your lives. Congratulations to all of you.
©Conni Cartlidge, 2010