How It All Turned Out: A Kindergarten Story, 13 Years Later

Jun 23, 2017
Originally published on June 23, 2017 11:32 pm

Today we're going to update a story we first brought you back in 2004. That September, NPR set out to document what may be the most important day in any young child's life — the first day of kindergarten. For parents it's a day filled with hope, anxiety and one big question: Is our child ready?

The answer back then, as far as 5-year-old Sam Marsenison was concerned, was, "No, no, no!"

For his parents, Paul and Maryanna Marsenison of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., it was tough letting go too. They had spent weeks, if not months, preparing themselves. But on that day, Sam made it very clear that he wanted no part of his new school, Virginia Shuman Young Elementary.

Sam lunged toward Maryanna and wrapped his little arms around her waist, tears rolling down both their faces.

In the background, the principal was on the PA system with a not-so-subtle warning: It was time for all kindergarten parents to leave. Immediately.

And now it was Maryanna, not Sam, who didn't want to let go. For a while it seemed that even a tractor couldn't pull her away.

Thirteen years later, Sam says he has only vague memories of the drama that unfolded on his first day of kindergarten. Now 18, he has grown into a tall, handsome young man with his mother's eyes and olive brown skin.

A few days ago, Sam graduated from Fort Lauderdale High School, and he will soon be off to college. Sam is well aware that his parents are anxious, wondering — again — whether he is ready.

"My parents are sending me across the state to go live by myself," he says, "which I've never done before."

Sam is headed for Tallahassee Community College, about 460 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. His grades weren't good enough to get into Florida State University, but Sam hopes to transfer there, assuming he takes his studies seriously and his grades improve.

Paul, his dad, has his misgivings: "I don't have confidence that he's going to take [his studies] seriously in the beginning."

Maryanna disagrees. "I think he will. Because he's done a lot of growing up this past half year."

Throughout high school, Paul and Maryanna struggled to get Sam to work hard, to think about his future.

"A year ago he did not even want to go to college," says Maryanna.

At one point, Sam talked about joining the military.

Sam, of course, has heard all this talk before, and he has told his mom and dad hundreds of times: "I'm definitely ready and I'm confident I'm going to do well."

At Fort Lauderdale High, the few teachers who got to know Sam saw him as an average student. The one thing he seemed passionate about was fishing — especially with his dad.

"Not every weekend, but we'd go quite a bit," says Paul. "And I think that has given him a tremendous amount of self-confidence."

Paul is convinced that being out on the water builds character. It's one thing that seems to truly bond Sam and his father. Paul says that's what he is going to miss most when Sam, his "fishing buddy," is gone.

Listening to Paul reminds me of how strongly he felt 13 years ago about raising a fearless, confident child. It was important to him, for example, that 5-year-old Sam learn to ride the school bus by himself. Here's the way Paul put it back then:

"We have to put him on a bus. Get him on a bus and shake him up a little bit," he told me. "Make him think on his feet a little bit."

To this day, Maryanna is the hand-holder while Paul is the one pushing Sam to be more independent. It's been a tug of war of sorts.

With only a couple of hours before graduation, the Marsenison home is abuzz with aunts and grandparents from out of town. I pull Sam off to the side to ask him how he is feeling.

"I know I could've pushed myself harder, studied more, done better," he says.

I ask him: Do you think you have to prove to your dad and your family that you're ready to work hard and have a bright future?

"I don't think I have to prove it to them," he responds. "It's what I want for myself, so I'll do whatever it takes."

"Heck, I might even work for my dad's construction business someday," Sam adds with a chuckle.

I have a feeling Paul would really like that.

Right now, though, the graduation ceremony awaits. First, Sam needs help with his tie. He has no idea how to put one on and his dad wasn't much help either. No problem: His mom is there to help.

Maryanna still can't believe her little boy has grown up so big, so fast. She tries to hold her emotions in check, reminiscent of how she tried to hold back tears on Sam's first day of kindergarten.

"Yeah, there's going to be tears, again," she says. "The emotions are the same. But I'm more confident because he's a real person now. He's a person, I should say. He was my baby."

Sam just sighs: "They don't want to let me go," he says. How does that feel? "It feels good that they'll miss me."

It's time. The entire family, aunts and grandparents, squeeze into the two family cars and make their way to the Broward County Center for the Performing Arts, where Sam and more than 500 of his classmates will receive their diplomas.

As Sam walks across the stage with diploma in hand, Paul and Maryanna smile.

Their 5-year-old has turned out to be a healthy, happy young man with a good heart. Yes, a late bloomer, perhaps, but someone they believe will one day make them even more proud than they are tonight.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Today we have an update to a story we first told back in 2004. That September, NPR's Claudio Sanchez set out to document one of the biggest days in a kid's life, the first day of kindergarten.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MARYANNA MARSENISON: What do you think of your new classroom? This is where you're going to be every day.

SAM MARSENISON: No, no, no, no...

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

That hesitant child was 5-year-old Sam Marsenison. For his parents, too, it was an emotional day filled with hope and anxiety. But they went on with their lives.

MCEVERS: A couple of months ago, Sam's dad sent Claudio a note. Sam was graduating from high school. Here's Claudio with our story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MARK STRAUSS: At this time, if there are parents who are in the classrooms, we're going to ask that you please head on home.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Thirteen years ago, Paul and Maryanna Marsenison dropped off their son, Sam, at Virginia Shuman Young Elementary for his first day of kindergarten.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

M. MARSENISON: It's a whole new stage in our lives, not just his life. You know, we - we're going to have to help him through this.

