I can't believe you're leaving. You were one of the first students I noticed when I came to your school almost two years ago now. At first you just seemed like another scared ninth grader. But as I got to know you over the past two years, I've learned a lot about you that sets you apart from your peers.
Even among many students who had tough starts in life, yours has been uniquely tough. It started when you were born early, disabled, and clinging to life. It got tougher when your dad went back to his native country, leaving you, your mom, and your sister to fend for yourselves in one of the most challenging cities in the world. And it got even tougher when you entered school, finally, and found yourself progressing so much more slowly than the other kids.
But the tough start that shatters so many children made you tough, Melissa. You fought back, maintaining at least an 80 average every year since 6th grade. You refused to disengage even when you were left back, and then left back again. You and your mom learned how to advocate for the services you needed and made sure you got them. You came to school every day, maintaining a 98% attendance rate. And by the time you reached the end of ninth grade, you were a star student in English class, typing out essays on your Blackberry because it was the only way you could type them at home and reading your poetry out loud to your classmates.
And as if you haven't had enough on your plate in your young life, it's been a difficult year for you as well. The challenges you've faced are so painful and personal that I don't want to post about them even with your real name and my real name left off this post. And yet here you are, with your mom, at parent-teacher conferences, discussing your (good) grades with me (except history, of course--it's always been your Achilles heel!). Here you are visiting me in the morning before classes start, talking about your dream of becoming a psychologist and writing your life story. Here you are, crying in the guidance counselor's office because you don't want to leave your school. So many kids, you have no idea how many, would have quit long ago. Here you still are.
On the very worst of days, kids like you remind me why I work so hard, because even on the worst days, there's at least one kid that I know for sure is giving everything in terms of effort and focus to make sure she gets an education, in spite of dizzyingly lousy odds. And I have to hang in there for that kid. Because if she can do it, I can do it.
You're that kid, Melissa. I'm going to miss you so much. But you? You'll be fine. If you've made it this far, nothing, nothing can possibly hold you back now.