Yesterday I made my twenty-first “September, first day back” visit to the High School where I volunteer my time as a mentor to science students. This always is a visit I anticipate with great pleasure because it marks the start of nine months of association with Educators I have come to like and respect. I feel very privileged to be allowed to share a small bit of their professional lives during the school year. I also must confess to having become addicted to being around people who are forward thinking, hopeful of a bright future, skilled in their work, and just plain nice to be around. I like Teachers!
My reasons for volunteering my time at the High School are varied and, for the most part, un-examined. One, however, I am sure about. Also, it is based 100% on my self-interest. I believe the reason people, as they age, sometimes become rigid and negative in their outlook is because they become disconnected from the life that surrounds them, turn inward, and spiral downwards. They begin to think “Old”. I further believe it is very unlikely I will join others in the “spiral downwards” towards “Old” for the simple reason it is impossible to do when you spend as much time around Students as I do. They radiate the energy and the enthusiasm for life that is typical of the young persons I meet. I respond by shamelessly absorbing as much of this energy as I can for my own use in the avoidance of “Old” thinking. It seems to work for me. Could there be a down side? There can and there was – once.
One year, in the Physics class, a female student began to stand out from her peers as I observed the students interact in class. She had an outgoing and pleasant personality that was complemented by a vigorous sense of curiosity. She asked lots of questions of me and this provided the mentoring opportunities I seek with students. She on several occasions stayed after school so we could continue our conversation about Physics. She was a good student as are many of those I have met over the years. That all came to a sudden, tragic end one night as she and her boyfriend were driving home from an “away” game. The boyfriend lost control of the car and during the ensuing crash, she was thrown from the car and killed.
We were devastated. Even today, it is incomprehensible to me why such life potential should be wasted. Totally incomprehensible. A California Pepper tree was planted in the school Quad in her memory where it has grown full. At the base of the tree there is a small bronze plaque to remind people of her memory. Each year I spend a moment at the tree on my first mentoring day. It is a moment of great sadness for me. However, the sadness will soon subside and be joined by a sense of renewal and hope that I seek. I can’t miss with the sight and sound of young life all around me.