Global Teacher Prize winner Nancie Atwell spoke at a dinner at CGI, shortly after a very deferential (to her) address by former President Bill Clinton. Nancie's work in creating space and encouragement of reading for all students is truly inspiring. Read more about her here.
In the midst of her address she quoted author Graham Green, saying:
“There is moment in every child’s life where a door opens and lets the future in.”
I hear and feel both the truth and beauty of this statement. And it happened to me so many times as a young person, shaping who I am and what I have become. To those who opened those doors, I am forever grateful:
- Age 7: Through happenstance and a great school administrator, I attended my first day of gifted education, where a group of three inspiring teachers taught 5 grades between them with no curriculum and little direction. From our group of 15 2nd graders came 3 high school valedictorians and several leaders in their chosen fields. I was challenged every day and learned to learn in the subsequent five years.
- Age 10: I met Mother Theresa, and had the opportunity to sing for her at a United Way fundraiser. Her goodness shined so brightly, despite knowing little of her work. Sixteen years later I stood at her grave and wept.
- Age 12: I traveled to Romania and the USSR on a goodwill trip with the All-American Boys Chorus. On that trip I was profoundly affected by the poverty of Romania and the... evil of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Even on our potemkin tour with government tour guides, the truth of this man and his government oozed wherever I turned. I became determined to never let that happen on my watch.
- Age 19: Despite speaking Spanish and traveling abroad extensively, I was called on my Mormon mission to Morristown, New Jersey. While a bit disappointed in the moment, I learned over those two years that no other place could have changed me so greatly. I spent most of those months in Patterson, Newark, Jersey City, and Union City, home to great poverty and related challenges. I left an Orange County California conservative, and returned with a far more left-leaning view on addressing poverty and drug issues.
- Age 21: After returning from my missionary work, I dove into the more self-focused pursuit of education, with a longing to do more. Through the happenstance of meeting Geoff Davis at a party, I learned of Grameen Bank and read the writing of Muhammad Yunus later that week until 4 o'clock in the morning. The very next week I had dropped my classes, quit my job, and moved to DC, and slept in someone's hallway so I could work at Grameen Foundation with Geoff and with Alex Counts, and later worked with Professor Yunus when he sponsored my Fulbright.
- Age 40 (today): The world continues to change, and I see new doors opening that show me the future. Some of it is inspiring and some of it inspires effort to improve. The advent of the Sustainable Development Goals and the plan for the next 15 years shows what is possible in a future that is bright.