THE LAST DAY OF
BALBOA HIGH SCHOOL
I stood in the center of my totally empty
room, 204. I stood quietly, squarely in the middle, with nothing in my room except
the wall to wall blue rug on which my feet rested. Not a desk, cabinet, poster,
trashcan, or chair remained. Even the Stars and Stripes had been removed. As I
turned in a slow circle right where I stood, looking at the bare walls, the floodgates of
my memory burst and I was overwhelmed with myriad thoughts. Twenty-seven years have a way
of indelibly imprinting upon your psyche subtle nuances which make the places and
buildings, the events and the activities, become as much a part of you as the muscle and
sinew and fiber which hold you together. Dances, athletic events, club
meetings, concerts, and graduations, all intrinsic experiences which occurred at BHS, as
they do in all schools, came to me in torrents.
Yet as I stood lost in thought, what impacted me the most were images of students. It has been the students that have given BHS its uniqueness. Our students are different. Primarily, they are American by birth, having grown up in homes no different from any in the United States. They have also taken from the Panamanian culture the zest for life, the joy of partying, a genuine appreciation of nature and all that it offers, and a laid back approach to life that, especially for a teacher, at times was frustrating. Nevertheless, it did bestow on them a charm and magnetism which set them apart from their peers in the United States.
This blending of two cultures has in effect produced a hybrid which neither one culture nor the other, Panamanian nor American, can fully understand. Their outlook on things was different. The students were fond of their teachers, befriending many. Wholesome and good relationships were developed, lasting far beyond graduation and family and career. As a whole they were respectful and considerate, willing to please.
I am a realist, however, and fully understand, perhaps better than most due to my daily interaction with kids in the classroom, the innate rebellion of youth, the strong-willed assertion of self. This is standard fare for youth worldwide. These also made up part of our student body at BHS.
Yet BHS is different, it is unique in ways that can only be attained as a result of generation after generation living the "extended family" atmosphere - a hallmark of life in the Zone. Today the internet has ushered Panama into the 21 Century. There was a time prior to the net when it was common knowledge that Panama, and as a result the Zone, was "behind the times." In retrospect, however, what was then considered a drawback in reality was a blessing in disguise. Panama did not have the huge malls or the arcades, both of which vie for the attention of all youth. Instead, kids here had only the school and community. BHS was a place where lasting friendships were engendered and nurtured. School became more than a place where kids went to be told what to do. It was a good place to be; it cared about them; it was theirs. These kids developed ownership at BHS. It was their school. And newcomers, kids who transferred in from other schools, also felt these differences.
I stood there thinking these and myriad other thoughts. I thought about how much it has meant to me to be able to teach in the school where my father and uncles attended. The school where my wife was a cheerleader and Homecoming Princess and Prom Queen. The school where my oldest son was Junior Class President and football team quarterback, where my second son was on the Prom Court, voted Cutest Couple along with his girlfriend by the Senior Class, and standout midfielder on the Bulldog soccer team. The school where I played football and basketball and fell in love and formed life-long friendships and touched the lives of literally thousands of students who in turn and more importantly, touched my life in a way that I will never forget! And I wept.
May 23, 1999
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