Dear Ron and Nick,
It’s been 13 and 11 years, respectively, that you were a student in my English class. You both sat at a desk for 180 days, Ron during 9th grade and Nick during 11th grade, and spent 50 minutes every day writing, reading, learning vocabulary, completing assignments, and earning your grade. And during those 180 days, each of you made a lasting impact and taught lessons to someone who was supposed to be teaching you.
Ron, I will never forget how you read “Of Mice and Men” aloud in your best British accent, yet you read your part in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” with a thick, southern accent. Laughter, that’s what I remember. Pure laughter. I remember you enjoyed writing, but as a freshman, you didn’t want to admit it. How I wish I kept some of your essays and reflections, for they were good…much better than a typical 9th grader’s writing. I remember your pride in your hometown, your blue mohawk, and your incredible effort on the football field, playing each game like it was the super bowl. It wasn’t the same when you moved away, and there was a huge hole of missing spirit that couldn’t be filled by anyone else. Through the magic of social media, we caught up after you graduated and I enjoyed seeing the pictures of you in your band, and then as an Army ranger. I am sure the US Army knew immediately that they were getting one of the best of the best.
Nick, your smile and your work ethic are what I most remember about you. No matter what it was you were doing, you always your best…in the classroom, on the field, on the stage…and you never, ever complained. More often than not, you surprised even yourself by doing better than you ever expected. And that smile…that big, wonderful smile, with that impish spirit behind it…there’s no other smile like it. I fondly remember your part in The Varsity Lettermen’s TWO acts for Hawkapalooza, working hard to perfect each routine, and selecting that perfect dress for your costume, the powder blue shift with the rhinestone broach. There hasn’t been a routine like both of those since. One of the best days in my life was the last time I saw you, when you were home on leave and stopped by the school for a visit after classes let out. I was having an extremely bad day and wanted nothing more than to go home, and I got a call from the main office that someone was here to see me. That was the last thing I wanted, but my anguish was quickly replaced with excitement and happiness as I saw you round the corner of the hallway with that smile beaming as you walked down to my classroom. We spent about 90 minutes catching up and talking, and those are the best 90 minutes I ever spent in my life. While I don’t have a photograph of that moment, the picture in my mind’s eye is crystal clear, like it happened yesterday.
Words cannot express the extreme heartache and sadness that I, along with so many others, felt upon hearing the news that each of you had passed away. In fact, I remember exactly where I was standing when I got the news about each of you. Yet, upon knowing that so many others were saved because of each of your actions, I now have two heroes to look up to for the rest of my life.
Not a day goes by when I do not think of both of you. Several times every year, but especially on Veterans Day, I share your stories with my students who sit in the same desks that you did…stories of heroism, of bravery, and of courage.
I am forever grateful for the lessons you, the students, taught me, the teacher:
- Actions, not words, matter.
- Make your dreams a reality.
- Put others before yourself.
- Have an amazing life.
Thank you, Nick and Ron, for your lessons, for your sacrifice, and for leaving footprints along my life’s journey that can never be erased. I will do my best to continue sharing your legacies and your stories for as long as I can.
Happy Veterans Day.
With my utmost admiration, gratitude and respect,