Since I finished my Masters in Teaching this past June, I get asked this question a lot. Am I teaching? No. Well, yes. Just not always in a classroom, and not always at the same school. I used to teach History lessons; now I teach life lessons. Although, often times with a high school audience, my story is history to them…1992 sounds like a long time ago to some. To me, sometimes too.
But I am always teaching and it is an honor and blessing to do so - one for which I am extremely thankful. Below are some responses written by students who recently heard me speak, in response to the question: What did you learn from What Though the Odds?:
Last week I had the great honor of speaking at Claremont McKenna College as part of their Athenaeum Speakers Series. It is an amazing program where students, faculty and the featured speaker join together in conversation at a reception and during dinner prior to the speaker’s presentation. Presidents such as Bill Clinton, world leaders such as Desmond Tutu and business figures such as Michael Eisner have all participated as an “Ath” speaker. I was honored to be asked and to make my own small contribution to the students’ experience with such a great program.
But for me, visit Claremont McKenna College (CMC) was a personal treat as well. My dad attended CMC (although back then it was Claremont Mens College) and my mom started in the first class to enter Pitzer College (one of the five Claremont Colleges - the other three being Scripts, Pomona and Harvey Mudd). How fun for me to spend an entire day on the campuses walking around with my parents, listening to them reminisce about their time as students and as a young couple in love. My parents had not been back to visit in nearly 35 years, so you can imagine it has changed, and it was entertaining to watch them try to figure out what building was what, and where they used to live and attend class.
It also reminded me how important that foundation of family is, and how important it was to me to have these deep roots that my parents planted so strongly. When our lives bend and stretch and test our limits, we rely on these roots to keep us grounded, to keep us focused, and to prevent ourselves from being completely uprooted and swept away. I feel fortunate to have this glimpse into these early roots: my parents early life together, and I think it was important to my parents as well: to revisit and nurture that time in their lives, while celebrating through my talk how far we have come as a family.
This morning I spoke to Mary Korzan’s students at Queen of Peace Catholic School. Mary was the first person to invite me to speak after my book came out two years ago. I remember then, being terrified to speak to her classes - nervous about what I was going to say, nervous about how my story and book would be received and unsure of my role as an author and speaker. What a difference two years makes!
My preparation for this morning’s talk was much different. I did not labor over each word in my speech; I actually had no notes today. Two years ago PowerPoint was a foreign tool; this morning I flipped through slides that allowed me to share with the students powerful images. I wasn’t terrified or nervous, but excited to touch lives. Two years ago, I didn’t have the confidence that this is a story worth telling - over and over. What a difference two years makes.
It is not easy to talk about one’s darkest moments. It is not easy to relive a painful time in my life. But I have learned - over the past two years - how beneficial this story is for others to hear. And that makes it easy.
I will forever be indebted to Mary Korzan for believing in my story - and my ability to share it with others. I have spoken to many schools over the past two years, but Queen of Peace will always be dear to me. Because even though I am not a student there, at Queen of Peace I learned what a gift I truly have to share with others. Thank you Mary! And thank you wonderful Queen of Peace students!
Today St. Anne’s School of Annapolis, where my sons attend, took an all-lower-school field trip to the USDA farm in Beltsville, MD. It was about a 45 minute trip, where the students harvested corn that was donated to a shelter that provides meals to the homeless. For about an hour, in the 90ish degree heat, the students collected thousands of ears of corn - and loved it. It was meant to be a community-building event, both for the school and for the school’s mission of outreach and service to others. That alone would be enough to make today’s field trip noteworthy.
I love community. I talk about it all the time, and I truly believe in the power that our strength in numbers provides. Everyone knows I send my children to St. Anne’s because of the community of families who embrace the school. And today, for this community-building event, I wanted my boys to be fully integrated with their peers, teachers and other parents. So we rode the bus - together.
I really didn’t want it to be a big deal. It wasn’t (or so I thought). I was completely fine with it (or so I thought). But it needed to be done and I thought this was the time to do it- as a community. And that it was. The entire community today made me realize that I made the right decision. From teachers, who took great care to make sure that we were on the bus we wanted and that we could back out at any time, to the Head of School who gave me a hug and just said, “I’m proud of you,” to my friends who said, “You are a really good mom.” But I think the best part of today was a comment from my son’s teacher from last year who told me that she asked Edward if he rode on the bus and he replied with a big smile, “YES, with my mom!”
How could I not? I am so grateful that I had the time to make the decision when I wanted to make it. I am thankful for children who understand, for a school community that understood what this means to me, and for the many, many others who I know took that ride with me. Life continues to be a journey - and today it took a path on an unlikely vehicle to a place where I was reminded to be thankful for the gifts and community in my life.