Once more we were up and down in the lobby at 6:45 AM to embark on our last day in the nation's capitol, and the last day of our Senior trip. We went to the same little sports grill we'd visited the day before for another hearty and delicious breakfast, and then we returned to the hotel to check out, gather our luggage and store it till time to leave for the airport. After that we embarked on the Metro for our first stop of the day: Arlington National Cemetery. We arrived just in time to witness the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, followed by the changing of the guard moments later. There are few sights in America more solemn and moving than this unceasing vigil over the graves of those who sacrificed all for their country. After the ceremony was over, we made our way to the grave of Greenville's most famous son: Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of the Second World War. Born less than ten miles outside of town, he worked in Greenville and enlisted in the Army in Greenville before embarking on his remarkable combat career, which saw him receive 28 separate decorations for valor. After paying our respects to his memory, our group split up and we walked all over the cemetery, viewing many famous graves and monuments, before meeting up to head to the Metro.
Our next stop was the White House, where we struggled to get a good picture in the midst of the throngs of people, tourists, visiting police and protestors. It was not a long stop, then we were turned loose and told to find lunch on our own and meet at the Smithsonian Castle at 4:30. Several of us went shopping for souvenirs, and then stopped and ate lunch. Jerry and I found a sidewalk table at a popular restaurant that served excellent cheeseburgers, and then we headed back to the Natural History Museum to check out a couple of wings I had not visited yesterday. Jerry was still feeling pretty tired, so after that he decided to sit down on the Mall and take a break. I strolled down to the Washington monument and back, just soaking up the ambience of this remarkable city. Then we went into the Smithsonian Castle (that's the original red brick structure that once housed the Institute's entire collection) and looked around a bit. After that we simply set and watched the people come and go, and before you know it the group was gathering. We took a few last pictures - folks were getting tired and grumpy by this point! - and then caught the Metro back to our hotel. We gathered our bags and were shuttled to the airport (half our group experienced a brief delay when the hotel shuttle scraped another car on the way out of the parking lot!). Baggage check, security, grabbing a last minute snack, and then we just sat and waited for the plane. Before you know it, we were descending the boarding ramp and finding our seats. One last glimpse of the gleaming Capitol dome, and then we were above the clouds and heading back to Texas!
I'll spare you the story of the return voyage - I mean, airplanes are boring, right? And late night bus rides are worse. We got home at 11 PM, and after a round of hugs and goodbyes, we headed our separate directions. Today it was back to work for me, reviewing kids for their exams and trying to grade the massive stack of papers that lay before me. Tonight I sat down and carefully sealed 17 envelopes with 17 small gifts and 17 personal letters, one to each graduating senior. I'll be presenting them tomorrow.
Tomorrow is senior chapel, and Friday night is graduation. Another set of "my kids" will be launched into the adult world, and once more I will sit and sniffle a bit as I watch them receive their diplomas. I've taught many remarkable classes in my twenty three years at GCS, but this one took me on a journey I will never forget.
I remember the old song that used to play at the end of every episode of the Carol Burnett Show when I was a kid: "I'm so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song; seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say so long."
That time is here. Safe journeys, Class of 2019.
I love you guys.