SANCHEZ: Letting go was tough. Sam lunged towards Maryanna and wrapped his little arms around her waist, tears rolling down both their faces.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

M. MARSENISON: I just thought I'd - we'd get to stay a little bit longer. I just thought, you know - I just wanted to be there (laughter) just for a little bit longer.

SANCHEZ: Sam's first day as a kindergartener went off without a hitch except that during lunch, Sam could not open his juice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

M. MARSENISON: Did you drink your juice?

S. MARSENISON: No. I couldn't open it.

No, I don't remember that.

SANCHEZ: That's Sam, now 18. He's grown into a tall, handsome young man with his mother's eyes and olive brown skin. A few weeks ago, he graduated from Fort Lauderdale High School and will soon be off to college. Sam is well aware his parents are anxious again, wondering whether he's ready.

S. MARSENISON: Same as maybe, you know, I guess kindergarten is, yeah. Your parents are letting you go to school by yourself, which is a big step for that age. And I think for being 18, it's also a big step. You know, my parents are sending me across the state to go live by myself.

SANCHEZ: Sam is headed for Tallahassee Community College about 460 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. His grades were not good enough to get into a Florida State, but Sam plans to transfer there assuming he takes his studies seriously and his grades improve. Paul, his dad, has his misgivings.

PAUL MARSENISON: I don't have confidence that he's going to take it seriously in the beginning.

M. MARSENISON: I think he will because I think he's done a lot of growing up this past half year.

SANCHEZ: Throughout high school, Paul and Maryanna struggled to get their son to work hard, to think about his future. At one point, Sam talked about joining the military right after graduation.

M. MARSENISON: A year ago, he did not even want to go to college.

P. MARSENISON: I know he could have done a lot better.

SANCHEZ: Sam says he's heard it all before. But like he's told his mom and dad hundreds of times...

S. MARSENISON: I think I'm definitely ready. And I'm, like - I feel confident that I'm going to do well.

SANCHEZ: At Fort Lauderdale High, the few teachers who got to know Sam saw him as an average student not passionate about much except one thing - fishing, especially with his dad.

P. MARSENISON: Not every weekend, but we go quite a bit. And I think that has given him a tremendous amount of self-confidence.

SANCHEZ: Being out on the water builds character, says Paul. It seems it's the one thing that truly bonds Sam and his father - being out on the water together. And that's what Paul says he's going to miss most when Sam, his fishing buddy, is gone.

Listening to Paul reminds me of how strongly he felt 13 years ago about raising a fearless, confident child, how important it was, for example, for Sam to learn to ride the school bus by himself. Here's the way Paul put it back then...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

P. MARSENISON: Get him on a bus, you know, and shake him up a little bit and make him think on his feet a little bit.

M. MARSENISON: I can do that for him (laughter).

P. MARSENISON: Yeah, but he's got to get on the bus and make it back home, you know?

SANCHEZ: To this day, Maryanna is still a hand-holder, Paul demanding as always, prodding, pushing Sam to be more independent. It's been a tug of war of sorts.

M. MARSENISON: I'm going to cry.

SANCHEZ: With graduation only a couple of hours away, the Marsenison's home is abuzz with aunts and grandparents from out of town. I pulled Sam off to the side to ask him how he's feeling. You know, he says, dad's right.

S. MARSENISON: I could've pushed myself harder, studied more, done better. But I don't feel as if I've let him down, though. I put forth effort.

SANCHEZ: Do you think you have to prove to your dad or to your family that you have a bright future ahead of you?

S. MARSENISON: I don't think I have to prove it to him. I think - it's what I want for myself, so I'll do whatever it takes.

SANCHEZ: Heck, says Sam, I might even work for my dad's construction business someday. I have a feeling Paul would really like that. But first, graduation awaits, and Sam needs help with this tie.

S. MARSENISON: I have no idea how to tie a tie. Dad tied it for me, but I don't think he did it very well.

M. MARSENISON: Yeah, so I don't know who helped him.

SANCHEZ: Sam's mom, Maryanna, steps in to help. She still cannot believe her little boy has grown so big so fast. She's trying to keep her emotions in check, reminiscent of how she tried to hold back tears on Sam's first day of kindergarten.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

S. MARSENISON: Mommy's going to be crying.

SANCHEZ: Now, 13 years later...

M. MARSENISON: Yeah, there's going to be tears (laughter). The emotions are the same I think. But I'm more confident because he's a real person now. He's a person, I should say. You know, he's a baby. He was a baby.

S. MARSENISON: They don't want to let me go.

SANCHEZ: How does that feel?

S. MARSENISON: Feels good that (laughter) they'll miss me.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Welcome Fort Lauderdale families. Enjoy the program, and congratulations to your seniors.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF EDWARD ELGAR'S "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCES")

SANCHEZ: Tonight Sam is among the 500 or so students receiving their diploma from Fort Lauderdale High.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Sam Marsenison.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

P. MARSENISON: (Laughter) There he is, walking...

M. MARSENISON: He's accepting it now - yay.

P. MARSENISON: Yeah, very distinguished.

SANCHEZ: As Sam walks across the stage, Paul and Maryanna smile. Their 5-year-old, after all, has turned out to be a healthy, happy young man with a good heart, a late bloomer, perhaps, but someone who they believe deep down can and will someday make them even more proud than they are tonight. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.