I zip in with one minute to spare, always perfectly on time. No awkward small talk or unnecessary waiting around to drag out an already too long evening. Baccalaureate is one of those events that I dread beforehand, feel miserable during, and then feel accomplished after it’s done.
For those who aren’t familiar, baccalaureate is our district’s awards night for seniors. It’s two hours of scholarships and recognition. All seniors have to attend, and it’s the only time I see them in their robes (since I don’t usually attend graduation).
It starts with a few short band and chorus performances, then moves on to a sermon given by one of the local religious figures from the CGD community. Then, the scholarships. Random adults from Clarion, Goldfield, and Dows each take their turn at the podium to call up the kids who have earned scholarships.
Our superintendent starts with the kids who win the bigger CGD prizes. Then it moves on to local organizations like the Rotary Club and 4H and the Masons and stuff like that. And I sit there, nervously twitching as they all give their short speeches, dreading when my time will come while also desperately wishing for it to happen.
Every year is the same in some ways. A handful of kids sweep most of the scholarships, while some never get called up for a single one. I always wonder if the ones left sitting are kids who aren’t going to college, or if they just didn’t apply for any scholarships. I wonder how they feel, being forced to sit and watch while their classmates receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars in money for investment in their academic future.
Every year I also yell internally, scolding myself for not preparing a speech. You are a language arts teacher, for fkjsd’s sake! You are supposed to sound like a communications professional! Procrastination and avoidance of responsibility always rear their ugly heads, and I sit there in my seat rambling in my brain for something coherent to say that I won’t mess up.
Then, it’s time. After waiting for over an hour, I shakily step up to the stage. My voice always quivers in the microphone, and my hands shake. I speak in front of 140 people every day for a living, but there’s something about Baccalaureate that’s different. Maybe it’s because I’m the only person up there not representing an organization or a foundation. I’m just up there representing me.
Every year, I give away my own money. I created my own scholarship and I give away my own money. Some people think that’s crazy. Some people think it’s kind. I just think it was something I needed to do to make my corner of the world right.
I started the Latina Successful Future Scholarship four years ago. I was watching the news, and Steve King had (once again) said something racist about Latino immigrants. I was pissed. Every time the man is in the news, I'm ashamed.
I love Iowa. I love living where I do. But I despise the fact that an outspoken racist represents my section of the state because he in no way represents me. Since my voting alone isn't preventing his re-election each year, I knew I needed to do something more.
Instead of being angry, I decided I would combat his racism in my own small way: every year I would give $500 scholarship to a Latina from my district so she could go to college. This year, I couldn’t decide between two amazing young women who I adore, so I gave two. One thousand dollars out of my bank account and into theirs feels like a good trade to create a better future, right?
So each year I sit through Baccalaureate and remind myself why I'm doing it: to support young women from an underrepresented part of my community, to ensure more families have educated women to guide them through life, to put my money where my mouth is, and yes, to stick a middle finger at Steve King that he'll never see. It's worth every cent.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.