I want to thank Ms. Dawes for choosing me to speak to you tonight, and I want to congratulate all of you for achieving this honor.
You’re probably thinking … who is this 5’4” child-looking person talking to us tonight. Well, I am a teacher.
I started my career at 23, after turbulent years others would enjoyably … call college. I could have chosen any career under the sun, but I choose teaching because … of a teacher.
I remember this one-day in high school. The night before was typical at home … felt like hell. It was one of those nights where I filled my pillow with water from my eyes, but came to school with the biggest fake smile on my face. I needed somewhere to go. So, I went where I felt comfortable … the journalism “suite.”
It was my sanctuary, my home away from home, my place to be creative, to be myself, to have fun … to feel loved and trusted, and to spend time with my hero. She is my hero, but I don’t think she knows it. She is the reason why I do what I do.
For some, our heroes are our parents or siblings or crime fighters or even celebrities. Spider-Man is pretty cool, and Ellen DeGeneres is a close second. But for me, my hero is the person who created a sanctuary for me to … escape. My hero is a teacher – a woman who created a classroom where students came to show their creativity and genius, and to have fun doing so. And with all the years of being queen of her castle, she has never lost that passion for teaching – that internal gratification that only teachers know.
When you see a great teacher, you are seeing a work of art, a master at their craft. When you see a great teacher, you are seeing the people that mold presidents, doctors, lawyers, astronauts, engineers, mothers, fathers, and other teachers. When you see a great teacher, you are seeing someone who creates environments and classrooms that change people’s lives. When you see a great teacher, you’ve met a hero.
Some are never held to the pedestal of their glory. But we all have had them; amazing teachers who are changing lives every day. Everyone has that one that they can look back and say, “That teacher was my favorite. That teacher taught me something. That teacher showed me the light, to look at life in a different way. That teacher is the reason why I am successful.”
Ms. Singleton created fan bases; people who grew up and remember that she changed their life. And she changed mine. She gave me purpose …
However, at 25, into my 3rd year of my amazing career, trying to change the world one student at a time like Ms. Singleton changed mine, mine has endured constant changed and hardship.
My mother’s and I relationships has ceased, nonexistent for about 7 years, effecting my life as a grown adult. I’ve seen my best friend seemingly on his deathbed, as it looked like he was about to float through the purely gates. Yet, I stood by his side, and assisted him through his … literal physical rebirth. More recently, thinking we were the exception to the rule, I lost my marriage, my best friend, and my non-traditional family, seemingly abruptly, and for reasons I still don’t know. I’ve dealt with life altering deceit, I’ve lost my health, a job, my father, and many I thought were friends. That’s all pretty heavy for a 25 year old to deal with. Unfortunately, the latter has all happened within the past 5 months…
I heard this analogy, and it fit perfectly; I felt like I was desperately holding on to a razor sharp piece of glass I called my life, yet that glass seemed to be slipping. The hurt was deep, festering, never addressed. You know that image of that person in the movies with a pint of ice cream, cradled in the corner of their bed with the weight of 12 elephants placed on their shoulders, that was me 3 weeks ago, painfully finding out who was going to support me, who was going to stick by my side, finding out what I had to wake up for, after seemingly loosing everything, with no sense of closure. I hit rock bottom, as everything that I knew changed … again. I was walking by myself …
Yet, what kept me waking up every day, and what keeps me waking up every day are … you, my kids. Our students. And knowing that I could do what Ms. Singleton did for me … for you. You give me purpose.
Sometimes, with the everyday mundane requirements thrown at us, and the political game we have to play, teachers forget why our life’s path has guided us toward education. And as I see the glow of success in this room tonight, and when I see the achievements in my own classroom, I am reminded why I do what do, why I can emerge from this valley so deep. Students, we need you just as much as you need us. We need you to remind us of, not only our faith in ourselves, but to remind us of faith in humanity and the next generation.
