Somewhere over Montana
At International Space Camp, we had a reception one evening to honor and celebrate all of the state teachers of the year. We mingled, had some hors d’oeuvre, and saw a slideshow of our Washington DC experience together. Near the end, Jon Quam showed a video of the speech I gave at the White House for President Bush and Secretary Spellings.
It was rather humbling to watch this again with my colleagues and friends, but fun to see their reactions as they watched it again with a little less distraction. Their support was unbelievable, with the general consensus being “you totally nailed it.” At least that’s what they told me. It was amazing to feel so supported by such high quality professionals in my field. It gives me great strength because I know that I’m not alone.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the evening came a bit later. A chef from the kitchen poked his head around the corner and motioned for Diane (Vermont Teacher of the Year) to come talk to him.
“I’m 46 years old and have never registered to vote. I think it’s pointless because they’re all pretty much the same. But is the guy who just gave that speech here tonight? ‘Cause I wanna shake his hand. And if he were ever to run for office, I would register to vote and cast it for him.”
Diane grabbed me and told me all this, and I headed into the kitchen to meet this fellow. The chef, Eric, started to pour out his heart to me. He had just been transferred from NYC where he grew up, but his wife and children were in Florida because one of his three kids has a very rare genetic condition and needs a specialist’s help. He only sees them every month or two. He’s struggling to get by, and hurting pretty badly.
But he told me that my words were the most powerful he had ever heard, and that they changed the way he will look at his kids, their education, and even his own life. We shared a bit more time together talking about how hard it is to be away from our families, shed some tears, then I gave him a big hug. It was a very powerful and very human moment.
I have met many important people in my travels so far, but I made it clear to Eric that his openness and raw emotion about his own story will make him among the most memorable people I have met this year. I assured him that we are all human, and that we are all equally important, and that life is worth fighting for.
Thanks for your vote, Eric. I’ll count it right alongside those of my students, my family, and my peers. We all count the same.