This past Thursday, The Reading Clergy Association hosted the annual Baccalaureate Service at First Congregation Church for the RMHS Class of 2015. Approximately 150 families and friends attended this spiritual event that focuses on student reflections, remarks from the clergy and school administration, and singing from the RMHS Chorus. A special thanks goes out the the Reading Clergy Association for hosting and planning this event.
The remarks from Superintendent of Schools John Doherty are located below.
Good evening, Parents and students of the Class of 2015 and thank you for attending this baccalaureate service. I would like to thank the Reading Clergy Association for planning this event and the First Congregational Church of Reading for hosting this year’s celebration. I always look forward to this service because it allows each of us during this very busy time in our lives and a very hectic week of activities to stop, take a breath, and reflect on what is truly important. I want to congratulate you on a very successful four years at Reading Memorial High School. You have been leaders in community service, in the classroom, on stage, on the court and on the playing field. You have set a very positive tone for future classes to follow and we appreciate your efforts. I am very proud and honored to have been your Superintendent during these last four years.
A story can be very powerful to bring forward messages of inspiration. I recently came across a story that was written by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. It is called ‘Three Letters from Teddy’ and it focuses on the impact that people can have on other’s lives. Although it is not a true story, it is, nonetheless, inspirational and teaches us all a message that is perfect for tonight’s service. What makes this story even more connected is that it is about a teacher, Jean Thompson and one of her students, a little boy named Teddy Stallard. Permit me a few minutes as I tell the story.
Jean Thompson was a fifth grade teacher and on the first day of school, she noticed a little boy, slumped in his seat named Teddy Stallard. As the weeks went on, Miss Thompson became increasing concerned because Teddy did not play well with other children, his clothes were messy, and he was not well kept. Above all, Teddy was not a pleasant person.
Teddy was also not doing well in school, failing many tests and quizzes and not turning in his homework. Because Teddy was a sullen little boy, no one else seemed to enjoy him, either. Mrs. Thompson was concerned and reviewed his records from past years. This is what she found:
His first grade teacher wrote:
“Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners. He is such a joy to be around.”
His second grade teacher wrote:
“Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness, and life at home must be a struggle.”
His third grade teacher wrote:
“Teddy continues to work hard, but his mother’s death has been hard on him.
He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest, and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.”
Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote:
“Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class. He is tardy and could become a problem.”
By now Mrs. Thompson realized the problem but Christmas was coming fast. It was all she could do, with the school play and all, until the day before the holidays began and she was suddenly forced to focus on Teddy.
Her students brought her presents, all in beautiful ribbon and bright paper, except for Teddy’s, which was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper of a scissored grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one quarter full of cologne. She stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume behind the other wrist. Teddy Stallard stayed after school that day just long enough to say,
“Mrs Thompson, today you smell just like my Mom used to.”
After the children left she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and speaking. Instead, she began to teach children.
From that day forward, Jean Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy Stoddard. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. On days there would be an important test, Mrs. Thompson would remember that cologne. By the end of the year he had become one of the smartest children in the class.
A year later she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that of all the teachers he’d had in elementary school, she was his favorite.
Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still his favorite teacher of all time.
Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson she was still his favorite teacher.
Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still his favorite teacher but that now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed:
Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.
The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that Spring. Teddy said he’d met this girl and was to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering… well, if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the pew usually reserved for the mother of the groom. And guess what, she wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And on that special day, Jean Thompson smelled just like… well, just like the way Teddy remembered his mother smelling on their last Christmas together.
They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear:
“Thank you, Mrs Thompson, for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.”
Mrs Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference.
I didn’t know how to teach until I met you!”
The moral of this story is powerful…You never can tell what type of impact you may make on another’s life by your actions or lack of action. I want to conclude my remarks by asking you to reflect on some questions:
Who has made an impact in your life? Is it a teacher, a parent, a coach, a member of the clergy, a friend? Take a moment over the next few days to thank them for helping you along your journey towards graduation. If they are no longer with us, remember the impact that they had on your life.
My final question to you is: How can you make a positive impact on others? As the writer and poet Maya Angelou said,
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Class of 2015, good luck in the next leg of your journey. I look forward to celebrating your commencement day with you on Sunday. Thank you.