So here I am, speaking to you, able to spread a positive message. Believe and adhere in the golden rule. Actions speak louder than words and always will. Take a stand for what’s fair and right. Dream big. Be creative. Eat great food. Smile often and laugh everyday. Learn everyday. Try new things. Embrace change. Seize opportunities when they reveal themselves. Communication reduces doubt. Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes. Make time to enjoy the simple things in life. Love hard, with all your heart, and never give up on it. Have humility, apologize, forgive, even when it’s hard, and when given a chance. Make it right. Extend your hand down to those who may not be able to extend their hand up to you – a text message is not enough. Know your worth. Be true to who you are. Set your standards high because no one likes mediocre. Dumb and ditzy has never been sexy. Spend time with family and friends. Reminisce about the good old days, but look with optimism to the future. Take pictures … lots of pictures, just not those inappropriate selfies. Those will get you in trouble! Nevertheless, believe and have passion for something bigger than yourself in this amazing life that is never guaranteed tomorrow. But most of all, do not just like someone as a person, but value and appreciate them, and what they bring to your life. Cherish your human connections, because good ones are rare! There’s nothing greater than thank you …
With those human connections, those important relationships, have standards. These are the people who you choose to spend your precious life and time with. I have learned that at the lowest of the low in life, what will get you through are those genuine relationships.
I embraced this idea from one of the great filmmakers of our time … Tyler Perry. He says; if someone wants to walk out of your life, let them go! Especially if you know you have done everything you can do; you have been the best man or woman you can be, and they still want to go … let them go. Whatever they are running after, they will eventually see what they had. But by then, it will be too late. Half the people you sit around crying and worrying about, two or three years from now, you will not even remember their last name. Some people come into your life for a lifetime, and some come for a season. You have to know which is which …
So, put everybody that comes into my life in the category of a tree. Some people are like the leaves on that tree. The wind blows, they go to the left. The wind blows from the other way, they go to the right. They are just unstable. You cannot count on them for anything. All they ever do is take from that tree. What you need to understand about a leaf is that it has a season. It will wither and die and blow away. There is no need to be praying for a leaf to be resurrected. When it is dead, it is gone. Some people are like that. They are a leaf. They come to take.
Then there are people that are like a branch. You have to be careful with branch people, because you never know how strong they will be in your life. When you are going out on a limb, do not put too much weight on it at once, because it can fall and leave you high and dry. Sometimes, you have to wait for a branch to grow up before it can hold of the things you want to share with it.
Although they say that everyone comes into your life for a reason, the lesson that you may learn from a bad situation is not worth the effort or emotion you may put into it. Some will build themselves up to be someone they are not. And sadly, most friendships and relationships end because someone turns out to be a person you did not think they were. You may need to be disappointed more than once to realize that it is better to not have someone in your life. But you will always mess up when you mix seasonal people with lifetime expectations. So if you need to ask a friend to be a friend, then chances are that is not a friend you need to have.
Yet, there are people who are like the roots at the bottom of the tree. If you find yourself two or three people in your entire lifetime that are like the roots, then you are truly blessed. The roots do not care about being seen or heard. All they are there to do is hold that tree up; to make sure it stays in the air and gets everything it needs. That is what friendships and relationships should be about. That is what you need … people who want to be in your life for the right reasons. Once you meet great people, you have to keep them close. The rest, let them go.
No one says it will be easy. But when you learn to love yourself, you will end up giving standards to everybody around you. And if they do not meet those standards, you have to let them go, because they simply might be a leaf …
Lastly, one of the most important things I can leave you with is … when given a chance, always pay it forward. One of my favorite films says: the world can be one big disappointment, unless you take the things that you do not like about it, and you flip them upside down. It is simple; you do a favor that helps someone, and tell him or her not to pay it back, but to pay it forward to three other people, who in turn, each pay it forward three more times. Is it possible for one action, one idea, to change the world?
To conclude, wither you appreciate politics or not, Michelle Obama said something that I want to share with you, something I always hold true to this day, at a National Convention. She said, “Your word is your bond, that you do what you say you’re going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.”
Tonight, I hope I have persuaded you to take a reflective look at your own life, and how you can change yours and others. Ms. Singleton changed mine, for which I will forever be grateful. My life has been nowhere near majestic. No one’s really is. And chances are, many have experienced greater despair than I. But I hope to be an example to you that through severe hardship – and deep hurt – one can still achieve success. So, I challenge you; be the leaders we need, buck the system, challenge the status quo, and change others and world. Be the change you wish to see …