To Whom It May Concern:
I am eighteen, about to start college, and consequently victim to everything everyone else enjoys teaching me about how I ought to carry out the rest of my days. And who better to showcase these lessons for life—these lifetimes of lessons—these speeches, self-helps, sermons, and, yes, nomination letters—than the very people who embody them?
It’s time for show and tell.
Warren Buffett tells us this! Michelle Obama tells us this! Even Lady Gaga tell us this!
But what do they show us? What do we learn from what they say, and what do we learn from what we see?
Examples of wealth, power, and celebrity are certainly lucrative, but hardly liberating. After all, what about the rest of us, who, when most ourselves, are not opulent, obeyed, or ogled at? Hopefully we all can follow our hearts to fulfillment, but heaven forbid all of us be all-stars.
Enter my savior incarnate.
A graduate of Hope College, she served for twenty-two years at Holland High School, on a variety of projects: teaching assistance; phone banking; records management; and oversight of students in detention, in-school suspension, and otherwise patience-testing moods.
Administrations and classes came and moved on, and she stood her trial. In June of 2013, however, upon analyzing her finances with her daughter, she determined that she could retire. Eleven-month–principal Justin Jennings will not be the only leader Holland High would miss when it returned to school.
To be sure, she was not a leader by hierarchy, much less by popular example. She was paid a fraction of what teachers were paid, to put up with students teachers wouldn’t or couldn’t put up with. But she hardly lets this unfairness soil how she reflects on her own career. She asked to remain anonymous, citing the multitude of people she assures me lead as she does.
“I often compare my observations while working in my garden to people,” she wrote in her final, most straining months. “Students and seeds are capable of lying dormant for years and germinating when conditions are suitable…. Enough will grow, blossom and reseed to make all the effort—the turmoil, angst, grief, joy, celebration, awe—worth expending. Such has been my personal experience over the decades.”
Decades of experience also taught her how to find strength in solitude, particularly after hours of patience-draining nurturing. “I’m actually leaving all the work I usually do on Fridays after school,” she wrote last winter of her unpaid, self-elected overtime. “It was such a trying day. I’ve never done this before—but I’m sure it’s a very good idea. This may be the start of a new life.”
Her new life will assure what she has never had enough of: time in her yard, discovering what she has sprouted.
I for one am eighteen, about to start college, and the fruit a singular lifetime of example. As I have uprooted myself from Holland, she has taught me not to fear solitude. As I have built expectations of success, she has taught me how to seek service.
Service, after all, is something that all of us—all-star and otherwise—can grow in ourselves. This woman has said and shown as much.
[my name] at yahoo dot com