“And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.” ~Alice Walker
I do not have children of my own, but Mother’s Day is a very special day for me to reflect on the gifts that I’ve been given by my own amazing mother, Karen Puskala Armstrong. My mom has never held a formal teaching certificate, but it was her voice who taught me to love stories and her heart that taught me to love. Today and every day I celebrate the fact that my mom taught me to believe in myself and to see the talents and power that I possess. I try to pass down the life lessons she taught me to my students and to help them realize the legacy and the power of their own stories.
Naria, was a student in my 9th grade English class last year and she impressed me with her exuberance for writing and her hard work ethic. A talented writer and singer, Naria expertly created digital projects in my class and I knew right away that there was something magical about her gift with words and expression. When assigned a final project for The Odyssey, Naria completed a digital project by singing an a capella rendition of Cream’s, “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” that included famous artists’ renderings of the Sirens. I was stunned. Without fail, assignment after assignment, Naria took my breath away with her attention to detail, astute writing, and maturity.
I am our district’s organizer for the Veterans of Foreign Wars: Voice of Democracy Audio Essay Contest. This year Naria’s essay took second place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Her touching essay was about her grandmother who was a Marine, the late Shirley Ann Ford. In a conversation, I mentioned to Naria that she should turn her essay into a digital story as a gift to her mother Michelle. Soon after, Naria placed a DVD in my hand of a beautiful video that she had created. I again was in awe of Naria’s ability to reach out and speak from her heart. The loss of her grandmother was still so raw, but she wanted to share her love and pass on the torch that her grandmother had extended. This torch was a love of country, of family, and of friends.
Naria granted me permission to include her video in a blog post and I have been waiting for the perfect moment to do so. I realized that Mother’s Day would be the perfect day. You see, Naria is such an extraordinary student and young women because her mother, Michelle, is devoted to her daughter and has been her support and her guide. It’s a legacy that’s been handed down by her own mother, Shirley. This legacy has many layers. I am so thankful that the digital universe and social media can help us share our stories and I am proud to help Naria and Michelle honor the memory of Shirley Ann Ford.
Yesterday, I was spending my afternoon running errands. I was walking across the parking lot of a local store when I heard, “Mrs. Laitinen!” I looked up to see two of my 9th grade students smiling and waving. When this happens I stop and think about how fortunate I am that when my students see me out in public that they go out of their way to say “hello” instead of choosing to hide. We chatted for a few minutes and when I turned to leave, one girl said, “Oh, I want to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.” I smiled, hesitated, and responded with gratitude, “Thank you.” Truth be told, I almost reminded her that I did not have children. But there was something so sweet and genuine about her wish that I could not. While driving home I thought about the fact that I may not have any biological children of my own, but each year I am entrusted with the hearts and minds of over a hundred young people that I must help nurture and develop the skills they need to be productive members of our society and thoughtful world citizens. I am thankful for involved parents like Michelle Ford Thompson who make my job such a rewarding adventure and I am always thankful for students like Naria who inspire me and fill my heart with pride. I am delighted to help pass on the legacy of Shirley Ann Ford to you today. I know you will appreciate and savor Naria’s hard work. Happy Mother’s Day!