I’m blogging from the Annual ASCD Conference in Philadelphia. As with all national conferences, the pace is so swift that it will take until next weekend to sort out all of my thoughts…my thoughts into actions…and the actions into a plan. But I had to share one story from my time here in Philly from a good friend and colleague, Rebecca Gagnon. Becca is the Assistant Principal at Hopkinton (NH) High School and while she never intended to guest blog, she graciously agreed to allow me to share this incredible story from Philly.
Believe it or not, when I was young I was EXTREMELY shy and rarely spoke in school. Since my dad was in the Army I moved very often. Halfway through second grade I moved from Indiana to Rhode Island and attended my third school since Kindergarten. It was a Catholic school and everyone was very kind but I was still overly quiet. The principal of this school was a nun who was always very gentle and had a wonderful smile; I would search out reasons to see her. I worked hard and wanted to do well to please her. At the end of fifth grade I moved again and left Rhode Island.
So this week at the ASCD Conference I decided to attend a session on high school grading. I walked in on the side of the room and picked a quiet row slightly towards the back. I looked down the row and at the other end was a nun. As I looked at her profile I smiled; something about her just jotled a memory of my catholic school principal.
As the speaker began, he encouraged us to introduce ourselves to the people around us and share information based on a question he asked us. The nun and I were the only ones in the row so we each scooted in a few seats to be near each other and share stories. This nun was a soft-spoken, (slightly) elderly lady with an accent who said she was from Orlando. She introduced herself as Sister Dorothy. I just looked at her and said, “Wow, I once knew a Sister Dorothy.” She commented on how unusual that was as her name was not all that common. I agreed and we went on to talk about the things we were supposed to talk about. The whole time I kept looking at her and listened intently to her thinking…this can’t be…
For the next hour and a half I had a great time listening and comparing the struggles she has at her large school in Orlando with my small school in NH. At the end, she leaned over and commented on how nice it was to meet me. I looked at her and asked, “Sister Dorothy, were you ever a principal in Rhode Island?” She went completely still and stared at me and said, “Oh my goodness, yes.”
I foolishly broke into tears and told her she was my principal. I re-introduced myself with my maiden name, told her who my brother was and who I had for teachers. She reached out and grabbed my hand and said yes, she remembered…so many students through the years but she remembered.
I then told her, “Sister Dorothy, you have to know – you are the reason I’m in education today. It’s because of you I wanted to work for children.” Her turn for tears. We hugged and walked out of the room and down the hall together holding hands the whole time. I shared with her the major highlights of the past twenty five years of my life since leaving her school. She has been in Orlando for the past sixteen.
We got to the end of the hall, hugged again and went our separate ways. I’ve thought a lot since about what more I could have said at the time but I think we were both pretty overwhelmed.
How unreal can life be???!!! I still have tears just writing this!
You can’t even begin to know on how many different levels I needed her at that moment in my life. I am blown away.
Becca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also a Board member of NHASCD.