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RFL117_You Are Important

RFL117_You Are Important

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Published by: Quotes&Anecdotes on Dec 21, 2009
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12/21/2009

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R117 GP
REFLECTIONS
 You Are Important
Taken from “Mr. Washington”by Les Brown
O
ne day in 11th grade,I went into a class-room to wait for a friend of mine. When I went into theroom, the teacher, Mr.Washington, suddenly ap-peared and asked me to goto the board to write some-thing, to work somethingout. I told him that I couldn’tdo it. And he said, “Whynot?”I said, “Because I’m notone of your students.”He said, “It doesn’t mat-ter. Go to the board any-how.”I said, “I can’t do that.”He said, “Why not?”And I paused because Iwas somewhat embar-rassed. I said, “Because I’mEducable Mentally Re-tarded.”He came from behind hisdesk and he looked at meand he said, “Don’t ever saythat again. Someone’s opin-ion of you does not have tobecome your reality.”It was a very liberatingmoment for me. On onehand, I was humiliated be-cause the other studentslaughed at me. They knewthat I was in Special Educa-tion. But on the other hand,I was liberated because hebegan to bring to my atten-tion that I did not have tolive within the context of what another person’s viewof me was.And so Mr. Washingtonbecame my mentor. Prior tothis experience, I had failedtwice in school. I was identi-fied as Educable MentallyRetarded in the fifth grade,was put back from the fifthgrade into the fourth grade,and failed again when I wasin the eighth grade. So thisperson, Mr. Washington,made a dramatic difference inmy life.I always say that he oper-ates in the consciousness of Goethe, who said, “Look at aman the way that he is, andhe only becomes worse. Butlook at him as if he were whathe
could 
be, and then he be-comes what he should be.”Mr. Washington believedthat “Nobody rises to low ex-pectations.” This man alwaysgave students the feeling thathe had high expectations forthem and we strove—
all
of thestudents strove—to live up towhat those expectations were.One day, when I was stilla junior, I heard him giving aspeech to some graduatingseniors. He said to them,“You have greatness withinyou. You have something spe-cial. If just one of you can geta glimpse of a larger vision of yourself, of who you reallyare, of what it is you bring tothe planet, of your special-ness, then in a historical con-text, the world will never bethe same again. You can makeyour parents proud. You canmake your school proud. Youcan make your communityproud. You can touch millionsof people’s lives.” He wastalking to the seniors, butit seemed like that speechwas for me.I remember when theygave him a standing ova-tion. Afterwards, I caughtup to him in the parkinglot and I said, “Mr. Wash-ington, do you rememberme? I was in the audito-rium when you were talk-ing to the seniors.”He said, “What wereyou doing there? You area junior.”I said, “I know. Butthat speech you were giv-ing, I heard your voicecoming through the audi-torium doors. That speechwas for me, sir. You saidthey had greatness withinthem. I was in that audito-rium. Is there greatnesswithin me, sir?”He said, “Yes, Mr.Brown.”“But what about thefact that I failed Englishand math and history, andI’m going to have to go tosummer school? Whatabout that, sir? I’m slowerthan most kids. I’m not assmart as my brother or mysister who’s going to theUniversity of Miami.”“It doesn’t matter. It just means that you haveto work harder. Yourgrades don’t determinewho you are or what youcan produce in your life.”“I want to buy mymother a home.”“It’s possible, Mr.Brown. You can do that.”And he turned to walk away again.“Mr. Washington?”“What do you wantnow?”“Uh, I’m the one, sir.You remember me—re-member my name. One dayyou’re gonna hear it. I’mgonna make you proud. I’mthe one, sir.”School was a real strugglefor me. I was passed fromone grade to another becauseI was not a bad kid. I was anice kid; I was a fun kid. Imade people laugh. I waspolite. I was respectful. Soteachers would pass me on,which was not helpful to me.But Mr. Washington madedemands on me. He mademe accountable. But he en-abled me to believe that Icould handle it, that I coulddo it.He became my instruc-tor my senior year, eventhough I was Special Edu-cation. Normally, SpecialEd students don’t takeSpeech and Drama, butthey made special provi-sions for me to be with him.The principal realized thekind of bonding that hadtaken place and the impactthat he’d made on me, be-cause I had begun to dowell academically. For thefirst time in my life I madethe honor roll. I wanted to

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