Yesterday I drove into San Francisco to retrieve my thesis project materials from the University. I am now the official owner of three degrees. My B.A. granted at the tender age of 21; my M.A. when I was 39 and my M.F.A. earned just this month at the half-past age of 53.
Yes, I love to learn, but I kept coming back for more because of the many incredible teachers I have been blessed with throughout my life. The ones who recognized my potential even when I could not recognize it myself. The ones who showed me all the possibilities this life has to offer. The ones who encouraged me to continue even when I felt like the biggest failure ever.
It all started with my 8th grade Civics teacher, Mrs. Hermann, who taught me about our inalienable rights as citizens of this country. I will never forget the day she recited the Declaration of Independence from memory in her quaking elderly voice filled with a passion that echoes in my memory to this day. Mrs. Hermann opened my eyes to the freedoms and liberties our forefathers worked hard to obtain for all future generations. She helped me to understand for the first time in my life how each one of us was meant to live our lives from a place of equality. She instilled in me my feisty views on justice and politics.
Mr. Pratt, my high school band teacher, I am certain sensed my need to step outside my sheltered box of fears when he gave me the lead piccolo solo during the half time show at one homecoming football game. There I stood, this shivering bundle of nerves in front of packed bleachers. Though my stomach flip-flopped and my knees quaked, I delivered the solo with a precision I had no idea I could muster. This one tiny step fueled a fire inside of me and helped me to understand I was capable of doing so much more. He helped me to face my fears and do it anyways.
Mrs. Hendrix, my french teacher, saw right through my shy, withdrawn, external shell and when giving each student in my class a french name for the semester, chose to dub me Désirée or “desired one.” This of course caused me to blush but at the same time helped me to feel about ten feet tall on the inside. Though I never told her of my troubled home life, I think she sensed it and took great pains to take me under her wing over the next three years. She created an open door policy for me at her and her husband’s home, unofficially “adopting” me. This is where I began to understand what a healthy family was supposed to act and look like. She taught me what it means to be loved.
Mr. Arnold, who taught me poetry, advanced senior English, and semantics was also my cross country coach. This incredible Zen-like man opened my eyes to subjects I never before knew existed and encouraged me to train hard and excel in a sport that quite literally saved my life. He taught me how to manage my stress through healthy means.
Dr. Constance O’Connor, a fiery red-haired Irish woman a bit less than five feet tall, was able to take a big hammer to my external shell and draw me out during my first few years of college in a way that began a whirlwind of creativity, accomplishments and feats of bravery I had never expected of myself. She taught me how to reach for the stars, grab hold and shine despite my insecurities.
As I moved into adulthood and began to take on the “real” world with my new found confidence and the skill set my teachers had helped to instill, I would think often about these special human beings who played such a significant role in molding who I would become. I often wonder if they realize what an incredible impact they had on my life.
Since I am a perpetual student, I decided to pursue my M.F.A. four years ago in the field of my true passion, photography. After being accepted into the program at AAU, I soon discovered an endless stream of incredible teachers who began to impact my life and my art in ways that is difficult to put into words. Each of them uniquely special: Tracy Nichols, Adrienne Pao, Diane Choplin, Kristin Davis… all helped me to stretch and grow and strive and develop my art with a depth I had never imagined.
But there is one teacher who was able to touch me to the core like no other during my life thus far. Tamara Hubbard. She had the uncanny ability to formulate questions that caused me great angst, left me with a lack of sleep and a literal ache in my brain due to all the pondering in search of my answers. She helped me to reach a depth and connection with my work that no one has ever been able to encourage before. She taught me that it is okay to swim for awhile in that uncertain space in order to discover the truth of one’s own soul.
I am sure this is not the last of my life’s learning. There is so much more to know. But I want each and every teacher who has blessed my life with their patience, their knowledge, their care and selfless concern to know just how important you have been to me. I thank you from a space of great humility for your ability to see my potential and for caring enough to nurture that potential with your gentle guidance. You each mean the world to me and will until I finally depart this lovely planet.