Embracing Details for My 2023 Graduates

Last August a group of kids walked into my classroom in the EGHS library. I’m not sure if they had heard warnings from previous students or if they just had a good sense about them, but they were quiet, open to direction, and hard workers beginning on day one. Their eyes widened a bit when they looked at the syllabus for ENGL 111. Starting on that first day, I told them that even though everyone else called them “the seniors,” they were still only juniors with their summer tan for my class. The moniker of being the oldest and wisest students would be earned a few weeks later when we fully dug into the readings, analysis tools, and writing techniques for the critique assignment. In their own time, they all reached the point of truly being high school seniors. I welcomed them into their senior selves with open arms. 

By this point, they actually paid attention to grammar rules. They were learning how to insert quotes and write reference citations using APA formatting. Bless their hearts, they were completing annotations and prewriting like never before. As they began to realize how the whole process worked, they were soon complaining because I made them stay under a four-page limit for a paper, and they “needed” more room! These babies of mine were maturing and growing as thinkers and writers. Just like the students I’ve been blessed with for years, these kids made me think and plan to stay ahead of them. 

During our first weeks of school, they were also learning to juggle being athletic and student body leaders while they met all of their coursework deadlines. These students did not slack on their course selection, and they all carried heavy loads of dual-credit, AP, and advanced classes. Then, they started to think about their future. They thought, planned, thought again, researched, wrote admissions essays and letters, applied, and gathered acceptance emails. As our year moved into the second semester and ENGL 206, my students also learned to enjoy poetry just a smidge more and wrote the most beautiful elegies. When senioritis hit, some of their attention to detail waned. I might have scolded just a bit. Still, they finished strong.

The students encouraged each other, laughed, fought, cried, learned tough life lessons, and felt the accomplishment of achieving goals together. I know that we’ve all had moments to embrace forever and moments we’d like to forget. The Class of 2023 moved across the bumps and expected senior year ebbs and flows right on schedule. If you have a senior in your life, you know what this looks like from your home viewpoint, and I am also so thankful for all the family members who helped and supported my students.  

One of the most powerful moments in the class came just a few days ago as I read aloud from our text and had them write their answers to the questions I asked as if they were in a discussion with themselves. They were thoughtful, serious, open to ideas, and a bit scared. I have never been more proud of them. In those moments and in the final writings, these seniors bloomed into graduates. 

I hope they, like all of my other past graduates, remember that once you are mine, you are always one of mine. Always. These loves are ready for their next steps, and I will always be right here when they need me. Along with their end-of-the-year surprise and note, I continued the tradition and wrote them a graduation poem. Shakespeare or Owen, I am not, but for them I tried my hand at a sonnet, complete with iambic pentameter. I hope they remember the message behind the humor and always mind the details in their work and in their relationships.

Slow Down, Notice, and Create Flow:

A Poem about Embracing Details for the Class of 2023

Your choices make me weak as you are caught

between confusion and the moment when

you let a comma land in the wrong spot.

I sigh and show too much of my chagrin

because I know you know the easy rule.

A partial quote does not undo your wit.

My pencil and green pen prepare to dual

against the lame excuses you permit,

detracting from the lacking care and lapsed

attention phones and friends and boredom steal

from you. Did you make haste to be relaxed,

leaving lazy caps a sad ordeal?

How many signs and samples can I give

to make your grammar be transformative?

How can I let you go to chase your dreams

when still you need to practice once again

the format and the planning to boost esteem?

I’ll have to set you free and trust you then.

Oh, human nature’s way dictates our proud,

self-centered rush, yet you direct your mind.

A thoughtfulness will lead to care endowed

upon your writing skill and on your shrined

relationships. You see, details are more

than for your script. Yes, love and praise belong

to those who search for finer points and pour

the time and plans into specifics—strong.

So, go. And as you travel on, compose

your focus from the commas to the flows.

Lori Vandeventer

May 16, 2023

A Bonus Haiku: Numbers Are Hard

You’ll always belong to me.

Brave. Hard-working. Bright.

Now, go chase ambitious dreams!

Truth Telling for My 2022 Graduates

May 21 was a very special day for the Class of 2022 from my school. Graduation day. Faculty and staff in my district worked diligently for the past thirteen years to ensure that this day would happen for our students. I know their families are excited and feeling bittersweet emotions connected to a day of commencement. I am proud of these graduates, and following tradition, I wrote a poem for my students and shared it with them earlier in the week before their ceremony. Actually, this year’s poem turned into a second one as well. The message is the same, but my advice moved into a personal connection in the 2.0 version. 

