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The past few weeks across America many students were celebrating with their families graduation from or promotion to the next grade in school. It’s a time for new beginnings, excitement of what’s yet to come and accomplishment of obtaining, and in some instances continuing, an education. It should also be a time of reflection, to think back and appreciate the teachers who are major contributors in our growth, and who may have inspired and guided us through some of the most challenging years in our lives. So many people can say without hesitation that there was one teacher in particular that had a tremendous influence on them. I was blessed to have such a teacher in my life, someone who I am convinced was an angel sent to provide me with the foundation from which I was able to build my confidence and a fulfilling life in America.
On August 14, 1981, my family and I emigrated from Pakistan to the United States. I was 12 years old and about to enter 6th grade at Forest Elementary School in West Haven, CT. Sixth grade is tough for anyone, especially for someone who was unfamiliar with the culture and customs of America and didn’t speak very much English. Add to that I, like all other sixth graders, was at an age where I was very impressionable and eager to start asserting my own personality and opinions. Nevertheless, I was just so excited to be here and was looking forward to my first day at school. As you can imagine, on that first day, I felt lost, confused and eager to fit in and be accepted. Luckily, there was the kindest teacher at my school who helped shaped my perception of others, build my confidence and set me on my way being the person I am today.
Ms. Beckwith, my 6th grade teacher, was the type of teacher that cared about everyone and always went out of her way to help. The passion she had for teaching and the wellbeing of her students, and people in general, was infectious. She went above and beyond to teach me proper English, the importance of proper pronunciation and ensure that I had the necessary skills to succeed in this country. I remember she let me borrow a machine that would help me pronounce words. I would spend hours at home every night running these cards through the machine listening to the machine repeat words such as “tire,” “car” and hundreds of others so that I can learn and speak the language correctly. My mother became enamored with this machine as well and would sit there with me learning the words at the same time. Ms. Beckwith would spend extra time afterschool tutoring me, making sure I was keeping up with my studies and helping me navigate my way through the social landscape that is the 6th grade.
Flash forward 31 years. As the founder and President of Edible Arrangements International, Teacher’s Appreciation Week and National Teacher’s Day are two important occasions for the company. Although almost every day I think about Ms. Beckwith and the influence she had on my life, I never made the effort to find her and personally thank her for all that she did for me. I was driving to the office the day before Teacher’s Appreciation Week, which was May 6 this year, and finally decided I needed to locate her and let her know the impact she had on my life. The problem was I didn’t know where she was living, if she was still teaching, if she was married with a different last name, or if she would even remember me. After all –it has been 31 years. With the help of a wonderful woman from the Superintendent of School’s office in CT, we were able to locate Mrs. Warner (formerly Ms. Beckwith), who was still teaching 6th grade but at a different school in Connecticut –Norton Elementary School in Cheshire.
I decided to surprise her at the 6th grade “promotion” ceremonies on June 18. To say I was nervous was an understatement. However, I just wanted her and all her students to know that she was the one who forever defined for me that the nature of people is good, showed me that a teacher is a special person who must be cherished and appreciated, and convinced me that a teacher’s role in society is unparalleled. It was a special day, an emotional day, that I will never forget. Luckily she remembered me and I was able to thank her in person.
So, as the summer begins, take a few minutes to reflect on your own past experiences and think about that teacher, or teachers, that had an influence on your life, like Mrs. Warner had on mine. If you are still in school, take a moment to thank those special teachers in your life and let them know they are appreciated. If you are no longer in school, pause for a few minutes to send a thank you note to that teacher who influenced you. I’m forever indebted to Mrs. Warner. Thank you Mrs. Warner for all that you did for me, and continue to do for hundreds of other students. Rest assured that you are loved, appreciated and respected by many.