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Something to say… more often

October 11, 2013

We never know when we say something, or write something, or do something, if it will resonate for anyone else. Most of the time, we will never learn if our words or actions have made a difference for someone.
Early last month, I blogged a short piece on the entry to Grade 9. That piece was derived from an ongoing conversation with our youngest, who had, herself, just that day entered Grade 9. Feedback surprised me some. More than one Head of School picked it up and forwarded the link to their Grade 9 classes. I guess it hit a note. As I say, you never know.
Well, I got to thinking about the 'never know' side of the equation. I was prompted by positive feedback to that blog entry to reminisce about people who had made a connection for me early in life. Importantly, I pondered on those who had made a difference, and who might also have wondered if their efforts ever hit home.
Here's just one item that revealed itself to me:
Thirty-eight years ago, Dieter Euler was my Grade 12 Spanish teacher. As I recall, he was thorough, knew his stuff, and held us to account. From the perspective of a teenage boy, that's a score of two-out-of-three. I wasn't too keen on being held to account, and constantly sought short-cuts to homework assignments. Dieter was firm, but fair. When I received 'the glare' or 'the sigh', you can be assured that I well deserved it.
One of our assignments was to write a report on Cervantes "Don Quixote". I don't remember how many pages our version had, but it shows on as bearing 1,168 pages. There was no hope in the world that I was going to read the entire book. After just 50 pages, I had come to the conclusion that this was no more than a repeating story. Here's a fellow, tilting at windmills in Chapter 1. Enter Chapter 2 and we find another windmill… and the beat goes on.
I resolved, of course, to carve a path straight through the woods to the finish line, and proceeded to read every 50th page and take it from there. This is a skill that would prove very useful years later when I attended graduate school and was assigned some 1,000 pages to read every single night (an MBA is not a test of talent or brains, just of time management). Knowing which 49 pages you don't have to read is something you can take to the bank every day.
You probably see this coming by now. I wrote my report, handed it in, and waited to see if I'd successfully put one over on Señor Euler. At the beginning of next class, he walked around the room, carefully placing the reports on our desks. He was very meticulous. As mine arrived, the edges lined up with the corner of my desk, my heart jumped to see a B+. Yes! I'd gotten away with it again. Before the smile faded from the corner of my mouth, however, I heard his words (in Spanish, of course). "See me after class, Pedro [my nickname for three years of high school Spanish], por favor." With stress on the "por favor."
A bit puzzled by the juxtaposition of my mark with his directive, I was left to wonder what was up… and waited. As the last of my classmates left the room, Señor Euler closed the door and turned to walk back to my desk. As if he were standing beside me today, I can still hear his words. "Kevin," he said, not using my Spanish nickname – this was serious –  "I know you didn't read the book. I'd guess that you read every 50th page [this revelation was, as you might imagine, more than a bit disconcerting for me, and I'm sure it showed]. Then, he sighed… no glare this time. "Even knowing that you didn't read the book, I gave you a B+ anyway. It's difficult for me to say exactly what, but there is something about your writing that touched me. I want to encourage you, if you ever find something important to say, write it down."
Harkened back to that experience, these many years later, I scoured the Internet, searching him out. Couldn't find him at first, so I explored laterally, encountering a good number of dead ends. Eventually, I connected with another teacher from my high school, a football coach… but that's a story for another day. Through him, I tracked down Mr. Euler and called him up. He remembered me (I suspect vaguely) but had no recall of the incident, noting that it sounded like something he would have done. I laid out the entire exchange, and described for him the impact he'd had on me. We spoke for close to an hour. I won't go into any details, except to say that, by the finish, it was clear that my call and my message meant something to Dieter. As they say, what goes around comes around.
This weekend marks Thanksgiving for us here in Canada. It seems fitting to think about Dieter Euler and all the many others to whom I owe thanks. To be certain, the list is long.
Dieter: 38 years ago, you encouraged me to write it down if ever I found something worth saying. Well, Dieter… here it is. "You made a difference for me. A big difference. Thirty-eight years late, here it is. Thank you."
With many thanks,

Kevin Graham

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