My grandmother kept succulents, known as mother hen and chicks in our family. Even though she passed when I was four years old, I have always felt a connection to her through these plants. I took a few from the home my grandfather shared with her when I married and started my life as an adult. Since then, I’ve had descendants from her plants at every home my husband and I have inhabited, and I’ve given away hundreds of them because sharing makes the original plants more prosperous. I imagine that’s how my grandmother’s love is still moving through me. That’s how love works. 

Each member of my current class of graduates received a chick from my home. They carried those little babies around all day, caring for them already. Likewise, I want my students to know that God loves them and cares for them with great strength.

My prayer is for my words to be encouraging and be a reminder to all who read them. The poems are to honor the Class of 2022, but I hope they can be a blessing to all readers. 

To this year’s second period gang, Congratulations, my loves!

You Know I Tell You the Truth 1.0

The days and months and years that lay ahead 
of you will be full of challenges. You will make plans 
and work to fulfill dreams of which 
only some will come to fruition. 
Problems will be in those future days. 
You will believe the best of life will come 
when you finish school or 
fall into a new love 
or become healthier or secure the new job. 
But don’t trust those lies 
whether you say them or someone tries to convince you.

You can’t just be anything you want to be. 
You won’t save another person from their own choices. 
You shouldn’t expect flowers and rainbows 
to fill your universe with opportunity. 
You won’t see a perfect path paved and ready 
for your diligent and sincere efforts to 
shape the life you intend to live. 
This old world is far bigger
 and treacherous and set in its ways 
than you can imagine. 
You might search for an item or a guru or a pill
when the pressure lays on your lungs. 
If your mind is passive, you will struggle to 
breathe the next breath.

You know I tell you the truth. 

So, what’s the plan to survive in the next moments or
days or months or years? 
A secret I know can help you. 
Will you commit to an active, attentive mind? 
A turn from frivolous notions, 
from a passive observation of yourself? 

When you think
…your efforts should guarantee success
…other people keep you from gaining ground
…the world’s red tape and rules force you into 
a holding pattern
…your gossip and drama are harmless
…all of the pressures push against you, then

Change your conduct which will 
Change your thinking which will
Change your feelings which creates


Prove your hope against whatever 
the world throws at you by 
first changing your own actions. 

The secret of hope is more powerful 
than the darkness of this world. 
Overcome the hard seasons and cling to hope 
and family and joy 
even in the middle of difficult times.

You don’t need to conform to your past ignorance, 
squeezed into the culture around you. 
You don’t have to worry about being liked or noticed or powerful. 
Choose actions that prove your knowledge and character. 
Choose to be kind and loving and honorable. 
Help without being asked. 
Show others patience and honesty and sincerity. 

I promise that in your future, bad events will happen, 
so don’t be surprised or angry or hurt. 
Humans flounder.
In these moments, you can turn negative into hope, 
respond with gentleness and respect,
be different from the crowd. 

I don’t subscribe to the secret of hope at times. 
In the misery of problems, my actions take 
my mind into a dark place where my emotions 
suffocate me. 
I can’t find hope in this place, and you won’t find it there, either. 

So, focus your actions to direct your mind and emotions
and find your hope.

Hope is the answer. 

You are on this fast-spinning earth for a reason. 
You have a mission and a group of people who need you. 
Your butterfly effect will change the world. 

You know I tell you the truth.

Lori Vandeventer
May 15, 2022


Truth 2.0: The Mother Hen and Chicks

The mother hen sat alone
Her chicks would soon depart, and she
what she would tell them about
challenges, plans, 
and work to fulfill dreams 
of which only some will come true. 

She is certain of future trials 
for her chicks,
certain some will believe
the old lies of how the best of life 
will finally arrive--when
they crack open from the shell or 
fall into a new love 
or roam far from the safety of her wings. 
The mother hen knows to not
trust those lies 
no matter whose hungry mouths say the words.

This old world is far bigger
and treacherous and set in its ways 
than any chick can imagine. 

So, what’s the plan to survive in the next moments or
days or months or years? 
A secret the mother hen knows. 
Requiring an active, attentive mind, 
a turn from frivolous notions, 
from a passive observation. 

A change of conduct will 
change thinking which will
change feelings which creates


The secret of hope is more powerful 
than the darkness of this world. 

The mother hen knows to choose actions 
of knowledge and character, 
of kindness and love and honor. 
She wants her chicks to help 
without being asked,
to show patience and honesty and sincerity. 

