Scholarship Speech

Scholarship Speech

I don’t have a lot of crystal clear memories of my father, but I do have a few. I remember him not wanting me to watch ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ when I was six years old – but letting me anyway. I remember him taking care of me when I got chickenpox. I remember him letting me eat too many chocolate covered marshmallows and me getting sick and never wanting to eat marshmallows ever again. I remember visiting him in the hospital near the end of his life and seeing him hooked up to a battery of tubes and machines.

But one memory stands out from all the rest of them in my mind. While visiting him in Los Angeles (I lived in the Bay Area with my Mom at the time) he took me to spend the day with him in the second grade class that he taught in a school in East LA. Aside from the fact that the school was a bit more run-down looking than the one I attended back home, the main difference I noticed was actually how well behaved and attentive the students were.

Now I know how difficult second graders can be, and this is no knock against my own teachers back then, but I was really amazed at how much control my dad had over his class. He didn’t have to yell or scream or make threats. His students generally seemed to WANT to learn from him. Whether he was talking to the whole class, organizing an activity, or giving individual instruction to one of his students, the lack of chaos and commotion in his classroom was shocking to me. What kind of sorcery was he using to keep all these kids engaged and attentive? Bribery? Threats? Magic?

But as the day went on and I got a chance to see him in action, it slowly became clear to me. He wasn’t a wizard. He was just a really really good teacher. He didn’t allow troublemakers to disrupt his class. He didn’t allow students to avoid joining the discussion. He made students feel comfortable asking questions if they didn’t understand what was going on. He offered them rewards for good work, but didn’t punishment them for bad work. And most importantly he presented the material in a way that was interesting and understandable – even to a second grader with a short attention span and raging hormones. While I had seen those qualities in him as a father growing up, it wasn’t until that day that I realized how perfectly they translated into being a teacher.

Although he lost his battle with AIDS when I was seven years old, I’ve come to learn a lot more about him from friends and family since then. And while there is often a tendency to idealize loved ones who pass away before their time, it’s especially hard not to do that when the person in question was an incredibly intelligent and ambitious person from a comfortable family who decided to devote his life to teaching underprivileged children in some of the roughest schools in the country.

Now I know that he wasn’t a saint. No one is. We all have our faults and our strengths. But what I do know is that he genuinely enjoyed teaching and was incredibly good at it. It wasn’t just a job for him. If it was, he would have taught in Bel-Air or Beverly Hills. Instead he decided to teach where he was needed most. And that says a lot about who he was and what he cared about. I have a feeling that all of the scholarship recipients today are cut from a similar mold. Teaching is a hard job and the rewards for success aren’t monetary. Teachers are forced to do more with less every day and are constantly trying to find ways to provide their students with a good education in the face of budget cuts and bureaucracy. To be a good teacher you have to really believe in the work you’re doing and the positive effect you can have on your students. If you’re looking for a shorter workday and summers off – you probably aren’t going to last very long.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who decides to spend their life teaching others, especially teachers who focus their efforts on those that are at the highest risk. I know that my father would be proud of all the help that his scholarship has provided – I know that I sure am.

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