Dear lovelies,

I hope as many of you as possible read this. By my count, I’ve met and been lucky enough to teach and love about 1,000 of you over the last 12 years. At Heritage High School, then New Era Academy, and finally Patterson High School. Between tenth grade, ninth, tenth again, and eventually eleventh — wherever or whenever we met, I’m grateful we did. You have been the best part of so many of my days.

During class, I demanded your attention countless times. I’m asking for it just once more as you read this letter, which contains some of the most important things I’ve ever said to you.

I’ll start with why I’m writing: Because of health reasons, I’ve left Baltimore City Public Schools.

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I’m okay. Things just got to a point where I couldn’t teach and also take care of myself. This was a choice I didn’t want to have to make; I avoided it, even as it became increasingly obvious that I needed to leave. That this was the right thing to do. But it was also incredibly hard. I’d already lost so much recently. I didn’t want to lose you, too.

Now that I’ve left, I’ve been thinking back on over a decade in the classroom and realized: For as often as I told you I love you, what I haven’t said enough is, “Thank you.” Thank you for the lessons you taught me. There are too many to mention — so in this letter are my favorites. Lessons I could only have learned from you, lessons that have made my life richer and more joyful.

First, thank you for teaching me all the ways in which Baltimore is abundant. Critics condemn our city with abandon, but from my first day as a teacher, y’all have made clear how shortsighted those opinions are. You’re proof that Baltimore is full of hilarity, talent, compassion. For years, when people questioned how I could love my job so much, I’d say, “Are you kidding me? I get paid to hang out and laugh with the lovelies all day!” Sometimes, I’d bite my lip or turn around so you couldn’t see me laughing, but millions of times more, I’d interrupt what we were doing to crack up. With you. Because of you.

More than funny, you’re so skilled — some of you at writing, which of course thrills me, but also at so much else. Musically: singing, playing, dancing. Athletics. Learning — and mastering! — multiple languages. Art. It’s been an undeserved honor to witness your talents; I wish Baltimore made it easier for you to showcase them.

Most importantly, in a city synonymous with violence, you are kind. You’re eager to join the helping professions: nursing, teaching, childcare. You’re quick to care for those who are hurting. You model forgiveness and grace in a way I rarely observe in adults. You have taught me that I always have reason to believe in Baltimore; you are among our absolute best.

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The next lesson shouldn’t surprise any of you: You, my lovelies, taught me about love. Yes, you’ve taught me how to love better — realizing that I must take accountability for every mistake, for example — but this lesson is more than that. It’s one I only could have learned because I’ve had the opportunity to love hundreds and hundreds of you.

Love has no quota. No matter how many people we’re already lucky enough to love, we can always add one more.

For over a decade, when I’d receive rosters at the start of every school year, I felt anxious as I scanned lists of strangers’ names. For me to teach you well, I needed to know you; each unfamiliar name reminded me that I didn’t.

During the first week of school, I’d frantically memorize which name belonged with which face. Inevitably, by that Friday, I’d shout, “I love you! Have a good rest of your day!” over the ringing of the bell. I’ve long scoffed at the notion of love at first sight, but loving all of you has always been nearly immediate.

You’ve taught me that the amount of love we can give and receive is boundless; that we can love without limit. We don’t have a quota of people we can love. Every year for over a decade, when meeting around 100 new lovelies, my heart never once collided with a barrier. I was free — again, again, again — to love even more of you. Knowing this now, that there is an infinite potential for love, I feel less naive about being hopeful — for Baltimore, America, the world.

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Lastly, lovelies, thank you for teaching me to practice what I preach. I’d guess that I’ve had different versions of the same conversation with almost all of you: Getting what you want often requires enduring some discomfort.

This would come up in all sorts of ways. What you needed to change to get to first period on time. How to resolve a conflict with a loved one. Steps to take for success after graduation. Every time, I’d encourage and caution you. Because you believe in what will come after, you’ll need to bear something unpleasant in the moment.

As we’d discuss the logistics of you trading video games for sleep, or practicing how to stand up for yourself, I looked inward. If I was going to dare you to change, I should do the same.

It’s taken years. For a long time, I couldn’t tell the difference between what I wanted and what society wanted for me. But every time I watched one of you get closer to getting, doing, being what you want, I’d force myself to take my own small steps.

Being honest — first with myself about what actually felt right, and then, eventually with people I trust. Projecting confidence in my choices, even when I didn’t always feel it, until people stopped questioning them. Telling myself I deserve this.

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And that’s how I got to where I am today: at peace with, and proud of, the life I’ve created. Thank you for nudging me there.

Whenever folks would tell me that you all were lucky to have me as a teacher, I’d correct them.

I was — am — the lucky one.

For the past decade, you have been my constant, the piece of my life that makes the most sense. Now I’m stepping into whatever comes next with faith.

Lovelies, thank you for teaching me to believe I’m worth it.

~ Grizzy, Ms. Kerry, Ms. Graham

Kerry Graham is part of The Baltimore Banner's Creatives in Residence program, which amplifies the work of artists and writers from the Baltimore region.

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