Last night I fulfilled a promise that I had made to several 2015 graduates of Grimsley High School by attending their graduation ceremonies. This group of students were mine for three of their four high school years and it seemed appropriate to attend. Since retiring last June, I have made a couple stops at the school but really hadn't felt that tug at my heart that I thought I might being recently removed from a position I held for 8 school years as their School Resource Officer. In fact, I have been a bit "surprised" that I haven't really seemed to miss the job of police officer at all. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed my career and was proud to serve in the profession. However, like some I have spoken to I really have never felt any emptiness or depression from no longer being an officer or even employed.
A week or so ago I saw the pictures from Grimley's Senior Awards Day posted on Facebook. As if being washed over by a bucket of water it hit me; I've been retired almost a year already! A bit of nostalgia set in. Retiring from my final departmental position was somewhat different than most. Working in a position where I worked basically alone for almost 8 full years removed me from the day to day inner workings and politics of the department. Consequently, I felt no bitterness, frustration or feeling of just being tired of it all at the end like so many express. Oh I was ready to retire; but working alone with minimal peer contact removes the sentiment of "I'm going to miss the people" as I see more of "the people" now than I did working. I felt no sorrow as I turned in gear that I had carried for 29 years and when Sgt. Allen Ellis drove me home my final day I didn't sit down in a chair and wonder, "what now". My year has been full and I rarely sit still. But those pictures took me back to Grimsley High, the kids and teachers I worked with and the relationships that were formed even stronger than I realized. I decided to follow through with the promise to attend graduation.
What an overwhelming experience! I started by chatting with two former SRO colleagues and when they began tending to their duties as the doors opened, I picked a spot just beside the bleachers choosing to stand and watch folks as they came in. Parent after parent, graduates from school years past and current underclassmen noticed me, approached me, shook my hand or hugged my neck and all were smiling. Big smiles, big hugs; sincere. Even folks that I had dealt with "professionally" wanted to know how I was doing, what I was doing, how my sons and wife were and telling me that they "missed me". I was shocked how many parents actually remembered or knew who I was as most of their children had no dealings with me other than to say hello walking down the halls. It really was special.
I then snuck backstage to say hello to my teachers. When I retired I did not get to say what I really wanted to say as I choked up a bit when attempting to address them. These teachers are the backbone of education though we seem to waste money on 6 figure sociologists positions downtown with little or no educational expertise. I tried to be very protective of them as downtown administrative office personnel have a tendency to hang them out to dry preferring to appease complaining parents. I knew I missed seeing them but did not realize how much until last night. I spent most of the actual ceremony chatting and catching up with two teachers that I worked with the entire length of my stay at Grimsley. They are a special group!
After the ceremony I hung out backstage and leaned on a table as graduate after graduate approached, thanking me for coming. It really seemed to mean a lot to them and some even wanted pictures. One young man started a sentence with "know that I have graduated and you're retired, let me ask you about this"? Outside the building I continued to find students that I knew, some I did not and parents that knew me. I easily received 300 hugs last evening and it was the most festive scenario I had ever encountered. I had attended all of the previous Grimsley graduations, but this one was just different.
As I walked to my truck I was stopped one last time by a group of young men, most of whom I had dealt with "professionally". To my surprise, all of them were happy to see me and wanted to make sure I knew that they graduated next year and that I had to come. So, I made another promise; one more Grimsley graduation to attend.
Driving home I was processing the evening and I realized for the first time how important our jobs as law enforcement officers in general and SRO's in particular has become. We make an impact on someone's life almost every day. In schools those impressions seem to last longer. It's easy to not notice or to take for granted that impact because we rarely get to see the results as they occur much later than our relationships last. I was given the opportunity last night to observe some of those effects after being away from the job for a year. You believe you are making a difference and you are told by those you serve that you are. It was really cool to see and feel some of the results.
I have always had pride in the profession I chose but one year removed and experiencing the sincerity of feelings from everyone I encountered last night made me appreciate my 29 years in law enforcement even more. My feelings that the SRO position was one of the best kept secrets in law enforcement are even deeper after last night. I can now see that as time passes I will be more proud and appreciative of my entire career and that uniform and set of handcuffs hanging on my wall will have an ever deepening meaning as my life progresses. The good memories outnumber the bad; the further removed, the easier the view.
Time enhances perception!