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"I love this site. I love your fics and I especially love your rants. I have to admit that I very much look up to you as a person, Beans. And I was hoping you would grant a request of mine. Would you write an essay or a rant on some of the people in your life that you admire, look up to or have given you advice that makes a difference? I like hearing about people's heroes. It helps me understand them. If there are friends, rolemodels and such that a person like you looks up to, would you tell the rest of us about it? I'd really wanna know. --Kelly
Kelly asked me who I admire the most. It's a very good question that caused me to stop and seriously consider my answer. The first distinction I'd have to make is between those who I admire and whose work I admire. This rant is going to be about the former group of people. The second thing to keep in mind is that 99.99% of you won't have a clue as to who these heroes in my life are. Nevertheless, let me assure you that they have each had a profound affect on making me the person that I am.
To best understand how they touched my life I have to first explain how I was. I've always been a shy, introverted person. I attended a small, private, non-denomination Christian school that had a very conservative dress code and a strong emphasis on academics. I didn't have many friends in grade school and would often come home with bruises on my shins from where the bullies would kick me. If you're thinking I sound a lot like Ami pre-Usagi then you're right.
When I finished junior high my parents decided that I needed a reality check in the form of enrolling me in public high school. That was more of a culture shock than I was ready for. I was taken from my class of 60 and put into a class of 400. The junior high had little over 100 students, now 1500 schoolmates surrounded me. The people spoke differently. They dressed sloppily (and were sure to notice and tease me for dressing nicely). They didn't care about their scholastics like I did. I was a stranger in a strange land to steal a phrase.
And frankly, it sucked.
The first part of my freshman year was a nightmare. As noted, I had few friends, and even fewer that transferred to the public school with me (I had two friends go to the same school). I didn't get to talk to them much any ways since we had totally different classes. My being picked on by bullies continued (I swear there must have been a 'designated victim' sign taped to my back or something). About once a week I was challenged to a schoolyard fight, though I never showed up for them. (I didn't even *know* these people who were challenging me!) My classmates didn't care about learning and the teachers didn't care about teaching. Class life was miserable.
My most humiliating moment came after the first few weeks of school. It was during the lunch period and I was walking to my next class (advanced foods, ironic since I'm a horrible cook). Three upperclassmen got behind me. I could hear them giggling about something. I glanced back at them and they kept laughing. I rushed to the safety of my classroom. It was there that I discovered why they were laughing when I slung off my backpack. They'd spit all over my back and hair. (I had long hair that went mid-back then). I cried. How would you not cry in a situation like that? I'd done nothing to them except to be different. The food's instructor had taken a liking to me and fortunately her classroom had a washer and dryer in it. I changed into my gym clothes (which also got me teased since I was used to wearing a uniform and there was no such thing in public school) and sat in the backroom crying the entire class.
Partway through that first term the English teacher of the class I was in resigned for personal reasons. Our class was given over to one of the Honors instructors to finish out the term. That's where I met the first person I'd like to tell you about.
Jani Hale, teacher of English (Honors), South Medford High School
Truth be told, I hated English. The only class I despised more was math. In grade school and junior high I'd always been hammered for my poor spelling and grammar. It just wasn't a fun subject because I wasn't good at it.
High school English involved reading a lot of books and writing short essays about one thing or another. It didn't involve all the spelling and grammar tests that I always fell victim to in junior high. I like to read, and had no problems getting through the books we were assigned. A lot of the essays we had to write were hokey, but they weren't anything too difficult.
I would have glided through the class like the rest of my classmates were (not caring if they actually got something from it) if Mrs. Hale hadn't pulled me aside one day. She gave me back one of my essays. It was an exercise to write a two-page story in the 2nd person. She handed it back to me and said, "Amanda, you have good ideas. If you worked more on your spelling and grammar, they'd come across great."
I was stunned. Always in the past I'd been hammered for those things, but she was the first person to read the story for the *content*. Even if the wrapping was imperfect, that was something that could be ironed out with practice and time. It was all the encouragement I needed to turn myself around. I started reading more books, but not for the story. I studied word usage, patterns, and learned how to dissect the structure.
