14 staff members wave goodbye to South, hello to retirement


Illustration by Patsy Corolan

Sloane Shabelman, staff writer

As Sonja Meyer concludes her 26 years as an English teacher at South, she can only think of one way to describe this unsatisfying end to her school year: “I feel like students who get to the end of a book that they really like and then they read the ending and they don’t like it,” she said. “It doesn’t make me not like the whole thing—I’m very glad that I became a teacher and it’s been a wonderful career— but the ending stinks!”

Meyer explained that up until school got cancelled, she had been “walking on clouds” throughout her last year. She feels incredibly sorry for all students, especially seniors, and even though she is admittedly excited to be done grading papers, she is sorry to not get more closure as she leaves South.

“[Not being able to say goodbye to staff and students in person] has been a really tough part of this whole thing,” Meyer explained. “Just the idea that I taught my last class and didn’t know it was my last class [is very difficult]. Not knowing that I wouldn’t see the students again and that I would never work with my colleagues again and that there was no ‘completion’ of it [is hard to deal with].”

Once she is retired, Meyer said she has many projects around her house she will work on and she hopes eventually she will be able to travel as well, although she cannot help but worry COVID-19 will affect some of the plans she’s made.

Like Meyer, retiring English teacher John Allen is excited for this next chapter of his life that will consist of various activities such as guitar, creative writing and hiking. However, he cannot help but mourn the loss of all the traditional rituals teachers go through when they retire from South, he said.

“It’s very sad and strange,” Allen said. “I’ve never prepared to not be able to have closure on one of the top three or four things of my life, so I’m trying to figure out what closure means [in this unique situation].”

Allen explained the hardest moment for him was when the district officially announced that school was cancelled for the rest of the year. Even though he knew it was coming, the cancellation was very emotional for him and made it all real, he said.

Sophomore Samantha Gregerman, a student in Allen’s Academy English class, feels Allen helped her be more aware of the natural beauties all around her and has been very supportive for her throughout this year. Overall, she is upset that her and her peers will not be able to say a proper goodbye to a teacher that means so much to them, she said.

“I’ve learned to notice a lot of the small intricacies in life that I didn’t notice before based on the way [Mr. Allen] teaches the class and all the literature we read,” Gregerman said.

Christopher Hilvert, who has taught in South’s Science Department for 31 years, explained he does not feel very choked up about his retirement because he plans to still see his colleagues once he is retired. However, he feels incredibly sad for all students who are currently missing out on big opportunities and does not doubt that he will miss the special experiences he shared with them, he said.

“Like all retirees, I’m sure it’s a bittersweet time,” Hilvert said. “I’m definitely going to miss the moments with students, athletes and student council. Not only the big moments like state track meets and Homecoming but also the little moments like hanging with students… in the hallway before class.”

Hilvert leaves his students with a final piece of advice: to pursue a life not only of happiness but of purpose. From daily activities to relationships, Hilvert advises his students to find purpose in everything they do, and in doing so, they will find happiness. 

Meyer has taught at two schools, but explained that South has been the happiest place she has worked at, and that she will truly miss the time she spent there.

“I’ve been so thankful for all the resources that South has to support students and teachers and overall to be in a place where learning is really valued,” Meyer said. “I have had a great career, especially the last 26 years, and I’ve really loved being at South.”