THE WRITE OPPORTUNITY CONTEST WINNERS
PRESENTED BY MONTBLANC
Through its Signature for Good campaign, Montblanc is supporting UNICEF’s education programs for children.
This spring, Montblanc invited readers to share their stories about an educator who put them on a path to a brighter future. The New Yorker Promotion Department and Montblanc thank all of the entrants for their thoughtful and meaningful submissions.
“In 1959, my father began to stumble as he walked, sputter as he spoke, and to withdraw from his family. After several visits to the doctor and a harrowing visit to the VA Hospital in our city, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was thirty-seven years old and I was in the sixth grade. At twelve, I was the eldest of his five children, and I believed it was my duty to take the weight of fear and anxiety for each of my brothers and sisters upon my shoulders. I worried about what would happen to him and what would happen to our family. Unfortunately, my schoolwork suffered. I ignored homework assignments and my first report card in sixth grade piled on a heavy dose of shame and embarrassment. I had six Ds. On the day we were asked to return our report cards signed by a parent, our teacher began an inquisition: ‘How many of you had an F on your report card?’ A couple of students raised their hands. “How many had a D on their report card?” I raised my hand along with several students. ‘How many had two Ds?’ My had stayed up. When she got to six Ds, I was the only one with my hand in the air. The class gasped. I was thoroughly humiliated; consumed by family worry and embarrassed by my failures at school. I had lost hope. But seventh grade, when it began, started on a more promising note. Early in the year our teacher, Mother Maria G. was walking around the room stopping at students’ desks. When she got to my desk, she leaned over and whispered, ‘You are a bright young man, and I fully expect that you will rise up and become excellent.’ In one moment, with one comment, she changed my feelings about school and redirected my life. I did everything I could to make her prediction come true. I worked to become the scholar that she said I could become. I became a teacher in honor of her. I knew what one moment of inspiration meant to my life, and for forty-one years, I did all I could to inspire my students the way Mother Maria G. inspired me. She showed me how knowing what makes a student tick and using that to help guide that student can be the key to making a difference. I felt that it was my job to prove to each student just how smart he/she is and will be. If I have changed the life of just one of my students, my circle with Mother Maria G. is complete.”
Michael Hopkins, Washington, Missouri
“Many inspirational teachers have stepped into my life throughout my years at school, but when I think about one who most directly influenced where I am today; I have to thank Ms. W. In the first grade I was quiet and kept to myself. Early in the year, we were asked to write our names on the blackboard. When I did, Ms. W. commented that my signature was so small she could hardly read it. She spoke to us about the importance of our names and how our signature represented us. It was a lesson I never forgot. I practiced my signature often, and still regularly receive complements on it. If that was as far as this story went, that would be reason enough to acknowledge Ms. W.– her advice to pay attention to the things that reflect on us has great implications for so many aspects of life, especially in the digital age. As I’ve grown older, handwriting has remained an important part of my life. And my understanding and appreciation of how our written hand reflects on us has only deepened. My practice in graphic design incorporates handwriting as often as possible, adding more of a personal touch to our designs. In addition, I work with a small stationery store—a dangerous place it would seem in the world of emails and text messages. Thanks to what I learned from Ms. W., I am able to remind people that a handwritten note better represents them and is so much more personal than an hastily written email or a misspelled text message. I am gratified to help customers find the stationery selection that reflects their personality—pieces that represent the person much the way a signature does. Young children are so impressionable. I was only six years old in Ms. W.’s class. I had so much respect for her that a comment about my signature, perhaps even an off-handed one, changed my life. There isn’t a day that goes by where that lesson doesn’t reassert itself: your signature says so much about who you are.”
Christopher Lykins, Chattanooga, Tennessee
“I have had the privilege of being instructed by teachers that were absolutely superb or absolutely terrible in every way—seldom in between. Luckily in my experience, the former greatly outnumber the latter. The one individual that sticks out in my mind would have to be my high school drafting teacher who was affectionately known to his students as Mr. or simply C. Throughout my four years at Western Albemarle High School, C. was a constant. I met him in his Introduction to Technical Drawing class my freshman year. I then served as his teacher’s aid my junior year, and ultimately took his Engineering Drawing class my senior year. It should be noted that I have cerebral palsy, and consequently had difficulty manipulating various tools required for manual drafting. C. noticed this, and rather than forcing me to struggle for hours on end only to have my drawing fail, he took it upon himself to teach me AutoCAD and forego the typically required manual drafting. With this simple change, I went from struggling and lagging behind to the top of my class. When I was offered an engineering mentorship, C. allowed me to essentially complete my drafting work for the mentorship in the classroom. This allowed me to spend more time actually learning from my mentors while onsite at my mentorship.
Additionally, C., knowing that I had trouble with my hands, took it upon himself to allow me to use his room whenever needed to complete writing assignments. He always left an open computer for me, as he knew it was far easier for me to type assignments than hand write them. I owe C. a tremendous debt of gratitude, allowing me to hone my strengths. He was instrumental not only in my successful completion of high school, but also my mentorship; a mentorship that in addition to directing my educational goals, ultimately paid for my first year of college. C. taught me so much more than drafting. He taught me the value of recognizing people’s strengths and helping them to reach their full potential, something that I still carry with me some three years after graduating high school. C. retired two years ago after more than 20 years of teaching. It is a privilege to be able to recognize someone that played such an important role in my life and education—not only a world class educator, but a true friend.”
Tyler Rich, Crozet, Virginia