A lot of schoolteachers will tell you that their profession is no walk in the park. Some days, walking onto campus is like entering a war zone populated with unruly, occasionally violent people who don't care, and don't care that you know they don't care.
But sometimes, just often enough, the whole challenging experience is redeemed and a teacher gets a glimpse of how he or she has affected a life. Sure, a teacher may have successfully shoved the Pythagorean theorem into some initially resistant young brains, or watched light bulbs of understanding flicker to life in the course of a unit on the Federalist Papers.
But sometimes, especially this time of year, when graduation exercises put four years of intellectual, physical and emotional maturation into focus, a teacher might be reminded of how his or her example — his or her simple, human example — can direct a young life.
It happened again Wednesday when Bakersfield High School teachers, counselors, administrators and staff members gathered in the BHS student cafeteria for their annual end-of-the-year assembly for awards, hugs and goodbyes.
This one was special because they got to see Principal David Reese choke up a dozen times or more; he is retiring after 23 years at the city's flagship school, the last 20 of those years as principal.
Most of the speeches and lump-in-their-throat attempts at speeches had finished when a student, Jesus Rojas, stepped up, front and center, before the audience of about 100.
Rojas, 18, had some people to thank.
"I did not grow up with a father for most of my life," said Rojas, who was 7 when his alcoholic father was arrested for domestic abuse and ultimately deported to Mexico. "While other boys talked about their weekend adventures with their fathers" — fishing, camping, playing catch — "... to this day I've yet to do any of those things. But most importantly, I had no one to teach me how to be an honorable young man in society. There was a hole in my life."
He did his best on his own, Rojas said. He taught himself how to tie knots, how to start a balky engine, how to hitch a trailer.
But "I was still missing something," he said. "That is, until I came here" to BHS.
Six educators in particular — six men — provided guidance that went beyond academics.
Rojas thanked history/government teachers Craig Holliday "for teaching me what it truly means to be kind" and Jeremy Adams "for teaching me how to think about the world around me." He thanked robotics teacher Don Wilmot "for teaching me that for every problem there is always a solution if you can just open your mind wide enough." He thanked math teacher Kevin Reynier, Harvey Auditorium manager Dale Olvera and biology teacher Jim "Doc" Selgrath, who also happened to give Rojas his first job on the family cattle ranch.
"Together," said Rojas, who will enter the mechanical engineering program at Texas A&M this fall, "you have transformed me from a boy with no father into ... a man who will be an example to other fatherless boys. ... A man is not a man because he can tie a double-sheet bend knot and fix a car, but because he can empathize and treat others with kindness and respect."
Reese, who will preside over his final BHS graduation Thursday night at Griffith Field, said those six teachers share an essential mindset.
"What I try to preach to teachers all the time is that you treat your students like you want someone to treat your own kids," Reese said. "And this story represents that, because (Rojas) adopted some fathers here on campus who taught him how to be a man."
"These kids, you don't know how much negativity they face in their life," Reese said. "It doesn't have to be a kid from a poor home, it could be any kid. You have to be positive. That's what I hope I leave with these teachers."
Rojas certainly walks into the future having grasped that principle.
"Bakersfield High School is so much more than a school," Rojas said. "It is a lighthouse."