How do you say goodbye to a profession you have loved for 36 years? That's how long I have been teaching college courses in the study of religion and philosophy. And now it was time to say goodbye. I was worried it would be anticlimactic, or one of those days when the students were stressed and ornery, or I would cry in front of everyone. I've pretty much said what I had to say to my students, though every semester I wake up a week later and say, "Oh, but I forgot to talk about ..." something or other that I thought it was vital to discuss. (I'm handling that problem by my new blog "Dangling Conversation" that will be a place for former and future students to talk things over.)
So, to manage the last day of teaching, I gave a test in philosophy class and had a special event planned for religion and society. One of my favorite courses through the years was "Native American Religion and Culture" which was created out of student demand and interest. I learned a lot about the cultures of the 500 native nations that were here on Turtle Island (North America) at the time of contact. One thing I learned about I wanted to do on this day.
In many native nations, when it is time to celebrate a change in your life, you have a giveaway. I had much to give away in gratitude for many great years of teaching and learning at Gallaudet University. And, I'm kind of a pack rat (please don't alert the Clean House people) so I had collected lots of craft supplies and toys and stuff they give away at information tables. And earrings I don't wear any more and office decorations that it's time to move to a new home. So I brought in a large basket full of gifts, and each student was able to choose a few.
Then we had a talking circle with a feather I had added rainbow seed beads to years ago. (Just to alert those who are worried about such things, it was a genuine imitation eagle feather, originally grown on a domestic turkey and painted to look like a bald eagle tail feather.) We passed the feather around the circle and each spoke. The rules are that the person with the feather gets to speak, and no one else interrupts. If you don't want to speak you can pass the feather to the next person. We talked about what we want to let go of and what we want to include in our lives in the next year.
I said that I wanted to let go of stress and embrace creativity. Simple, right? Well, we shall see. But I did sleep extraordinarily well last night. The class ended beautifully with us thanking each other for a good semester and hopes for continued learning for all of us. I did tear up a little, but I don't think anyone noticed.
You should know that I have had a unique job teaching religion and philosophy in sign language at Gallaudet University. For many years, I was the only person in the world with that position, though now there are others on campus taking the torch for the next leg of the run. My students are all deaf and hard of hearing, with the occasional hearing student thrown in to make it interesting. Everyone communicates in sign language in the classroom and on campus. I guess I have to say my students were all deaf and hard of hearing. I am retiring, after all.
Next week I finish grading (the hardest part of being a professor) and cleaning out my office, and my friends are having a party to say goodbye to me. Not that I'm going anywhere. I'm right here, getting ready for whatever is next!