In seventh grade, I ran for Student Council Treasurer and had to give a speech. Everybody who was running was wearing a suit or sport coat, but I didnt own one. Before I walked up to the podium, Mr. Boynton, our guidance counselor, took off his sport coat and put it on me, to level the playing field! I will never forget that lesson. I didnt win, but it wasnt because he didnt level the field.
When I entered eighth grade, I met Jackie Eads, a remarkable person who to this day is a role model for me. She believed in me more than I believed in myself. Jackie retired from Coral Park High School just a few years ago, after many years. I dont know anyone who has motivated, counseled, encouraged, and unconditionally accepted more students than Jackie Eads. How important it was to me that Jackie and her sister, Judy, and Tom and Virginia Wood came to our oldest sons wedding last year in Philadelphia.
There were others as well, like Joe Fernandez, my math teacher and friend, who went on to become Superintendent of Schools here. He taught me the importance of becoming a compassionate but tough-minded leader. Or Coach Frank Downing, who helped us all redefine what is achievable and possible when we really stretch ourselves. Or Jim Newmeyer, my high school principal, whose actions were stronger than his words: When I was in tenth grade, my mother almost died from a blood clot, and the doctor told her she couldnt go back to the physically demanding job of being a medical assistant. I went to Mr. Newmeyer to talk to him about the situation. He immediately hired my mother as a secretary and she worked for the school system until she retired at age 65.
These stories are not meant to be a personal trip down Memory Lane, but of course they are. My point is that people in this community reached out to me, one on one, and shaped my life. And I suspect the same is true for you. We all have our life stories, and it is at a time like this that we can reflect on those special people and say thank you.
I left Miami in 1966 with a head equipped with knowledge and a heart filled with love, care, and encouragement, and I am very grateful! As I begin my next chapter in life at Wake Forest University, I am well prepared to make a difference in the lives of students because you all made a difference in my life.