DALLAS — There were few dry eyes inside the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center Wednesday night. Saying "goodbye" isn't easy.... especially not after so many years.
And especially not after so many memories.
Michael Parker is the one teacher hundreds of former students seem to remember. After 39 years with the Dallas Independent School District — the last 15 at W.T. White High School — the 67-year-old Mr. Parker is retiring.
"Oh Mr. Parker. Where do I even begin?" asked senior Vivian Perez when asked what makes him different. "He's just this big cuddly teddy bear who loves his kids, and who does anything for them. He gives us more than 100 percent, and he sees the potential in us and wants to bring that out."
Perhaps the best compliment any teacher could hear came from graduating senior Reagan Stephens.
"He's absolutely changed my life for sure," Reagan said. "I planned to do something in business. But now — because of him — I'm going to pursue music, so I can do what he did and change lives."
Reagan wants to be a teacher because of the kind of educator Mr. Parker is.
"When I moved to Dallas and I started teaching in inner-city schools I felt like they needed me, and not only as their teacher," Parker explained.
He gives students his cell number and doesn't mind if kids use it for everything from warning him they're running late for practice to asking for his advice.
"Sometimes I get a text that someone's having a bad morning and doesn't want to come to school. I tell them to come on to school and we'll talk it out," he said.
Parker said he's made it a rule that he never listens to other teachers' opinions of his students. "I think the kids know Mr. Parker is going to stand up for them. I'm not there to win friendships with teachers; I'm there to protect the kids."
Mr. Parker has been named Teacher of the Year at every school he's worked. To say "thank you" for his excellent service and to bid him a special farewell, Dallas ISD secured one of the best venues in the city — the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center — for his final concert Wednesday night.
During rehearsal Wednesday afternoon, the kids could barely contain their excitement.
"When you walk in the door, it's like, 'Whoa!'" said Reagan Stephens, a graduating senior.
Even Mr. Parker was impressed.
"They sang a song that ends really loud, and they freeze at the end," he said. "And the song just traveled from the stage up to the top and filled the air. And you just don't get that in a school auditorium. I could tell by the looks on their faces just, 'Wow! This is awesome!'"
Parker received a standing ovation as he took the stage before the final performance they worked so hard on even began.
Tears streamed down the students' faces as they walked down the aisles of the Meyerson and stepped onto the risers, singing "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."
"This is their concert, and I'm just handing it over to them," Parker said, as his eyes welled with tears. "I just want them to feel what they're singing. And the fact that I think they're doing it for me is a gift. There's nothing more precious to me than them giving me that gift. It's very emotional for me... something I'll remember forever."