I learned two things from Mrs. Hale. The first is to be willing to look beyond the exterior to see what's really on the inside of something. The second was that a little encouragement can go a long way. We're so used to criticizing, to say that something is 'crap'. It may be, but what makes it that way? Is it an attribute that can be corrected? The basis may be good, but the execution poor. Don't discount something out of hand. Give it a bit of encouragement and guidance and see if it won't develop into something better.
Epilogue: Mrs. Hale was always a popular teacher amongst the students and just a flat out good instructor. Last I heard she'd been promoted to the position of one of the Vice-Principals of South Medford. A position where she could reach out and touch even more lives.
I survived my freshman year, and I do mean survive. I'd made it through without being in a single fight, though I did have a knife pulled on me a couple times. I still didn't have many friends, but that didn't bother me too much.
Despite it all, I looked forward to the next school year. Why? Because I had made it into the Computer Technologies class. This class was ultra-elite. It was a pilot class, only 7 students were admitted into it. I had to go through both an application and interview process before I was selected. It scared me to try to get into the class, but Mrs. Hale gently nudged me into at least applying to see if I could get in. She knew that I was interested in computers. I'd taken all the programming courses the high school offered (1 QBASIC class) and wanted to learn more.
I was in. I was happy. Things couldn't possibly go as bad for me as a sophomore as they did as a freshman, could they?
Amy Tiger, teacher of Social Sciences (Honors), South Medford High School
I was terrified. Ms. Tiger has a reputation for living up to her name. She was a fiery woman of a little over 5 feet who could stare down the largest of linebackers. She taught the Honors level classes in the social sciences department and they were anything but easy. She had a reputation for failing students and tosses them from her class if they weren't good enough.
On the plus side, I wasn't taking her for social sciences. She was teacher for the CompTech class I was in. The class was independent study / group project. The goal being to train us up to maintain the school's computer systems and do computer-related projects. Being the shy person that I was, I didn't have much interest in actually working in a group with anyone, so I did as many solo jobs as I could get. Most of those revolved around desktop publishing. My mother's a graphic artist, so I knew programs like PageMaker like the back of my hand.
I think I had good reason to be scared of Ms. Tiger. She saw it as her mission to pull me out of my shell kicking and screaming if that's how it had to be. She wouldn't let me recess into myself. That woman worked me harder than any of the other instructors at that high school. She didn't just me work hard, but shoved me into situations where I *had* to interact with other people.
She had me doing newsletters for the Librarian. Assisting the teacher who monitored the computer lab with her things. She'd force me to make presentations to the school's technology committee. The most mischievous thing she did was when a transfer student from California joined our class. I think she had it in her head of getting me a boyfriend, or at the very least friend. She always paired us up together, though our own interactions were love/hate at best. (Looking back at it... something could have happened between us if either of us had been ready at the same time, but we never were, so it never happened). After about a month Ms. Tiger decided that she didn't like the guy and then did all she could to separate us. It was like our own little soap opera.
After a year of Ms. Tiger's tender mercies, I wasn't nearly as shy as I used to be. I began speaking my mind and not blending in with the paint of whatever room I was in. She gave me the spine I have today.
Epilogue: Last I saw her, Ms. Tiger had transferred to one of the local public grade schools and was Vice-Principal there. In a way, it makes me wish I was a kid again just so I could see how her strong will would appear to an impressionable child.
When I was signing up for classes to take my sophomore year my parents looked at what I took my freshman year and complained accordingly. In their opinion, taking choir was a waste of time and I should apply myself towards something more practical. Their idea of practical was Accounting. Accounting was math. They wanted me to take more math, my most hated subject. Were they out of the cotton pickin' minds?!
I don't think I've properly thanked them for it.
While I did enjoy the class itself, it was the instructor that it brought into my life that made the lasting difference. As I see it, getting me to open up was a cleverly co-ordinated three pronged attack. Hale softened my shell, and then Tiger came along with her sledgehammer and cracked it open. Exposed to the world and very afraid, I needed a strong and patient mentor to teach me the ropes...
Diane Geise, teacher of Accounting, South Medford High School
A person has to have a certain God given mindset to appreciate the finer points of Accounting. It's a disciple that requires attention to detail, small and neat handwriting, and the patience for seemingly menial work. Who would have guessed that my mind could wrap right around all of that? As I happily discovered, Accounting wasn't math so much as procedure and set formulas. It was a subject I did well in. I was usually at least a couple weeks ahead of the class. (I'm not kidding either. I finished the book independently and then asked for extra materials to study).
