Emotions flooded every inch of my body as Susan and I prepared to watch Catherine take to the Kennedy Center Stage and perform a scene from The Diary of Anne Frank with her fellow cast members from West Springfield High School (WSHS) on Sunday evening.
Our drama department won several nominations for their work on The Diary of Anne Frank, including Supporting Actress in a Play, Ensemble Cast in a Play, Supporting Actor in a Play, Play and Catherine’s nomination of “Lead Actress in a Play.” Because the school received a Cappies Nomination for Play, they were able to select and perform a scene for the Gala.
As I write this, I still find myself sitting on cloud nine. I was more nervous for the performance than the award – the award would be icing on top of the cake. When I saw my daughter on the stage at the Kennedy Center, my heart skipped a beat. I felt emotions that I have not felt since the first time I saw her in a performance. And as the scene unfolded, I was overwhelmed and could not contain myself. She was poised and confident as she performed in front of a sold-out audience of 2,400 people.
When the performance ended, which I believe the cast delivered without a flaw, I sat in my seat and contemplated what just took place. Nothing else needed to happen for me at that moment. I contemplated the journey of the last few months and how we all wound up at the Kennedy Center on a Sunday evening in June.
Then it dawned on me – while education is a life long journey, it starts with a spark. A bright spot. A bold thinker. A motivator. An inspiration. Someone who is willing to walk the journey with you. Every child needs to have a caring adult in their lives, and most of the time, that caring adult (not always a parent) is someone who plays a key role in that child’s life – like a teacher. A good teacher inspires children and ignites a child’s imagination. In the process, this major force in a child’s life instills a life-long love of learning.
I’ve been fortunate to have a few of those wonderful teachers in my life, the ones who walk the journey with you. The ones you know you can always say in touch with. I still remember how Mrs. Deschamp taught me to love math in the seventh grade and in my college years, Dr. Ellen Smith and Dr. Gary Maris walked the journey and inspired me to be where I am today. And to this day, I stay in touch with a law school professor who inspired and mentored me, Rebecca Morgan.
So it should come as no surprise that as the husband of a phenomenal kindergarten teacher who inspires her children every day, I want that special person(s) to be a part of the educational journey of my children. For Michael, it was a psychology teacher; for Thomas, a guidance counselor; and for Catherine, a drama teacher.
While I know and believe in my heart that Catherine is talented and has a passion for being on stage, this “segment” of the journey could not have happened without a guiding and encouraging force by her side. That force is the newest addition to the West Springfield High School (WSHS) faculty – Bernie DeLeo. There are many talented and dedicated teachers at WSHS. But I am so pleased that in my daughter’s sophomore year at WSHS, she had an opportunity to work with Mr. DeLeo.
It was refreshing, exciting and encouraging to see him interact with Catherine and other students throughout the year. Susan nudged Catherine to try something different last fall – trying out for WSHS’s fall play – and without knowing that, Mr. DeLeo recognized and nurtured her to take that “nudge” all the way to the Kennedy Center on this evening in June.
He inspired her and pushed her slightly outside her comfort zone. He saw something in her that perhaps she didn’t see in herself. He believed in her, tugged her and pushed her to the next level. And it turned out to be a magical night. After the performance, the gifts of the evening kept on coming when I heard the words “and the Cappie goes to…Catherine Ariale.”
Catherine’s journey will continue. I am not sure where it will end up, but I am pleased that in addition to her parents, she has someone who is a motivator, an inspiration, and a mentor to be her navigator along the way. There is something so special about the teachers in our lives who play key roles in our education, our growth and our development. There is something even more incredible about those teachers who go above and beyond and possess the gift that inspires children and ignites their imaginations.
I cannot wait to see what is next on this remarkable journey that was sparked by an amazing teacher.