Future, bad events will happen
to her chicks.
Still, she doesn’t want them
surprised or angry or hurt. 

In these moments, the negative can turn into hope
if her chicks
respond with gentleness and respect,
differently from the crowd. 

As the mother hen sits alone, she remembers
when she didn’t subscribe to the secret of hope. 
In the misery of problems, her actions led
into a dark place where 
emotions suffocated. 
Neither mother hens nor chicks
find hope in that place.

But, she knows how it feels to focus actions,
direct her mind and emotions
and find hope.
She knows that her chicks will 
sprout up,
peeking, at first, and then pushing through to surround her,
filling the space with beauty.
Her chicks, smart and capable, will 
continue, circle after circle, to 
choose actions
and adjust their thinking to settle their emotions into

Hope is the answer. 

Her chicks are on this fast-spinning earth for a reason 
with a mission.
And the mother hen knows their
butterfly effect 
will change the world. 

Lori Vandeventer
May 15, 2022

A Year to Elevate

Seniors walk through my door in August knowing that they have chosen a difficult class and a substantial amount of work for themselves. As a subject area, students view English with many preconceived notions, and part of my job is to help them see the connections between my content and their lives. Language, communication, metaphors, and many other literary devises surround us in this world. In our hands we hold screens that allow each of us to publish and consume both spoken and written words. We need to know advertising and persuasion ploys so that we don’t get too caught up in the next-best-purchase. Analysis and applying a lens to a subject emerge as vital skills for my students because these abilities allow thinking adults to approach a subject or a problem with an open mind and contemplate the meaning from different points of view. When my students can perform these literary and analysis tasks, our community becomes a smarter and more compassionate place.

Still, when they enter my room in August, my seniors are not yet truly seniors. Honestly, they aren’t really more than juniors with a tan. In the beginning they still want to get the “right” answer, and I watch as they hesitate to explore ideas with confidence because they still want to be assured of accuracy. Most of the new seniors won’t take risks with their ideas as we move into the difficult readings and new analysis concepts. Once students realize how to trust their own voice as they lay out the plausibility of their argument and thesis, many thoughts open to them. They might still have to fight down the senioritis monster, but they can form and craft ideas, not just sit and wait for a theory to magically pop into their minds.

Not only do I see growth with academic work, but I also watch their behavior change through the year. Being the oldest kids in the building isn’t a guarantee that my students will make the best choices or be the most mature. As we move through the senior year, I still see improper behavior in class at times. Oh, the stories I could tell!

Thinking back on your own life, you can certainly see the moments when you had to move from one level of maturity to the next. Senior year is one of those times. Suddenly, the students must make decisions about college applications, scholarships, and future career choices. They are expected to be the leaders in their extra-curricular events, and most of them are also working jobs in the world. To step into their place as seniors, the immaturity of past years must change.

I see many signs when my students become true seniors. They can still whine and complain about work, but they do it. And, they do it well. They can stay more focused in class without horseplay or distracting others, and they prepare for class. They wear sweatpants and go without makeup because they have learned a self-confidence, allowing them to not be so concerned about what other people think. They aren’t trying to impress anyone or match anyone else’s standards. They walk away from drama, or for the ones who still struggle with it, at the very least, they finally hear a little voice in their heads warning them that they are stirring up the drama. They say thank you and mean it. They appreciate all the work that goes into raising them and teaching them.

The future will bring many more growing-up moments for my seniors. Once they enter college, the first couple of years will be full of change, but also fun. When they finally get to the level of digging in to their major field of study coursework, they will have to step up to a new level of understanding and maturity. Students going into the military or the workforce also will have a bit of a honeymoon period where they will be guided on how to behave and new expectations for responsibilities. Then, they will begin their jobs in earnest. They will be making decisions based on data and working toward goals in their organizations. The same big leaps of maturity will happen if they marry, become parents, step into supervisory roles, and begin developing ideas instead of just learning them.

My students in August have miles to go before they are ready. But, here we are in May. At this point in the year, they have taken their place as the oldest, the leaders, the responsible ones, the seniors. Through this journey, one word emerged as my go-to for summarizing all that growing. Our word applies to writing, making choices, behavior, setting goals, and life. I hope that when my seniors come to each new step, they will hear my voice and remember the word. I know they have the ability.


From the moment they first walked into class, I’ve watched them elevate through decisions, disappointments, difficult work, immaturity, and a pandemic. I am so proud of them, and I give my gift of words to the Class of 2020.


A Poem Dedicated to the Class of 2020