I was an awkward teenager. I didn’t know how to style my hair; I didn’t own any make-up, and I was completely clueless when it came to boys. They simply weren’t on my radar screen. It’s as if I have always been a “librarian in training.” I wore sweaters to school, had glasses on my face, and I spent too many quiet evenings at home reading books.
I spent a lot of time in the library too. I was a great student, but what motivated me above the thrill and joy of learning was shame. I felt like a failure for having a physical disability. I hated my body. I wanted to weave something to cover all of the awkwardness up, so I made a robe from my perfect academics, except they weren’t perfect; I only had a 3.9 G.P.A. in a line-up of several people with 4.0s.
I remember not liking high school. I remember wanting the whole experience to be over. I remember wanting to be an adult.
I also remember that moment sitting in Mr. Olsen’s English class as a junior when he stood in front of us and said, “You all need to learn how to speak. This class is very talented and I know there are many of you who will one day make some very important speeches. I want you to be prepared.”
I squirmed in my seat; hopeful and disappointed at the same time. I knew that I would never address my classmates at commencement, but somehow I knew he was talking to me. Mr. Olsen was a unique kind of teacher—one who taught beyond the curriculum and considered the whole student. He wanted to know my name as much as he wanted me to enjoy The Great Gatsby. He saw me a whole person; he dared to see my talent in the midst of my awkwardness.
I remembered him throughout college as I pushed myself to do better. When I stood before 7,000 people at St. Cloud State University on Mother’s Day 2006, delivering my valedictory speech, I smiled, not only because of my achievements and honors, but because Mr. Olsen was right—I was making that very important speech.
I always wanted to thank Mr. Olsen for believing in me, and this summer I got my chance. I ran into him at Perkins one morning and thanked him. He turned to me, smiled, and said, “I knew you had it in you kid.”
Did you have a teacher along the way who helped “reveal the awesome” potential in you? This week is American Education Week. What better time to e-mail your alma matter, hop on to Linked In, or look up your teacher on Facebook. Tell them what an impact they have made; you will be glad you did.
Enjoy this video by Kid President. (If you can't see the video below, visit this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwlhUcSGqgs)