Children are a funny thing. One day they are born, and are squalling, messy, limp masses of humanity. Within a few years they are opinionated balls of humanity and move from there to I-know-it-all chunks of humanity and eventually (God willing and the crick don’t rise) mature into productive members of society. Along the way, there are milestones to aim for and potential pitfalls to avoid. And occasionally they step into the sun and do something so brilliant the sun shines in your eyes and you cry.
Today my daughter was officially named valedictorian of her graduating class of nearly 150 students. Today was a day the sun shone in my eyes and I cried.
I found out the “official” news this morning before the students got to school. There was a notice hanging up outside the high school guidance office that said “Congratulations to the class of 2011” and then listed the top 10 students. Damn if Louise wasn’t right at the top! I was tickled pink but went about my business, telling a few of the teachers who Louise had while in Middle School. They were all thrilled but, somehow, not surprised.
Then came the Moment. The moment when, walking in an empty hallway during 2nd period, the magnitude of her accomplishment occurred to me. I was overwhelmed with gratitude at the teachers who brought her to this point, and I felt the tears coming. Now I should say that I am a HUGE mush – one of those people who cry at commercials. I let a few fall, but knew I had to get them back under control before I got back to the classroom. Since the hallways are “patrolled” by cameras during the school day, I didn’t want anyone to see me cry. So I kept walking as though everything was fine. I wiped my eyes just after I passed a camera, and took a deep breath before I got back to my classroom. Paused, entered, kept my eyes averted and blew my nose. I am, after all, getting over a cold.
I would like to place Louise’s academic success squarely in the hands of those who educated her. Aristotle said, “Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.” So I honor the following educators who were Louise’s teachers through the years. (Louise and I sat side by side to come up with this list. Anyone who was missed, please accept my apologies.)
Kindergarten – Mrs. Virginia Neville – who taught her the value of education and instilled in her a love of learning.
First Grade – Ms. Kara O’Hearn (now Granger) – from who Louise learned how interesting and huge the world was.
Second Grade – Ms. Ruta Ronis – who taught her to love reading, and exposed her to the world of literature.
Third Grade – I am astonished to say that neither Louise nor I can remember her teacher’s name. I know she had the corner classroom and had an Irish name and absconded with my USGS earthquake map when she retired. I think 3rd grade wasn’t a big learning year…
Fourth Grade – Mrs. Herzog – who was the Earth Mother and was a brilliant persuader. Mrs. Zmudowski, you made Louise cry buckets every night with your criticism. I would not like to thank you, but let you know that she eventually learned her times tables and is now going to college for physics. I think in some small way you helped her understand the importance of math. For that I am grateful. For your methods, no. Not at all.
Fifth Grade – Mrs. Austin-Kieves and Mrs. Herzog – Mrs. A-K taught Louise that she had to work her butt off to achieve excellence. She switched to Mrs. Herzog at mid-year to be able to work on a local history mural project with her father and Mrs. Herzog’s class.
Sixth Grade – Mrs. Cleaveland, Mr. Horn, Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Freebern, Ms. Gray, Ms. Campbell, Mr. Spence
Seventh Grade – Mrs. Turner, Mr. Knittel, Mrs. Tillotson, Ms. Dunham, Mr. DiBartolo
Eighth Grade – Mr. Pool, Mr. Esposito, Mr. Zangerle, Mrs. Gordineer, Ms. Ostrander
High School – Mr. Wright, Mr. Hill, Mr. Lawson, Mrs. O’Hearn, Mr. O’Hearn, Mrs. Brajuha, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Costello, Mrs. Kermani, Mrs. Colacchio, Ms. Kreiger, Mrs. Penik, Ms. Alteri, Mr. Stockslager, Mr. Orcutt, Mr. Kozlowski, Mr. O’Connor. I would also offer an incredibly special THANK YOU to the Simonetty family, who helped Louise study calculus at Harvard University in the summer of 2010. Your contribution was invaluable!!!!
To these amazing men and women I would like to say Thank You! You made a difference in the life of this kid named Louise. When you see her name in the papers for winning the Nobel Prize for Physics, know that you are part of the prize. Educators matter. Really matter. As Einstein said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” You have done that.
And for that, Rick and I thank you and Louise thanks you.
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