'Bookworm!' you say? I'll give you that. But the lessons in Accounting were just the tip of the iceberg for what Ms. Geise had to teach us. Every student who came through her class got lessons not only in the business application they were learning (she taught more than Accounting) but also business etiquette, procedures, how to write resumes, cover letters, memos, etc. It was like getting a bonus class in business when you were there for another subject as well.
Those weren't the only lessons she had to teach for the students who were even more attentive. Ms. Geise was the advisor for our school's FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) chapter. What does FBLA do? Learn about business, raise money, go to competitions in business skills, etc. (Yes, go competitive Accounting! ;)
With Ms. Tiger hammering away at me, Ms. Geise was busy tugging on me to come out in her own way. I had the brains to do well at district competition, but there's more to business than that. There's presentation. Business has to do with how you enter a room, body language, your speech, and your manner of dress. I had part of the puzzle and she wanted to build on the rest of it with me.
When I wasn't working in the computer labs with Ms. Tiger, I was in Ms. Geise's room taking extra lessons. Be it as simple as learning how to speak with more authority than my naturally soft-spoken tone. I remember the day we practiced hand shaking... Mock interviews. How to enter a room and command attention without saying a word. She sought to draw me away from the paint I would otherwise melt into.
There was more Ms. Geise would have taught me if I hadn't shyed away. I studied Accounting with her for 3 years. The most growth came that first year. When I graduated, I was more confident, but still had lingering fears. That part of the story is more of a personal nature. Needless to say, she taught me a lot of things that couldn't be found in any book that I needed to learn to be a functional adult. Things that I should have gotten from other sources but didn't. I sometimes feel guilty that I drew so much from her. Then I remind myself that the truly exceptional teachers give not only of their knowledge, but of themselves. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Epilogue: Ms. Geise was the teacher I walked with when I graduated from high school with honors. The teacher who escorts you is supposed to be the one who has the most profound effect on your life and that was easily the case here. She's still teaching, last I heard. I realize that not many people have the mindset to appreciate what she has to offer, but I hope that those who need her will find her.
There are many people I look up to, but for the sake of keeping this somewhat reasonable in length, I'll introduce only one more.
I remember the first email Chaos sent to me. I recall thinking that he was insane, but mostly harmless. His stories were funny in a twisted sort of way that I hadn't encountered before. With our growing friendship and net rivalry came a whole new group of friends that he brought with him. Perhaps the most infamous influence on my life is a man most people know as the Hentenno, His lordship Havoc. What some may not realize is that almost every Fanboys! character is (to one degree or another) based off of a real person.
His lordship Havoc, Fanboys!, Toronto
It's difficult to describe the influence Havoc has had on my life while likewise protecting his privacy. The net's an affordable way to spend *hours* sharing your soul with someone. Thank goodness because I never have enough time to speak with him privately when I'm in Toronto.
To me, Havoc is a mentor / mascot. We've both taken our share of kicks to the belly that life's gleefully delivered. We were both hit with the "May you live an interesting life" 'curse' several times at birth. Life is an adventure for us.
I realize that I'm young. He's both older and more mature than I am. If life kicks him down, he picks himself up, glares at life, and then continues along his way. He doesn't let misfortunes weigh his spirit. As he's told me several times, "It's my world, everyone else is just renting..."
"If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger." He's a very good example of that saying. I try to be strong even though I'm often times weak. So what if some really bizarre chain of events happens to me? If nothing else, it'll make a good story once it's all over. I've got to just keep picking myself up and continue onward.
I know that I'm not the only one who looks to him as an example of strength and perseverance. Through his example he's heartening those who become downtrodden. He's a solid shoulder to lean on when life does knock me down and I just don't want to keep going. He won't let me stay down. He'll help me find a reason to get back up again. That's a special gift indeed.
I hope sharing about the people who have made a difference in my life will prompt some of you to consider who has changed your life. I try to approach each day with the mindset that today I could change someone's life. Minor events can be profound. General kindness can be uplifting. We all influence each other. Let's try to be the best that we can.
February 24th, 2001